Conflict continues over Shelby Co. mayor’s pick to lead health department

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — There is more conflict over Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris’ pick to lead the Shelby County Health Department.

On Wednesday, FOX13 found out an interview panel rejected Dr. Michelle Taylor and another finalist for the position back in May.

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Commissioner Van Turner said it’s time to take the politics out of this.

He argues Dr. Taylor is the right candidate because she is originally from Memphis and has multiple degrees from Ivy League Universities.

“We are politicizing something that shouldn’t be politicized. We are not upholding what we say as a community, go off and come back and bring your talents home if we don’t appoint Dr. Taylor,” said Turner.

Commissioner Turner will vote in favor of Taylor on Monday.

She is a doctor, a native Memphian who used to work at the health department and a woman with multiple degrees, including Harvard and John Hopkins.

However, not everyone is on board.

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A letter from the Interim Health Director to Mayor Lee Harris shows notes from an interview panel.

The panel, which included Turner left comments that said Taylor is very articulate and highly credentialed but she lacks experience leading an organization the size of the Shelby County Health Department.

The panel also rejected another finalist.

At the end of the letter, the panel asks to increase the salary of the position to find a more qualified candidate and keep the Interim Health Director in place until a permanent director is approved.

“You see what this salary is, you see this degree, pedigree,” said Turner. “She wants to come home and give this public service to us and we are giving her all this crap about it.”

On Wednesday, before the commissioners, Harris insisted Taylor is the right choice.

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However, Commissioner Mark Billingsley argued Harris was not transparent when he asked about the interview panel’s comments.

“Again, if this is the Mayor’s pick I think he needs to stand up and say that it was not the interview panel’s pick and he hasn’t been transparent about that,” said Billingsley.

For now, Billingsley is siding with the interview panel, saying the health department director’s job is a huge responsibility.

Ideally, he’d like to see the Interim Health Director continue her job as COVID cases and hospitalizations begin to spike.

“At this point, if I had to vote today, the vote would be no,” said Billingsley. “I have to vote on behalf of the 900,000 constituents we have in Shelby County and we can’t mess this up again.”

Commissioners are expected to vote on the mayor’s choice for health department director on Monday.

It has to be approved by a majority vote.