Shelby County Clerk’s Office crisis prompts recall questions

Published: Aug. 23, 2022 at 9:53 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - With the ongoing crisis in the Shelby County Clerk’s Office, some viewers have asked if there is a recall process for elected officials in Tennessee.

The optics are not good.

Shelby County Clerk Wanda Halbert is vacationing in Jamaica this week while her office is closed to the public because her employees are trying to get through a backlog of work, and there is sharp criticism coming from both sides of the political aisle.

At the main branch of the county clerk’s office on Washington in downtown Memphis, a sheriff’s deputy explained to yet another customer that the office is closed this week to everyone except those seeking a marriage license.

“Well, it’s a little frustrating,” said customer Robin Burnett after being turned away Tuesday while trying to get new tags. “I don’t know what’s going on but they need to get it together.”

Halbert is catching bipartisan flack for taking a trip to the Caribbean while her staff catches up on transactions for car dealerships and paperwork so far behind that the local car dealers’ association asked Tennessee Governor Bill Lee to intervene.

Customers have endured months of misery by waiting in long lines to get new tags or take care of other business at the clerk’s office, or making phone calls to the clerk’s office that go unanswered.

Shelby County Commissioner Mick Wright Tweeted on Monday: “If Halbert can’t or won’t do the work required, she should step down and let someone else lead that office.”

In order to recall Clerk Halbert, 15 percent of registered voters in Shelby County, more than 87,000 people, would have to sign a petition. A special recall election would cost millions of dollars, and it can’t be done until 180 days after Halbert won the August 4 election.

“I would still hold out hope,” Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner said, “for her to improve the office and hopefully within these 180 days she’s able to do it. You know, obviously, the threat of recall or ouster would be something that would catch her attention.”

“I don’t think that there should be a lot of focus on just talk,” said Shelby County Commissioner-Elect Britney Thornton. “We need action, you know. We need to get these plates out, and we need to be able to repair the distrust between the constituents and this department.”

Customer Robin Burnett said something’s got to give, and soon.

”I hope Miss Wanda gets back here fast,” said Burnett, “because we’re getting tickets out here and the police are not hearing that the office is closed.”

Clerk Halbert has been working remotely from the Caribbean, answering customers’ questions on the county clerk’s Facebook page.

She is expected back in the office on Wednesday.

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