Shelby County Clerk Wanda Halbert, in her first public address Monday since returning from vacation in Jamaica while her office worked on backlogged car dealer packs, addressed the status of the paperwork while pushing back on critiques of her trip to Jamaica.
The Clerk’s Office closed to the public for a week to catch up on the backlog, which sat at more than 8,500 applications when the closure began. Halbert said Monday employees had performed over 6,716 transactions.
“You’re looking at a team that took months of work, and because we were able to shut down for one week and solely focus on that, we got that work down significantly to one-third,” Halbert said.
During that shutdown, Halbert was on vacation in Jamaica, drawing criticism from the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury along with Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris.
Previous coverage:Comptroller says local officials need to deal with Shelby County Clerk Wanda Halbert
Read this:More than 8,500 auto dealer applications backlogged as Shelby Co. Clerk’s Office poised to close
Comptroller Jason Mumpower said in a statement Friday that the mayor and county commission should look into possible avenues to possibly oust Halbert and decide if it is time to use available options to remove her.
Later Monday, Shelby County Commissioners considered a resolution that, if approved, would have requested the Shelby County attorney engage special counsel to investigate “the disruptions in service, breach of fiscal responsibilities and failure to perform duties as required by law by the county clerk. ”
And, if warranted, the county attorney’s office would then pursue ouster proceedings on behalf of the commission.
However, that item failed after four commissioners abstained from voting, leaving it with just six of the required seven yes votes.
Halbert rebuffed those critiques Monday, saying she was scheduled for the vacation and that she was working while on the trip.
“I was already scheduled and had to delay because of complications from a procedure,” Halbert said. “So it just so happens way after the fact that the date was chosen. I was working every single day.”
She said the vacation lasted five days, including the weekend, and said describing her as “AWOL” was a mischaracterization of her and her position.
“AWOL? I’m a government official. I am not an employee with a job, who has to go to a boss and ask for approval to be out of the office, especially for three, four or five days. That’s unheard of, “she said. “I will offer you the opportunity to look at every last one of our schedules. I can absolutely guarantee you, if not the first — the number one person — I’m maybe the number two, but there is no one who has worked as many days in these last four years that I have worked.”
Halbert also mentioned her office is not yet sure as to whether the second closure, scheduled for September 19-23, will be necessary and said she does not expect a third week of shuttering the offices.
From earlier this month:Shelby County Clerk Wanda Halbert reelected — despite long lines, controversy
‘There’s been no cooperation’:Shelby County to ask state to intervene in Clerk’s Office
“…What a lot of people don’t realize, is we still have to carry on our day-to-day work. We still have to deal with the long lines. We still have customers who are in facilities who don’ t even have restroom capabilities,” she said. “We are still dealing with that. So now we’ve got to get back to doing the plates in-house. At the same time, we’re working down the dealer packs. At least now when we’re working them down daily .We’re not going to be seeing these…6,800 [dealer packs].”
Halbert was reelected in the Aug. 4 election with 49% of the vote, to Jeff Jacobs’ 41% and Harold Smith’s 10%, according to unofficial vote totals.
Lucas Finton is a news reporter with The Commercial Appeal. He can be reached at Lucas.Finton@commercialappeal.com and followed on Twitter @LucasFinton.
Reporter Katherine Burgess contributed to this report. She can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @kathsburgess.