Shelby County mayor stands behind pick for Shelby County Health Department health director

Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 8:11 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris defended his nominee for director of the Shelby County Health Department (SCHD) Thursday.

”After reviewing all the candidates, it was clear at every phase of this process that Dr. Taylor was the best candidate,” he said.

This comes after a three-page memo was released, revealing an interview panel did not recommend Dr. Michelle Taylor for the job.

Taylor is a Memphian and pediatrician with public health experience and five degrees from schools, including Howard University, Harvard University, and Johns Hopkins.

”The reality is we have a candidate who is more than qualified and who has really been reared here in Memphis and Shelby County, and I couldn’t be prouder to put her forth to the Shelby County Commission,” Harris said.

The memo notes that Taylor was “articulate, highly credentialed, and a native Memphian,” however it goes on to say her presentation was weak regarding how she plans to change the health department and failed to mention the needs and wants of the inner city.

Harris says that three-page memo is just a small portion of a larger 73-page document, and only one phase of a months-long interview process.

Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner was on that interview panel made up of stakeholders, including local hospitals, legislators, public health officials, and more.

He supports Taylor’s nomination.

″I would much rather have a person who is the strongest possible candidate with the medicine because we’re dealing with a pandemic virus, killing people, as opposed to a person who was weak on medicine, was strong on administrative issues because the administrative issues can be worked around,” Turner said.

Commissioner Mark Billingsley abstained in a committee approval vote Wednesday after seeing the three pages of that memo.

He released the following statement:

“Mayor Lee Harris’ report to the Shelby County Commissioners on July 22, 2021, did not reflect the recommendation from the interview panel for the Director of the Shelby County Health Services Division. I asked Mayor Harris on the public record, “What was the recommendation of the advisory panel? Who did they choose?” and Mayor Harris responded, “The strongest candidate in their mind is in front of us.”

His statement is in great contrast to the panel’s written findings that was documented in a memo to Harris May 19, 2021. He continued to say in part:

Shelby County and our citizens deserve experienced and proven leadership that has the ability to manage a $100 million dollar health department budget, 700 employees, and all in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic. If Mayor Harris chooses to support a candidate for the Director of the Health Department, he needs to own it and not misrepresent his own advisors’ recommendations.

WMC Action News 5 talked to several county commissioners Thursday who said the memo does not change their approval of Taylor.

One commissioner said he is undecided.

A full commission vote is expected Monday to approve Taylor for the job.

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