Shelby County Clerk addresses license plate delays

Published: Jul. 5, 2022 at 10:31 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Who’s to blame for a huge backlog of license plate applications in Shelby County?

Tuesday, Shelby County Clerk Wanda Halbert laid out what she says are problems in her own office.

Halbert’s revelations come just weeks after Shelby County leaders voted to send hundreds of thousands of dollars from the county clerk’s office to the county mayor’s “mail room” where the plates are shipped.

The plates stopped going out to customers back in May due to a lack of funding.

Shelby County Clerk Wanda Halbert is standing her ground saying her office is not to blame for the delays.

She says her office is making a dent in the backlog and more than 22,000 plates were sent last week.

She says her employees are working hard to reduce long lines, wait times and to send more plates out. Now, she wants the state to step in for help.

After months of long lines and no license plates, Halbert says enough is enough.

“Under no circumstances will I accept responsibility for decisions that are made for this office outside of this office,” said Halbert.

Halbert and Shelby County Government have gone back and forth for months about who’s to blame for the wait.

“Four long years and we find ourselves here,” said Halbert. “Where we cannot serve customers because someone else made that decision outside of our organization?”

Halbert says the county stopped sending out license plates in May due to a lack of funding from the clerk’s office, but she says that was not communicated to her at the time.

Halbert says services should never have stopped.

“I all of a sudden started receiving these calls and complaints and e-mails,” said Halbert. “I thought someone was stealing the plates. I thought they were disappearing out of the mail.”

During that time, Halbert says 30,000 to 35,000 customers were backlogged.

Now, she says the clerk’s office staff is working throughout the day to reduce that number, in what she calls questionable working conditions.

“You should see the deplorable conditions that our employees are working in,” said Halbert. “Closets! No equipment! We’re literally stuffing with our hands.”

Halbert shared those issues with Shelby County Commissioners one week ago.

Commissioner Mark Billingsley got candid about his concern with the state of the county clerk’s office.

”I’m sick and tired of the commission, the mayor and his administration being the scapegoats for this,” said Billingsley. “None of us will say it but the reality is this is a gross, gross dereliction of duties that should be done by this clerk.”

Halbert said Tuesday, she plans to ask the state to step in for help.

She also wants a mailing system separate from the county system, and more funding for office improvements and employee pay raises.

Starting next week, the clerk’s office will cut lines off at 30 people.

Everyone after that will get calls from the office 30 to 40 minutes before their turn.

Halbert says it’s critical because she says she’s received reports of customers passing out due to the heat.

Action News 5 made multiple attempts Tuesday to speak to someone in Mayor Lee Harris’s office. We have not heard back.

While license plate delays continue in Shelby County, the Greater Memphis Automobile Dealers Association is asking the state for help.

The association says the backlog stands at more than 7,000 tag applications. They say state regulations prohibit them from replacing expired drive-out tags.

Halbert says she stands with the association and agrees the state should come in to help.

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