When we spoke with Law Enforcement Secretary Spencer Collier on the phone Thursday about problems with the driver’s license offices, he advised us to reach out to the Baldwin County Commissioners.
“I think we can resolve that with more man power,” Collier said in our interview. “I’ll even go one step further. If you want to reach out to representative Faust or the county commissioners. I’ll even commit to building a driver’s license office in Baldwin County if they’ll sponsor the bond issue to build it and provide the funding for us to put examiners there.”
Before we even had a chance to call anyone, Commissioner Chris Elliott reached out to us.
“I was completely and totally flabbergasted when I heard that, as were my fellow commissioners as well. We actually played the actual comment back in a budget hearing on Friday and the comments around the table were really just a bunch of folks taken a back,” Elliott said.
“First of all, the notion that the county should float a bond issue, either for a facility for the DMV or that the county should fund state employees itself was pretty ludicrous. But, what got us even more than that, is we fund the facility for the DMV right now. The DMV offices here in Baldwin county are funded and housed right here in the county court-house,” Elliott continued.
Elliott said he’s frustrated with Governor Bentley’s administration using “the budget as a hammer,” in his words. He said he devised a solution that wouldn’t impact the state budget or taxpayers.
“Probate Judge Tim Russell and I had a conversation about this on Friday, and what we’re trying to do is figure out how to make government work better for the people. Whether it’s a city responsibility, a county responsibility, or a state responsibility. I know the probate judge and I are both willing to make the entire process easier for the citizen,” Elliott said.
His suggestion for doing so is to ask the state to allow probate judges to issue new licenses to people who don’t need a driver’s test, like out-of state transfers for instance.
“It would require no additional staff, no additional work, no additional fees. It’s just really walking from one side of the courthouse to the other. I mean, the probate judge in Baldwin County is already issuing renewal licenses. It’s really not a problem for them to issue new ones either and the probate judge has indicated that he’d be willing to do that,” Elliot said.
Probate judges currently oversee renewals and tags in Baldwin County, but the state is the only department that can issue a new license, which happens to be where area of the office where the problem is.
Nearly every day, people are turned away at the Fairhope office because the sign-up sheet for new licenses is full by mid-morning, often serving as a frustrating first-impression for people moving to the area from out-of-state. It’s one of the biggest complaints that the Baldwin County help hotline receives, according to Elliott.
“Let those folks go to the other side of the line, the other side of the courthouse, and go ahead and get their license and move on with their day. It’ll decrease the workload at DMV, and we’re perfectly willing to handle it here,” Elliott exclaimed.
He added that Baldwin County has Probate Judges in Bay Minette, Robertsdale, Foley, and Fairhope, so they could potentially have 4 locations for licenses if the state approved his idea.
Elliott said he hasn’t contacted Collier about his idea, but has talked with state lawmakers about it. He said he wants to invite Collier to visit the Fairhope facility when he drives down to Mobile to tour the Demetropolis Branch with our news team next week.
“I would invite Secretary Collier to come to the Fairhope courthouse, see the operation that we have here, and really let’s see if we can try to find a solution, other than floating a bond issue and additional taxes for the residents here in Baldwin County. It just doesn’t seem like a good idea at all,” Elliott shook his head.