Shelby County’s bottleneck in license plate deliveries is set to end after Shelby County Clerk Wanda Halbert assured county commissioners the 8,666 backlogged tags are set to be mailed.
To cover costs, commissioners agreed to $540,000 in postage-cost funding during Monday’s (June 27) Shelby County Commission meeting.
“I’m not exactly sure what the holdup is at this point, Mr. Chairman. Both you and I met with our administration and the mayor’s administration. I was hoping all of this would be ratified by that time,” said Shelby County Clerk Wanda Halbert, addressing commission Chairman Willie Brooks.
The drop-off in deliveries began in May, exacerbated by the state issuing new license plates this year.
However, who’s to blame belongs in the eye of the beholder.
Halbert defended her office’s performance, despite the shortcomings. She put part of the blame on a lack of direct funding.
“Every customer, when they choose to go online, they’re making a $5 payment in advance. Nightly, they’re payments are hitting our systems. It is our duty to make sure those citizens receive their license plates. Somehow, this has gotten kind of stretched,” said Halbert.
To clean up the morass, the clerk’s office had to meet a set of conditions put forth by Shelby County CAO Harold Collins.
Ready-to-mail items must be moved by county clerk’s staff to provider services within 24 hours of packaging, preparation and labeling.
Weekly visual inspections of selected county clerk offices and workspaces to make sure no items are being held back, and quarterly reviews would also begin.
The administration of county Mayor Lee Harris also requested a written acknowledgement of these conditions for the continuation of services after July 1.
Halbert also said she had been dealing with “illegal operations” in her office, since being elected in 2018.
Deputy County Administrative Officer LaSonia Hall, however, said she and Collins found no evidence of wrongdoing. Hall said an audit also was performed.
Commissioner Mark Billingsley described the clerk’s office as a transactional, fee and return-type office. However, the consequences of failing that simple mission — such as police stopping motorists for expired tags because motorists have not received the new plates they ordered — could be disastrous.
“I don’t know one thing we’ve been asked for that we didn’t provide. We were asked for $500,000 in postage. That request was withdrawn. I don’t want us to become the scapegoats for another excuse.
“I asked this to move forward and give the $500,000 for postage because, quite frankly, we didn’t need another excuse. I see this, respectfully, as a gross lack of management and leadership,” said Billingsley.
(Halbert, at the commission’s June 6 meeting, urged the commission to rebuff the funding, explaining that she did not know why it was necessary since vehicle owners pay $5 per renewal request to handle the cost of mailing plates and tags. The commission still approved the funding.)
The commissioner also suggested the state should take over the operation of the clerk’s office if she wasn’t up to the task.
Halbert was incensed.
“In the more than 20 years that I have been elected, I have never felt more disrespected, as a woman and I happen to be the first African American in this position. I told you all up front, our facilities are not legal.
“Whitehaven has 900 square footage. It has to be divided by 100 to determine how many customers can even stand in the building, which is nine. There are no restrooms. COVID took us outside and we don’t have security.”
She again addressed worries about commission funding being used for something covered by a fee.
“I am concerned about $540,000 to move from the county clerk’s funds, not from the county commission’s, because the customers are paying that fee off the top.
“Sir, I cannot be in the middle of the mayor’s mailroom, who decides to tell us they’re not going to deliver any more mail until they get more money. I don’t pay the mayor’s mailroom,” said Halbert.
Hall, the county’s deputy administrative officer, swatted away Halbert’s concerns. She suggested the complexities of the county’s postal meter goes far beyond the simple transactions of the clerk’s office, but the bill still reaches the intended office.
“You have to understand, the mail shop handles the mail for everyone in the county, all the elected officials, the commission, all of our directors of our divisions…”