“Absolutely not. I’m not going anywhere,” said Shelby County Clerk Wanda Halbert in response to the suggestion for her to step aside. (Screen capture)

The long-running dispute between members of the Shelby County Commission and Shelby County Clerk Wanda Halbert clearly is ongoing after the embattled official was asked whether it was time for her to step down during Wednesday’s General Government Committee meeting.

“Is it not time to step aside in the interest of our constituents and the turmoil that we’ve put them through? Is it not time for you to step up and step aside, so we can resolve these problems?” asked Commissioner Mick Wright.

Shelby County Commissioner Mick Wright. (Screen capture)

On Tuesday, Wright released a memo calling for Halbert to resign “for the good of Shelby County and all of its citizens, and in the interest of the continuity of services in the Shelby County Clerk’s office.

Wednesday’s exchange came after commissioners spent the better part of the briefing trying to pin down opening dates for a new office at Poplar Ave. and Quince Rd., and a new location at Poplar Plaza. Both are slated to replace the current office at Poplar Plaza, which closes in June.

Halbert bridled at Wright’s suggestion that she step aside.

“Absolutely not. I’m not going anywhere,” Halbert replied. 

Halbert’s five-year tenure as clerk has been marked by controversy, including delays in vehicle tag renewals and other items during the height of the pandemic. In her current second term, the criticisms have expanded to the delays in opening new offices and renewing leases for satellite locations.

“It’s been 21/2 years since the office closed in Germantown. Now, we’re hearing that an additional office is in jeopardy. Perhaps, a third office is in jeopardy of closing. I just can’t imagine the chaos and harm to our constituents if that happens…,” remarked Wright.

Last week, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris pressed Halbert to sign a lease at a new location at Poplar Plaza. Otherwise, he would ask for a meeting with the commission and the district attorney general. Together, they would mull whether the clerk had been performing her duties. The deadline ended March 24.

Commission Chairman Mickell Lowery said he sent a memorandum of agreement to hire an advisor to Halbert. The name is expected to be announced on today.

At one point on Wednesday, Halbert claimed she was not allowed to fully staff the new Riverdale office until the preceding vacant spots are filled. That was countered by County Human Resources Director Gerald Thornton, who chalked the problem up to a misunderstanding. 

“I think there was an unintentional statement here today. HR has never told anyone they cannot hire anyone,” offered Thornton.

Committee Chair Shante Avant pressed for specifics.

“Is the date 15 days from now? Is it 30 days from now? … (Y)ou’ve been telling folks within the county that they can expect the facility to be open. I think it was supposed to be October of last year. Then, we got to December.… We’re wanting to know from your standpoint as the clerk, what thing is holding you up from opening up…?”

Meanwhile, the current lease at 3412-A Plaza Dr. expires at the end of June. The next-door Paul Mitchell School has plans to expand in the space. 

According to Halbert, another address at the Plaza has been selected, although a lease from the property manager hasn’t been offered yet. Another step is to seek funding from Shelby County Support Services for the “build out.” She also said local real estate agents have offered free help finding another location, if necessary.

When asked by Wright to grade her tenure, Halbert maintained most of the problems – such as offices operating on expired leases, as well as locations that aren’t up to code and “illegal” – preceded her. She graded the county government instead.

“I give this county a negative zero for even having our customers and our residents go through that,” said Halbert. “I am not going to be held accountable for 25- and 30-year problems.”

Prior to suggesting she “resign,” a dustup occurred between Wright and Halbert after he asked her about her upcoming weekly schedule.

“Are you trying to figure out my wedding plans? I want to respectfully say this, because I feel it is somewhat of a violation,” she defended. “I am an independent elected official who has constitutional duties and authorities. I will invite any of you to look at every schedule, every day … as of the moment I’m talking to you, I have not missed a regular day since August.”

Last August, Halbert sparked anger after she took a “scheduled” Jamaica vacation during the extended tag backlog.