License center closes after state rejects permit
Just days after the city announced the license center's opening on its web page, the desk at city hall was vacated and the window closed. That's because the state of Minnesota has denied Farmington's application to issue motor vehicle licenses and license plate tabs, regardless of the special legislation passed in 2010 that designated the city of Farmington as a deputy registrar of motor vehicles.
On Monday, the city of Farmington received two rejection letters from Patricia McCormack, director of the Driver and Vehicle Services division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. One denies the application for the motor vehicle deputy registrar, the other denies the appointment as full driver's license agent.
State officials cite two areas of concern with Farmington's applications. In the case of the motor vehicle licenses, the letter refers to a section of Minnesota Statutes that states, "a deputy registrar shall not delegate to another person the authority or responsibility of managing the office."
That's where the hang up seems to be, according to Department of Public Safety communications director Doug Neville. The city of Farmington has made its proposed public/private partnership with the licensing company, Quick-Serv, quite public. City administrator Peter Herlofsky would hold the position of deputy registrar for the city, but Quick-Serv was going to maintain the office and handle the day-to-day operations. And that, Neville said, is where the problem comes.
"They can't delegate responsibility," Neville said Tuesday. "We're just following the law."
The state cites the location of Farmington's office in proximity to existing licensing centers as the basis for its denial of the full drivers license agent. The law, the letter from McCormack reads, "prohibits establishment of an office that is within 10 miles of an existing driver's license agent office."
Neville didn't know which two offices the letter was referring to. Lakeville and Apple Valley have full-service driver's license capabilities. The Lakeville site, located in the Dakota County Library off of Heritage Drive, is approximately six miles from Farmington, but it is also within 6 1/2 miles of the Apple Valley license center. The distance from Farmington to Apple Valley is just over 10 miles. There is a license center in the Dakota County Library in Rosemount, as well, but it operates with limited capabilities, and is less than five miles from the Apple Valley site.
According to Neville, the legislation has changed since the Lakeville and Apple Valley sites were opened. At the time Lakeville opened, there were no rules about the distance between licensing centers.
But the special legislation that was passed specifically waives that rule. Not only that, but it gives the city of Farmington "full authority to function as a registration and motor vehicle tax collection bureau, at the city hall of the city of Farmington."
Closed for now
The Farmington License Center opened for business midweek last week, and already, quite a few people had stopped by to use its services, human resource director Brenda Wendlandt said. But by Tuesday afternoon, the window was closed until further notice.
"Where we go from there is really up to the council," Wendlandt said. "I think the council is going to have to determine where they want to go from here."
The Quick-Serv staff has returned to their offices in South St. Paul, though the license center had been approved to sell licenses through the Department of Natural Resources, as well. To limit the scope of services "is just not advantageous for them," Wendlandt said.
Wendlandt understands the public/private partnership may have been confusing, but said no one from the state contacted with any questions about how the agreement was going to work. Mayor Todd Larson sent a letter to Gov. Mark Dayton last week, pointing out that the concept is one the governor alluded to in his State of the State address.
Larson's letter spelled out the benefits of the public/private partnership - providing services to citizens and creating jobs in the community.
"We really believe this is important for economic development and the citizens of Farmington. I'm hoping eventually we'll be able to open the office.... The license center will close completely until further notice. And that's too bad, because we've been turning people away," Wendlandt said.
The city has also filed a complaint against the Driver and Vehicle Services department with the Minnesota Attorney General's office.