NCDMV operated secret driver's license office as residents waited in long lines

Secret DMV office
Updated: Aug. 27, 2018 at 10:12 PM EDT
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RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - The North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles has operated a driver's license office at its headquarters building in Raleigh since January that is not open to the public and that officials are loathe to acknowledge.

WBTV learned about the office earlier this month, as DMV Commissioner Torre Jessup took public steps to address the longer-than-normal wait times at driver's license offices across the state, which left residents standing in lines outside of offices for hours just to be able to get a number to wait inside.

Even as Jessup pledged his agency would take additional steps aimed at reducing wait times at public driver's license offices, his agency was scheduling 20-minute appointments for certain state personnel to get their ID cards at the agency's Model Office.

The Model Office - the name given to the facility located on the third floor of DMV's headquarters building where staff tests the equipment used to issue licenses prior to any updates or other modifications being made - has opened for one week each month since January.

In August, the office was open from the 13-16. A list of state employees who signed up for the August appointments - which was available online through the software used to schedule the appointments - shows senior employees from Governor Roy Cooper's Office, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and staff from the North Carolina Department of Transportation all took advantage of an email inviting them to sign up.

Staff was also allowed to schedule appointments for family and friends.

But, unless you know about the office and the quick, convenient service it provides, it's nearly impossible to determine a driver's license office even exists at the agency's headquarters.

The sign out front says, explicitly, that there is not a driver's license office in the building.

When a WBTV producer visited the headquarters building with a hidden camera and asked if he could get a driver's license, a security guard told him that the office was only available to "state employees and their associates."

When a WBTV reporter spoke with a DMV spokesperson, the staffer denied the existence of the office.

"Hi, we're here to talk to you about the driver's license office on the third floor," the reporter said.

"There is no driver's license office on the third floor," DMV spokesman John Brockwell responded.

Brockwell eventually acknowledged the Model Office's existence and then proceeded to rebut questions from WBTV about why his agency deemed it appropriate to offer quick, 20-minute appointments to select state employees while regular citizens waited in line for hours at offices across the state.

"We're not giving special privileges to certain people. We've had this on the books for the last several months," Brockwell said when asked the first time.

Even ask he admitted a person couldn't just walk in off the street and schedule an appointment at the model office, Brockwell continued to insist the Model Office was not a special privilege extended just to select state employees.

"We have thousands of state employees that would like to get a Real ID," he said. "We don't consider it special treatment."

Towards the end of the interview, Brockwell clarified that it was the idea of Jessup, the DMV Commissioner, to open the Model Office for select state employees.

Multiple spokesmen for the DMV, as well as an attorney from the North Carolina Attorney General's Office, have refused to produce the signup lists from other weeks in which the office was open to state employees. Lawyers for WBTV are currently fighting for access to the documents.

A spokesman for NCDOT Secretary Jim Trogdon couldn't answer as late as Monday evening whether the secretary was aware of the special office available for use by select state employees and their associates.

Multiple emails to the Governor's Office media inbox requesting comment on whether Cooper thought the employee-only driver's license office was appropriate went unanswered.

During the impromptu interview at DMV headquarters, Brockwell committed to making Jessup available for an interview to further discuss issues surrounding long wait times at driver's license offices across the state. He has yet to follow up to schedule such an interview.

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