Wanda Halbert gives first update since Shelby County Clerk’s Office’s week-long closure

Published: Aug. 29, 2022 at 11:30 AM CDT|Updated: Aug. 29, 2022 at 1:08 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County Clerk Wanda Halbert spoke publicly for the first time since she left the country during the Shelby County Clerk’s Office’s week-long closure.

Last week’s closure, Aug. 22-26, was the first of two week-long closures set to help the clerk’s office catch up on things like car tag and business license applications.

This is the same backlog that Halbert reported to be cleared back in July.

During Monday’s news conference, Halbert said her office caught up on 2/3 of the “dealer work” that needed to be completed.

“You’re looking at a team that took months of work and because we were able to shut down for one week and solely focus on that, we got that work down significantly to one-third,” said Halbert.

Halbert said 6,716 auto dealer transactions were completed, as well as 822 dealers packs, which could contain as many as 25 transactions.

These transactions refer to car sales that have tag applications/requests made.

Some of those transactions, according to Greater Memphis Auto Dealers Association President Kent Ritchey, have been sitting since May.

The two-thirds reference leads us to believe there are still around 3,400 more auto dealer transactions backlogged.

“At least now when we’re working (the transactions) down daily, we’re not going to be seeing these three, four, five-thousand transactions,” Halbert said.

As far as license plate numbers, the clerk’s office reported 8,887 plates were received, with 1,627 of those put into envelopes and ready to go.

This is triple the output of a normal work week.

The week before the closure, the clerk’s office said that only 2,853 plates were received with 595 placed in envelopes.

There hasn’t been a number given on what the backlog of license plates is and what the 8,887 brings it down to.

“If your plate hasn’t shown up since May, June, or the early part of July, there’s a possibility that plate is floating somewhere, and for us we’re having to report to the state and to law enforcement that those plates are not showing back up in this office,” Halbert said.

On the first day of the closure, Action News 5 was notified that Halbert was in Jamaica but returned mid-week.

She says her five-day vacation was previously planned ahead of the closure.

Halbert began her remarks on Monday morning with frustration, saying that her personal life was brought into the mix of news coverage over the course of last week.

“I found (the coverage) disrespectful, very disappointing,” Halbert said during the midday press conference. “I am not an employee with a job who has to go to a boss and ask for approval to be out of the office, especially for three, four, or five days.”

She said this trip was scheduled months prior to the office deciding to close its doors for a week to address the backlog.

“We literally had to have meetings to look at the calendar to see when we could do the shutdown,” she added. “We already knew that was going to have to happen. We weren’t going to be able to catch up.”

“We can’t even do weekend work and catch up like we did in one week. I was already scheduled and had to delay because of complications from a procedure. So it just so happened way after the fact. That was the day chosen.”

Halbert says she was still working every day during her time out of the country.

“There is no one who has worked as many days in these last four years that I have worked,” Halbert said.

Shelby County Clerk’s Office CAO Bill Cash agreed.

“We have begged her to take off work,” Cash said. “She works weekends, Saturdays and Sundays, holidays, so I think this attack on her being out five or four days is sort of outlandish.”

Now Halbert is facing bipartisan backlash with questions of a recall. She was re-elected as county clerk in the Aug. 4 election.

In order to recall Halbert, 15% of registered voters in Shelby County 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 the election.

Another week of closure is expected from Sept. 19-23.

The Clerk’s Office is asking anyone with additional questions on their application to call (901) 222-3000.

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