Shelby County Commissioners ask state for help amid clerk’s office chaos

Published: Aug. 8, 2022 at 10:23 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 9, 2022 at 6:57 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The state of Tennessee to the rescue! Fed up with the problems in the Shelby County Clerk’s Office, the Shelby County Commission voted Monday night to ask state officials to send help.

Instead of recording a “no-confidence” vote against Shelby County Clerk Wanda Halbert, commissioners instead agreed to ask Governor Bill Lee and his staff to help the Bluff City bounce back.

The Shelby County Clerk’s Office isn’t just having trouble mailing out new tags.

County leaders say the issuing of business licenses, another clerk’s office function, is down 47 percent. Car dealers are so concerned about the delay in service from the clerk’s office, that they wrote to Gov. Lee to ask for state intervention.

At this point, county commissioners want the state to come in and evaluate all services offered in the county clerk’s office.

Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer shares citizens’ frustration about the long lines and agonizing wait times amid a backlog of thousands of new license plates. The result is hundreds, if not thousands of Memphians and Shelby Countians driving on expired tags, putting law enforcement in a difficult position, and, Sawyer said, putting citizens in danger.

”My father is 75 years old and just drove from Memphis to Arizona with expired tags,” she told her fellow commissioners, “I hate to think what would’ve happened if my dad had run afoul of the law because he had expired tags or because somebody believed he was in the wrong place.”

“Even the military can’t get their tags,” said Commissioner Mark Billingsley, “I mean...enough is enough!”

Billingsley and Sawyer were among the seven commissioners who voted “yes” to asking the state of Tennessee to come in and get the county clerk’s office functioning efficiently again.

“I think we’re at that point. I think Mayor Harris has exhausted every opportunity. His staff has exhausted every opportunity to help the clerk, and none of those opportunities have been met with cooperation,” said Billingsley.

The commission delayed the original vote of “no-confidence” against Halbert until after the August 4 election.

Despite the difficulties in her office, Halbert won re-election beating her opponent by more than 11,000 votes, though voter turnout was low — below 25 percent.

”I don’t know what it’s going to take to get people to exercise their right to vote,” said Commissioner Mick Wright, “but when the situation is this bad, it utterly baffles me why more people wouldn’t make a little effort to choose another course.”

What is certain? The state will send the cavalry to Shelby County to get Halbert’s office in fighting shape again.

“Which is very, very sad,” said Commissioner Billingsley, “that this county has to ask the state of Tennessee to help people get their car tags.”

When asked, Halbert declined to comment.

Halbert has insisted for years that money’s being stolen from her office, among other allegations.

The state comptroller’s office, Mayor Harris’ office, and the county commission are all on record as saying those allegations were investigated and found not to be true.

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