DMV chief tours area facility

One of the people waiting in line Thursday at the Woodbridge Department of Motor Vehicles was the man in charge of it all.

DMV Commissioner Demerst B. “D.B.” Smit was on his fourth day on the job. He was sworn in Monday succeeding Asbury “Ab” Quillian who retired after five years at the helm.

He waited for number C414 to be called along with Delegate John A. “Jack” Rollison, R-52nd District. The two men picked up the number at 8:41 a.m. They were done in less than 10 minutes.

That short time appeared to be consistent with improvements in service at DMV offices after the General Assembly in April restored $17 million to reopen 12 offices statewide and rehire laid-off employees.

The Woodbridge office is the eighth busiest DMV branch in the state with 13,000 transactions a month. In January, only four to five teller windows would normally be open and a line formed at the door outside. On Thursday, eight windows were open and there was no line at the door.

The Woodbridge branch has 18 employees, and Smit said Thursday’s staffing level was not staged for the media, it would have been the same had he not been there.

Customers did not seek out Smit as two newspaper photographers snapped photos of him with Rollison talking with customers, all the while a soft electronic voice over the speaker cycled through announcements “Now servicing customer number …”

With a political primary just a month away, the event blurred the line between official meeting and a political campaign event for Rollison — his inner-party challenger Jeff Frederick called it a campaign stop.

But customers at the DMV were positive.

“It used to be arguments and people snaking through all these lines,” said John Childers of Woodbridge, who came to get new tags for his motorcycle and truck. “I just think the pace is really smooth nowadays. Employees are more polite than in the past.”

Childers had not been to the DMV in over a year.

Smit said no customers had had negative comments for him.

“Let’s go down here. There might be some down here,” Rollison said.

Linda Kordis of Montclair said it only took 35 minutes total at the DMV but she would have preferred coming a day early.

“We could of come in yesterday but they’re closed on Wednesdays,” she said. She brought her daughter Erin Kordis, 20, who was pick pocketed at the mall Tuesday and had to get a new license.

“It doesn’t help you now, but in the future, we’ll be doing that,” Smit said.

Wednesday service will be restored near the end of June shortly before the state’s next fiscal starts on July 1. DMV recently restored early Thursday hours, opening at 8 a.m. instead of 10 a.m.

Most of the criticism at the event came in the form of a press release being handed out by the Frederick campaign.

Frederick called the event a last-minute publicity stunt and put the blame on the DMV’s meltdown on Rollison, since he chairs the House Transportation Committee.

“He got women more potties in the rest stops, but he could have done something else. He tried to raise our sales taxes,” Frederick said.

He pointed out that Rollison’s press release was sent on campaign letterhead and from his campaign e-mail address.

Frederick said he would streamline the DMV more than what has already been done.

A state audit released in January reported cash flow problems and funding shortfalls at the DMV that led to emergency loans over the past three budget years. Rollison at the time attacked the study and Gov. Mark R. Warner for politicizing the issue.

Rollison cooled that tone Thursday, saying the improvements to the DMV have been a joint effort of the General Assembly and Warner.

Republican lawmakers criticized Warner for cuts he made to the DMV to reduce a budget deficit last fall. This year Warner said lawmakers will be called back to Richmond if another budget hole develops.

Smit was paying a courtesy visit to Rollison since Rollison is one of his new bosses, and Rollison, he said, picked the place to meet, the DMV office.

The improved service in Woodbridge is similar to that at the Manassas DMV where customers reported getting in and out quickly this week.

The DMV traditionally is busiest at the end of the month.

Smit, 51, of Richmond, was the director of the Department of General Services, the agency that provides facilities management, procurement assistance, laboratory and insurance services to the agencies of state government. He has worked for Virginia for 20 years and has been appointed to several interim assignments including service as deputy commissioner of Social Services and acting director of the Divisions of Purchases and Supply.

The Manassas DMV, with fewer than 12,000 transactions a month, will have less pressure from customers when the Fair Oaks DMV — the last of the closed DMV offices in the state to reopen — gets back to business next month, Smit said.

The DMV has recalled 180 employees who were laid off and is hiring 120 new ones statewide.

Julianna Dorsett-Smith, a Woodbridge woman who was laid off from her part-time position at the Springfield DMV office, started back to work Thursday.

The timing is good for getting picked back up, she said, especially for her since her husband and son are coming back from Iraq this week. She has one more son to come home.

“We have the ultimate customer service, but we had the budget being as low as it was,” she said. “They gave us some hope. They said we were the biggest house on the beach, and they were going to build it back.”