Lakeland’s mayor threatened to have vice mayor removed from meeting

By Katherine Burgess  |   Memphis Commercial Appeal

An occasionally tense meeting devolved into a spat between Lakeland Mayor Mike Cunningham and Vice Mayor Josh Roman Thursday, with Cunningham ultimately threatening to have a sheriff’s deputy remove Roman from the room.

“I’m running the meeting and if you don’t think so, I can have that gentleman remove you,” Cunningham told Roman, pointing toward a sheriff’s deputy.

“I object to the decision of the chair,” Roman replied.

“Too bad,” Cunningham said in response.

How the argument began

Thursday’s meeting was one of several in which commissioners have clashed over when to build a high school and how to fund it.

The quarrel occurred during a discussion on when and how Lakeland ought to finance a high school, since the city’s high school students currently attend Arlington Community Schools through an agreement between the two districts.

Kyle Wright, the city’s director of finance, had just presented on potential property tax increases using four different funding mechanisms, ultimately concluding that building a high school would require an increase in property taxes if the city did not reduce services or operations.

“That’s a loaded question,” Roman said, cutting off Wright’s response.

Roman is one of three members of the board of commissioners who advocated to begin the process of building a new high school.

That’s when Cunningham said he could have “that gentleman,” a sheriff’s deputy, remove Cunningham.

Wright ultimately answered Cunningham’s question by saying he could not “agree or disagree” with the board’s 2015 decision.

Earlier in the meeting, Roman pushed back against Wright’s calculations, calling them a “worst case scenario.”

“I would not characterize this as worst case scenario,” Wright said. “My job as a finance director for a city that doesn’t generate revenue outside of property tax is to ensure that the city can run fairly and efficiently and provide services to its citizens without an undue burden.”

Roman says he’s owed an apology

Roman told The Commercial Appeal that he believes he is owed an apology by Cunningham, and that he plans to bring forward a resolution on funding a high school at their next meeting.

He said he challenged Wright’s presentation since it didn’t take into account sales tax or paying off current debt out of its fund balance.

He also said that in 2015, the vote to increase Lakeland’s property tax was done with the awareness that money for the schools would also come from other sources of revenue.

“To ask Kyle a basic math question without taking into consideration the totality of income from the city was an unfair question,” Roman said.

Cunningham did not answer a request for comment Friday.

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