MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County Clerk Wanda Halbert addressed what she called “rumors and allegations” Monday after facing criticism from local and state officials over her recent vacation.
Last week, Halbert took a trip to Jamaica while her office was closed to the public to catch up on a backlog of work mailing license plates to residents. That prompted the state comptroller to say Halbert was “AWOL” instead of at her job.
“AWOL?” Halbert said in front of her downtown office Monday. “I am a government offical. 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.”
Halbert addressed the media just before noon, criticizing the news coverage of her vacation. She said the time off was scheduled before the decision was made to shut down the clerk’s office and that she had previously delayed the trip due to health reasons.
“I found it very disrespectful, very disappointing, that whatever someone’s suspicions are that they would want to bring my family into it,” she said.
The office reopened this week. Halbert said she was gone for a total of five days.
“So, we’re talking about nothing here,” she said.
Halbert said she recently had surgery and said no one in her office worked harder than she did over the last four years.
She again placed the blame for the backlog in license plate mailings on the Shelby County mayor’s office, who she claimed had left the plates unmailed for months because he mistakenly believed the office did not have enough money for postage.
Halbert said the temporary closure of her office was needed to catch up on the backlog of work. She said she’s spent weekends working at her office, and her grandchildren had slept in sleeping bags in the office.
“Please don’t demean my integrity by suggesting that I decided to go AWOL and go lay on a beach somewhere because that’s not the case,” she said.
At least one customer who was at the clerk’s office Monday agreed it was Halbert’s right to take time off.
“I think everyone is entitled to a vacation,” Gala Gailes said. “She may be stressed, but she left somebody in her position to handle her business. What’s wrong with that? We all do that.”
The office closure left others with a headache. One truck driver at the office Monday said he’d had to drive from New Mexico to Memphis a second time, after he found the office closed last week.