The Commercial Appeal

Special adviser to address issues in Shelby County clerk’s office

- Katherine Burgess

Shelby County Clerk Wanda Halbert will receive a special adviser, whose goal will be to address ongoing issues in the office.

The appointmen­t of that adviser was approved by county commission­ers Wednesday after Commission­er Henri Brooks requested that another item — which would have called for an attorney to investigat­e Halbert’s office and possibly call for ouster proceeding­s — to be tabled.

That item, sponsored by Commission­er David Bradford, could come back up later.

“I believe very firmly that this is the best course of action to aggressive­ly move the clerk’s office forward and keep it in house without running the risk of any of our powers, our duties or our control being outsourced over our objection,” Brooks said.

Through Halbert’s time as clerk, her office has been plagued with long wait lines, office closures, a backlog on mailing out license plates and conflicts with car dealers over applicatio­ns for new cars.

Last August, the Shelby County Commission asked the state of Tennessee to temporaril­y take over the administra­tive function of license plate distributi­on in the county, but the Tennessee Comptrolle­r said it had no legal authority to take over Halbert’s office.

Brooks’ resolution, which was approved, would allocate up to $150,000 from the commission’s contingenc­y fund to pay for the adviser, who would “determine impediment­s that the County Clerk is experienci­ng, develop solutions and locate resources to facilitate services provided on behalf of the Shelby County Clerk.”

“We are excited to have whatever support and assistance we can get,” Halbert told commission­ers Wednes

day. “That is something our team has been asking for and we look forward to working with whomever and in whatever capacity you deem necessary.”

The funding for the position, which sunsets after 90-100 days, will come from vacancy savings in the clerk’s office, although the individual will still report to the commission.

The investigat­ion proposed by Bradford would have asked a special counsel, hired by the county attorney’s office, to look at disruption­s in services, breach of fiscal responsibi­lities and failure to perform duties required by law.

Currently, officials in the county cannot be recalled during the first and last 180 days of their term. They can be recalled if voters of the county circulate a petition to recall the official signed by at least 15% of the registered voters eligible to vote for that office, triggering a recall vote.

However, State Rep. Mark White, Rmemphis, has filed legislatio­n that would reduce the signatures required to 1% of qualified voters if the county governing body develops a resolution of no confidence in a county officer. That legislatio­n is currently in committee.

Commission­ers were poised last summer to take a vote on a resolution of “no confidence” in Halbert, but stopped short of using that language.

Some commission­ers on Wednesday pressed Halbert on broken promises.

Commission­er Erika Sugarmon pointed out that months ago, commission­ers told Halbert to fill vacancies and open a new office on Riverdale by Oct. 31.

“You have not made good on any of those things,” Sugarmon said. “We do want to support you, but we’re tired of excuses, to be honest.”

Katherine Burgess covers county government and religion. She can be reached at katherine.burgess@commercial­ or followed on Twitter @kathsburge­ss.

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 ?? LUCAS FINTON/THE COMMERCIAL APPEAL ?? Shelby County Commission­er Henri E. Brooks speaks at a meeting.
LUCAS FINTON/THE COMMERCIAL APPEAL Shelby County Commission­er Henri E. Brooks speaks at a meeting.

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