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Hiring Freeze Aggravates Waits at DMV

May 17, 2003|Sharon Bernstein | Times Staff Writer

Drivers who wish to renew their licenses or register their cars must wait longer at the Department of Motor Vehicles, thanks to a state hiring freeze that forbids the agency to replace 220 front-line employees who have left the agency's field offices.

About 50 of those employees were lured to better-paying jobs at another state agency, the Employment Development Department, which is exempt from the freeze, DMV officials said.

The hirings have sparked some interdepartmental envy, with DMV chief Steve Gourley contending that the agency charged with regulating driving in the state does not pay well enough to retain entry-level employees and cannot recruit replacements.

Loree Levy, a spokeswoman for the Employment Development Department, said figures on the exact number of hires from the DMV were not immediately available.

Under the freeze, which began about 18 months ago, the DMV has lost enough employees to staff eight offices, Gourley said, although the massive agency is frequently down as many as 100 positions.

According to Joyce Rhodes, branch manager of the DMV field office at 3615 Hope St., near USC, staffing problems have added about an hour to the time it takes customers to complete their business.

On Friday morning, just half of the 27 customer service windows on the branch office's ground floor were staffed. About 25 people waited in a line marked "start here" as a single clerk handed out numbers and sorted them according to the transactions they needed to complete.

Roughly another 100 people, some with small children in tow, some in wheelchairs, waited on red plastic chairs for their numbers to be called.

Jose Roacho, who came to the office to register his pickup truck, waited in the "start here" line and then moved on to the red chairs. He waited another 90 minutes before his number was called.

"It's too long," he said of the wait. "One hour and a half is a lot."

He had come to the office in person, rather than mail in his registration, Roacho said, because he intended to pay cash.

Upstairs, where driver's license renewals are processed, it took Sandra Scott 50 minutes to change the address on her license -- even though she had made an appointment.

A computer set up to track how long people have to wait showed that later in the morning there was no wait for people who had appointments. But Rhodes, who said she was down about seven employees in the 68-person branch, said that even those with appointments had to wait when the office was very busy.

The Davis administration says that all departments except those whose work includes public safety or -- like the Employment Development Department -- are under federal mandates to operate with a certain level of staffing, must help shoulder the burden of the state's projected $38.8-billion shortfall over the next 14 months.

"We realize it must be hard for DMV to meet its customer service goals with the hiring freeze," said Lynelle Jolley, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Personnel Administration. "But the bottom line is that these steps are necessary if California is to recover financially."

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