Memphis Lawmaker proposes bill to recall elected leaders

Memphis Lawmaker proposes bill to recall elected leaders
Published: Sep. 22, 2022 at 10:28 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) -“This organization has never failed.” Those words are from Shelby County Clerk Wanda Halbert on Thursday.

Her statement comes after Tennessee State Representative Mark White from Memphis announced plans earlier in the day to make it easier to recall elected leaders who aren’t getting the job done.

Representative White says his bill, if passed, would make it easier to recall any elected leader, including the sheriff, mayor, judges, or school board members. But the focus right now is on Clerk Halbert, just the latest bump in what has been a rough road for her office and its customers.

“I will honestly tell you that our team and our leadership,” she said from the steps of her office in downtown Memphis, “we’re frustrated. We’re very frustrated.” Halbert was clearly disappointed in the latest push to oust her from office.

“Why in the world would any kind of legislation be recommended to remove a county clerk who obviously is a whistleblower?” she asked.

Halbert reiterated the claims she’s been making for months, accusing the Shelby County Government of illegally taking millions of dollars from her department and alleging Mayor Lee Harris’ administration and the county mailroom purposefully slowed down the license plate mailout process before turning that responsibility over to her staff.

“The citizens of Memphis and Shelby County deserve the best from their elected officials,” Rep. White told Action News 5 when asked why he’s sponsoring this legislation, “You must do your job, and do it well so that the people of this county don’t have to keep going through these kind of issues.”

Rep. White said his wife, like thousands of other customers, experienced a wait of several hours to get her car tags.

“The lines at our pick-up stations are way too long,” he said, “and we just need to do a better job serving the public. We’re here to find solutions. But we can’t make excuses. We’ve got to find solutions.”

White plans to introduce a bill when lawmakers return to Nashville in January that would change the number of signatures needed for a recall election from 15 percent of registered voters to 1 percent. With about 580-thousand registered voters in Shelby County, that means only 5800 signatures would be needed versus 87,000.

Even if White’s bill passes, state election law says an elected official cannot be recalled during the first 180 days or final 180 days of their term. Halbert took office, winning her second four-year term as Shelby County Clerk, on Aug. 4.

“And I’m not picking on anyone’s office. This bill applies to anyone in elected office that you are accountable to the public for the performance of your job,” said White.

“This looks like a deliberate attempt to make it appear as if this organization is failing,” Halbert said, “This organization has never failed in these last four years.”

A state investigation found no irregularities with Shelby County’s books. Mayor Harris denied any issues with the mailroom, and on Monday, he sent a letter to Clerk Halbert suggesting she extend officer hours instead of closing to the public for a week to catch up on the backlog of transactions.

The clerk’s office experienced two unprecedented weeklong closures this year: this week’s shutdown and another during the week of Aug. 22-26, during which time Halbert was criticized for being on vacation in Jamaica.

Clerk Halbert said they’re catching up on the work, and no further closures should be needed. She also said her staff is currently stuffing the September 22 and 23 license plate envelopes for mail delivery. She said customers should receive them in three to five days.

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