Nominated by Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, Dr. Michelle Taylor takes over as Health Department director on Aug. 2. All of the County Commissioners voted for her, including one whose beef with Harris prompted him to offer Taylor an apology for "any heartache you’ve had over the last week or so." (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

by James Coleman —

In its first post-budget meeting since June, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners on Monday voted unanimously to approve Dr. Michelle Taylor as the new director of the Shelby County Health.

The commission also opted to let the tax rate, which they approved in June, remain at $3.45 per $100 assessed value. The action let stand the decision to not raise county property taxes for the 2021-2022 fiscal year that began July 1.

A Memphis native, the lieutenant colonel currently advises the Air Force National Guard on health care policies. Taylor is a graduate of White Station High School.

She studied at Howard University, the James H. Quillen College of Medicine at East Tennessee State University, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, Johns Hopkins University and Harvard University.

She was nominated by Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris. Her first day on the job is Aug. 2.

“Dr. Taylor advises and helps lead health care policy for the Air National Guard, an organization with 107,000 airmen and 7,500 health professionals… Obviously, the organization she helps lead right now is significantly larger in every conceivable way and more complex in every conceivable way than the Shelby County Health Department,” said Harris.

Last week, it was revealed that a panel reviewing candidates for the post did not recommend Taylor or the other top candidate for the job. 

A memo from the department’s interim director La Sonya Harris Hall, dated May 19, which recommended additional funding for salary to woo more qualified candidates, was leaked by commissioner Mark Billingsley.  

The commission’s Black Caucus called the move “highly unprofessional”  with “racial undertones,” saying it was intended to hurt Harris.

Monday, Billingsley apologized to Taylor.

“You and I have never had the opportunity to visit … I want to personally apologize to you for any heartache you’ve had over the last week or so. 

“Last Wednesday (July 21), I asked Mayor Harris a question. I asked him what the findings of the interview panel were? I just felt misled. Again, you had nothing to do with that…(It was a disagreement) between Mayor Harris and I,” Billingsley said.

He went on to praise her service and success in health care, as well as for being a mother, leader and woman “that is willing to step up to a very, very tough job.

“That’s why I asked the Mayor what I did; it wasn’t to disparage you. It was to ask about a really tough job,” Billingsley said.

For one commissioner, the apology fell short of the mark.

“This should have been 13-0 without any drama. I think we can agree with that. This stuff we saw on the news and all that;  and it’s always the same player,” sniped commissioner Edmund Ford Jr.

Taylor takes over the health department after the prior director, Dr. Alisa Haushalter, who resigned in February after criticism from state health officials over the handling of COVID-19 vaccines. 

Meanwhile, the commission decided to keep the property tax rate at $3.45 after approving penny increases twice in June.

 When the increase came up for a fourth vote, which is required by state law, four commissioners were absent, depriving the proposed hike the needed votes.

The commission approved the minutes of that meeting as a first order of business Monday, setting the rate.

Property values have soared more than 20 percent in some cases in Shelby County. To prevent a windfall in tax collections, also required by state law, the rate was dropped from $4.05.