MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County Clerk Wanda Halbert says reports that an East Memphis branch office was evicted due to non-payment of rent are untrue.
“There has been concern that we were evicted,” Halbert said. “That’s absolutely not true.”
“All of our rentals are paid up,” she said.
The Poplar Plaza branch of the clerk’s office closed suddenly Wednesday, leaving some customers still lined up to receive car tags and other services.
Halbert said the decision to close was made to better serve customers, but Shelby County officials said Halbert’s office had failed to pay rent on the office for several months.
Halbert said she was disappointed to find her office making news due to “trivial issues that should not have gone before the public.”
When asked, she did not provide a clear answer for the reason behind late payments but alluded to an employee leaving. She denied the office was evicted, saying the payments were late by “a month or two.”
She said there will be a new location at Poplar and Highland, as well as a larger Whitehaven office coming.
The Poplar Plaza space’s lease ended months ago. Records show leases at other branch offices across the county, like Whitehaven, may also be in jeopardy.
The Clerk did not give any answer to why customers weren’t notified of the Poplar Plaza closure or any exact dates for new locations.
The problem with the site leases, along with backlogs and long lines at the offices, caused friction between Halbert and several local officials. County Commissioner Mick Wright has repeatedly called for Halbert to step down from her job. An independent prosecutor was appointed to look into Halbert’s office in June.
The investigation is being handled by the Hamilton County District Attorney General’s Office in East Tennessee after Shelby County DA Steve Mulroy recused himself.
Jay Price with the Hamilton County DA’s office said Thursday that recent news of the closure of the Poplar Plaza office has sped up their investigation.
He says they have been receiving more callbacks and information about Halbert, which will be sent to DA Coty Wamp. They hope to be done by mid-December, but it will take longer if needed.
“We’re doing everything we can to expedite it. We’re talking with as many council people, the mayor’s office, other staff members, upper management, as many people as we can get to talk with us and compile information and evidence,” he said.
Halbert blames financial issues involving Shelby County and Mayor Lee Harris for several problems with her office.
“Something is wrong, and it’s not someone getting evicted because they did not pay rent or a month or two,” Halbert said. “We have that evidential document and I am publicly inviting the Mayor to the table. Let’s go to the local, state, and federal government if you think there is a problem.”
Halbert said Thursday the entire situation came to the public’s attention due to retaliation by someone after she reported problems with documents at the clerk’s office. She did not provide details on what she claimed was wrong or who she claimed was retaliating.
She also said she has not submitted revenue reports to the county trustee’s office recently because something is wrong with the reports.
She said she had not been available to answer questions before today due to an ongoing family issue.