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Commission asks for state’s help at County Clerk’s office

Shelby County Clerk Wanda Halbert

After rejecting a no-confidence resolution against Shelby County Clerk Wanda Halbert, Shelby County Commissioners adopted an amended version, asking the State Comptroller’s Office to assist the clerk’s office in issuing new license plates and renewed car tags.

The commission’s action came during Monday’s (Aug. 8) commission meeting, where some commissioners expressed their ongoing frustration with the delays in getting the new plates to vehicle owners.

Despite the plate-issuing issue, Halbert, on Aug. 4, easily won another four-year term.

Commissioner Brandon Morrison amended the original resolution to call for the state oversight of Halbert’s office “specifically with car tags and with the efficiency of the office in general.”

Thousands of drivers, including those with disability placards, failed to receive their materials beginning in May. 

“I think this body has been more than patient,” said resolution co-sponsor Mark Billingsley. “No matter what we do, there’s been no cooperation,” he added.

Halbert, in a letter to the commission, said she is being made a scapegoat for “long-standing practices that appear to bump up against the law.”

These include accusations that the office’s finances are improperly recorded and then vanish. She also said she was hamstrung in addressing the longstanding issues. 

The letter also announced that she was going to seek refuge in the Federal Whistleblowers Act, to guard against reprisals. 

Mayor Lee Harris’ office has denied the existence of any surreptitious practice. An audit conducted by Shelby County CAO Harold Collins also found no evidence of wrongdoing. Harris also won re-election on Aug. 4.

After mulling the correspondence, most commissioners also were not convinced.

“The County Commission is not perfect, but we have not misused any of the clerk’s funds, nor do I believe the mayor’s office has,” said commissioner Tami Sawyer, saying she could not support the no-confidence wording but could support the state intervention.

The clerk has also blamed staffing issues in the mailroom for the lack of deliveries. There currently are 30 openings with 1,000 applications under review. Last fiscal year, the office underspent by $866,049 on its workforce.

In late June, Halbert assured commissioners the 8,666 backlogged tags were set to be mailed. To cover the costs of delivery, $540,000 in funding was agreed to by commissioners, with caveats. 

A series of conditions issued by Collins were agreed to, including ready-to-mail items must be moved by the County Clerk’s staff to provider services within 24 hours of packaging, prep, and labeling. Selected weekly visual inspections and quarterly reviews also would begin.

According to the resolution, 35,000 customers were affected during the holdup.

Late last month, Halbert said the office had gotten ahead of the backlog and was fulfilling its mission without assistance from the administration.

Voting in favor of the resolution were commissioners Amber Mills, Michael Whaley, David Bradford, Wright, Billingsley, Morrison, and Sawyer. Van Turner and Reginald Milton voted no. Chairman Willie Brooks, Mickell Lowery, Edmund Ford Jr., and Eddie Jones abstained.

Jones, who won the Probate Court Clerk Office Aug. 4 and begins his new job Sept. 1, requested a rundown on the state’s plans before the vote was held. 

The fact that the vote was held on the heels of an election also gave him pause.

“What I don’t want to do is vote on something so blindly that we bring in the state and it overturns the will of the people in Shelby County. They voted for her. They re-elected her.”

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