Memphis area auto dealers affected by delays in license plates

Published: Jul. 6, 2022 at 10:18 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Mid-South’s top auto dealers are pleading for help as thousands of residents across Shelby County wait for their new Tennessee license plates.

The dealers say the backlog for plates is keeping them from helping customers.

The Greater Memphis Automobile Dealers Association (GMADA) said they’ve called everyone they can think of to get this problem resolved—from city council members to county commissioners.

GMADA said they’ve reached out to the Governor’s Office and the Department of Revenue, who issues tags, for relief.

“We are crying for help for our customers,” said Lander Auto Group President Kent Ritchey.

Ritchey said the wait for a license plate in Shelby County is keeping GMADA from doing their jobs. According to him, the number of license plate applications has grown to over 7,400, causing some customers to drive around with expired tags.

“We can issue a drive out tag, but when it expires we cannot issue another one,” said Ritchey. “Fortunately, at this time, they are good for 60 days, but we are 120 to 150 days behind on these tags.”

Ritchey said without plates, GMADA can’t provide their normal service for customers after a busy Fourth of July Weekend. Plus, the approaching late summer is the busiest season for auto dealers.

A spokesperson with the Tennessee Department of Revenue said:

“The Department of Revenue interacts regularly with the County Clerk’s Office and with automobile dealers. We are aware of the situation but have not received any formal requests for specific action.”

Meanwhile, at the Shelby County Clerk’s Office, employees are stuffing envelopes with license plates that customers bought at the end of June.

“The work had been getting done until the third week of May, when all of a sudden, thousands of customers experienced a sudden problem—and that’s because the mail was stopped because they [the county] thought we ran out of money, and that wasn’t true,” said Shelby Clerk Wanda Halbert.

The delay continues to affect thousands of customers and dealers waiting for relief.

“I’ve been an automobile dealer in the city of Memphis for over 35 years, this is never happened. Never, ever happened,” Ritchey said.

Ritchey also says delays are keeping car titles from getting to banks.

He says area banks are calling dealers asking where they are. He says they can’t issue titles to customers until dealers get tags for them.

Behind the scenes at the Shelby County Clerk’s Office

Amid the license plate delays, Shelby County Clerk Wanda Halbert invited Action News 5 to her downtown office on Washington Avenue.

Halbert said conditions in her office and satellite clerk offices around the county are not up to par to handle the volume of work she and her employees have had to deal with.

Halbert said several employees at the downtown office are working in small rooms and areas that used to be closets. On our tour of the downtown office, Action News 5 staff saw six employees stuffing envelopes with license plates - two of them in a hallway.

Halbert said despite those accommodations, her employees are doing the best they can.

“We don’t ever have a problem with the production,” Halbert said. “We did not have a problem from January up until the end of May. The county thought we ran out of funding for mail services and they stopped performing the services. They stopped the delivery. That’s why we’ve had to catch up.”

Halbert said she has asked the county for money for renovations and employee raises.

She also said the new clerk’s office location on Riverdale remains closed due to supply chain issues. She said when that office opens, it could provide some relief.

The Shelby County Mayor’s Office said in a statement:

“The administration has been working with Shelby County Clerk Wanda Halbert during the last few weeks to help identify why county license plates have not been mailed by the clerk’s office in a timely fashion. Clerk Halbert has agreed to take corrective actions that will allow us to step in, support the County Clerk in clearing any backlog, and regularly inspect their office to make sure no ready-to-mail items are being held back.” - Harold Collins, Chief Administrative Officer.

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