- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 19, 2002

The long lines, surly service and poor record keeping plaguing the District's Department of Motor Vehicles have convinced Mayor Anthony A. Williams that he needs to get personally involved in cleaning up an agency he once called the "best run" in the city.
Mr. Williams has outlined a six-point plan he said will solve problems in the DMV. Part of his plan calls for hiring 30 additional employees to staff the counters at the District's Brentwood, Penn Branch and C Street locations where long lines form daily and speeding the renovation of the shuttered vehicle-inspection station on West Virginia Avenue NE.
"I am committed to finding solutions to the problems that have been identified," Mr. Williams said in a statement released yesterday. "Although we have made great strides, we have an obligation to take immediate steps to improve service delivery in this essential area."
The mayor's action comes after a recent series of stories in The Washington Times focusing on ongoing problems in the DMV.
The mayor is also under pressure from council members who feel the issue hasn't been a priority for the administration. Last week, council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, held a hearing on the bugs in the agency's new Destiny computer system. Several residents complained that the system and the new collection policy that came with it is unreliable and unfair.
Numerous witnesses said they were being forced to pay for tickets on cars they no longer own, or pay tickets that dated back as much as 20 years.
Council member Kevin P. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat, responding to some of the complaints about fines being assessed to the wrong people, indicated yesterday that if the mayor doesn't take action, he plans to introduce legislation that would protect residents from an overaggressive DMV.
Mr. Chavous' legislation would limit the DMV's ability to collect any overdue fines issued before 1998.
"He tabled the legislation for two weeks to give the mayor time to work with the council on reaching a better solution," said Kathy Etamad, spokeswoman for Mr. Chavous.
But forgiving old debts would be expensive, city officials say. DMV spokeswoman Regina Williams said the city is owed hundreds of million of dollars in overdue tickets dating back to 1981.
"On the whole, the city is owed $490.2 million in outstanding fines $127.6 million is owed by D.C. residents alone," Miss Williams said.
Mr. Williams has said many of the complaints are coming from people who owe the city money and that the new computer system is doing what it was designed to do: catch those people.
More details on Mr. Williams' plan are expected to be made public tomorrow. The 30 new employees are likely to come from a pool of candidates in "the Department of Employment Services' welfare-to-work program and from the Office on Aging," Miss Williams said.
DMV Director Sherryl Hobbs Newman said last week that 44 persons had applied for part-time jobs at the DMV but that only one had accepted a position.
Meanwhile, The Times reported yesterday that the city has more than doubled the number of parking-enforcement officers to 165 from 75 in the past year in a crackdown on illegal parking. Those new officers are expected to help the city improve by several million dollars on the $51 million in parking fines collected last year.
Mrs. Newman has been struggling to correct the problems at the Brentwood center. She said her office will be putting up "DMV parking only" to mollify Brentwood Square Shopping Center tenants, who say DMV customers are filling the limited spaces and choking out business.
Other problems, she said, may take longer.
An audit report obtained by The Times and first reported by WTTG (Fox-5) showed that the DMV wrongly collected and kept $17.8 million in ticket overpayments from 1981 to 1997. Mrs. Newman said her office has mailed more than 25,000 notices to persons who overpaid since July 1999 and are due refunds.
To date, the DMV has received 11,500 responses, and 8,400 persons have been reimbursed.
Mrs. Newman has said the new contract with Affiliated Computer Services, the Dallas-based company contracted to process ticket payments and archive records, is hampering her ability to obtain the information needed to make reimbursements.

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