LICENSE PLATE BACKLOG: Clerk’s office needs more resources to keep up with demand, Halbert says

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Since May, FOX13 has been reporting on the backlog in license plates in Shelby County. The county commission and the clerk’s office have blamed each other for falling behind. Commissioners have called it a “leadership and management” problem, pointing the finger at Clerk Wanda Halbert. Halbert insists that her office doesn’t have the resources to keep up with demand.

READ MORE: Shelby County Clerk demands investigation amid long lines, license plate delays

Wednesday, Halbert showed FOX13 Consumer Reporter Carolyn Cerda the condition she and her staff are working in. Halbert calls their conditions deplorable, from workspaces in former closets to paperwork overflowing in bins.

“This is a former closet; This is where all of your title paperwork is completed,” said Halbert, showing employees working in a corner of a room surrounded by stacks of paperwork. “It used to be a maintenance closet, and there are still ladders stored in here. There are two of these rooms in this area, and they are completely full, and as you can see, we still have the tile (stored) up there, but we just make do with what we have.”

Clerk Halbert said there is such a lack of office space that staff is forced to stuff documents at a makeshift desk in a hallway.

“I’ve found it rather offensive that kind of commissioners have tried to make a mockery out of it,” said Halbert. “It’s not funny if you’re having employees working in a hallway, having to stuff envelopes because they don’t have the inventory, the machines, the equipment that are required to handle this large volume of customer and customer service.”

RELATED: Shelby County approves $540K to cover cost of mailing new license plates

Clerk Halbert said her staff needs more space to do their jobs and better equipment.

When FOX13 visited the clerk’s call center, a call screening board showed more than 100 calls waiting to be answered. Halbert said better communication programs are needed to help employees manage calls, and newer sorters, too, so that workers don’t have to do it manually. She showed us one that was out of service.

“So this one is just broken completely,” said Halbert. “But this is what we have. And this is why we are having to really rely on the Shelby County Support Services mail room now because we just don’t have the equipment. It’s been here since before I showed up. And this does not work for us. We have over 2 million citizens and customers we’re serving, and that’s a challenge for us. And these are some of the things that we have pointed out since 2018, entering the organization as the new leadership.”

RELATED: Drive-thru site planned for Shelby County Clerk’s Office would combat long lines, hours-long waits

Halbert said she believes the current backlog in license plates and other services could have been avoided with additional funding.

County documents show her office brings in more than $12 million, but she says her department historically only gets to spend about half.

“We’re not at all trying to offend or embarrass Shelby County government, but we cannot be blamed when we have taken our request to the mayor and the county commission, and this is still what we have,” said Halbert. “These are just some of the challenges, and at the end of the day, we provide some critical services to the citizens and customers of Shelby County. And I don’t think it’s right that anyone is made to work in these conditions.”

RELATED: Shelby County clerk calls for separate mail service as license plate backlog continues

FOX13 reached out to Mayor Lee Harris’s office Wednesday after touring the clerk’s office. Shelby County’s Chief Administrative Officer Harold Collins made the following statement:

“The administration has been working with Shelby County Clerk Wanda Halbert during the last few weeks to help identify why county license plates have not been mailed by the clerk’s office in a timely fashion. Clerk Halbert has agreed to take corrective actions that will allow us to step in, support the County Clerk in clearing any backlog, and regularly inspect their office to make sure no ready-to-mail items are being held back.”

Commissioners have insisted Clerk Halbert has been given the resources and funding needed to do her job. Commissioner Mark Billingsley recently called her complaints “excuses.”