Tom Campbell: DMV mess demonstrates state sawed too short
BY TOM CAMPBELL
Saturday, February 16, 2019
The proposed DMV move brings to mind one of the old Three Stooges comedies, the one where one of the zany trio says, “I’ve cut this board three times and it’s still too short.” Our state continues to take cuts at property decisions and keeps coming up short.
State political leaders have known for decades that the Department of Motor Vehicles needed to move out of its headquarters on New Bern Avenue in Raleigh. The state has tried adding to, patching up, and working around asbestos and wiring problems that were genuine safety issues, even getting a waiver of safety laws to continue using the building until the legislature and executive branch would get their collective act together and take action. Dare we say this has been a classic case of government inefficiency?
It is fair to ask why this hasn’t been done. Let us suggest a few reasons, starting with the longstanding problems between Wake County’s legislative delegation and legislative leadership. You won’t get anybody to admit it on the record, but the resentments toward lawmakers from Wake go back many years.
We’ve seen it before. Dorothea Dix Hospital, our first and perhaps most important mental health facility, also was in desperate need of replacement. Common sense dictated that a new hospital be located in Wake County because of available psychiatrists and mental health professionals, an easily accessible location to both the public and health professionals and, most importantly, the state already owned the land. But the legislature decided to build a new hospital in Butner, a location not nearly so accessible or commonsense. Lawmakers have told me privately that decision was made out of spite to the Wake delegation.
It is possible that spitefulness is still at play with DMV’s relocation?
There have been two ongoing discussions about state government property. The first is whether to continue centralizing government in Raleigh or spreading facilities out into other communities. We can argue both sides enthusiastically. While we understand the angst from some 500 DMV employees about potential two-hour commutes, this decision, like all property decisions, should be made by answering two questions: what is most convenient and efficient for taxpayers, as well as what makes the agency’s operation more efficient and effective? We haven’t heard satisfactory answers.
The other important discussion focuses on whether the state should own the buildings or lease them. Again, we can argue both sides. Our state has traditionally opted for ownership, but that thinking is changing, primarily because we have such a poor track record of properly maintaining the buildings we own. On the leasing side, we have made too many decisions based on low bids, only to find that owners had built just as cheaply as they and also scrimped on maintenance. In a few years state employees were working in conditions as bad or worse than what they left. If we are to lease, we must have better criteria and specifications than just the low bid.
DOT Secretary Jim Trogden told me he really doesn’t have a dog in these fights. He says DMV has to move and must do so before the end of 2020. Trogden just wants the executive and legislative branches to stop sawing and make an acceptable decision, because if they don’t do so this year a 2020 move is off the table.
Tom Campbell is former assistant state treasurer and host of NC SPIN at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and 12:30 p.m. Sundays on UNCTV.