NCDMV discontinues secret driver’s license office at HQ
RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - The Commissioner of the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles sent a memo to staff Wednesday announcing that the secret driver's license office at its headquarters will be discontinued.
The commissioner said the appointments taking place at the office will be stopped and will not be restarted.
The announcement comes a day after a WBTV investigation uncovered a secret driver's license office available only to certain state employees.
WBTV learned about the office earlier in August, 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.
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 Wednesday's memo, Jessup said the office was opened as part of an effort to meet the demand for REAL IDs in North Carolina.
As part of that effort, we made appointments available to state employees for a few hours each month at our training office at DMV Headquarters. While this helped to educate state employees about REAL ID and how to obtain REAL ID, it has been stopped and will not be restarted.
The federal deadline for those who will need REAL IDs to fly or visit federal and military buildings is October 2020.
On Tuesday, North Carolina State Representative Scott Stone (R-Mecklenburg) sent a letter demanding answers from leaders of the NC DMV and NCDOT.
Stone, who sits on the House Transportation Committee, sent the letter the same day the WBTV investigation aired, to DMV Commissioner Torre Jessup asking about the secret driver's license office.
A list of employees who signed up to get a license at the office in August shows senior staff from the office of Governor Roy Cooper, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and employees at NCDOT took advantage of the opportunity.
Document: Read the letter sent by Rep. Scott Stone
On Wednesday, State Senator Tommy Tucker (R-Union) discussed the secret DMV office and called it a "quick stop" office.
Tucker and other lawmakers asked for the Joint Legislative Commissions on Government Operations to investigate why the office existed in addition to other problems that have plagued the DMV throughout the summer.
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 after 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."
You can read Wednesday's full memo below.
DMV staff has refused to make Commissioner Jessup available for an interview, despite Brockwell's promises to do so.
Additionally, a spokesman for NCDOT Secretary Jim Trogdon, who oversees DMV, has yet to answer whether Trogdon was aware of the office.
Similarly, Cooper's office has not responded to multiple requests for comments.
On Wednesday, following the Government Operations commission meeting, a WBTV reporter tried to ask Kristi Jones, Cooper's chief of staff, why nobody in the Cooper Administration would provide a comment to the station.
Jones refused to answer the question, even as the reporter pointed out that Jessup had done interviews with other media outlets after WBTV's investigation broke on Tuesday.
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