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City gives up on plans for downtown license center

After nearly a year, the Farmington City Council has decided to abandon efforts to open a deputy registrar's office in city hall.

That means no license center for Farmington.

The city opened the deputy registrar's office in early March, 2011. It closed just days later, when Minnesota Department of Public Safety director of driver and vehicle services Patricia McCormack, denied the city's application to issue motor vehicle licenses and license plate tabs.

At the heart of the DVS director's denial was a proposed partnership between the city of Farmington and the license company Quick-Serve, which has an office in South St. Paul. The arrangement would have put the license center in city hall, but it would have been run by the outside agency. In McCormack's opinion, that arrangement goes against a state statute that reads, "a deputy registrar shall not delegate to another person the authority or responsibility of managing the office."

In the months that followed, former city administrator Peter Herlofsky - who had previously been named deputy registrar for Farmington - resigned. Current administrator David McKnight was hired several months later. McKnight was formally named deputy registrar when he started in Farmington, and the city made a few more revisions to its plan, then reapplied to the DVS. Still, Quick-Serv was going to operate the office. McCormack again denied the application, this time in November.

Moving into the new year, McKnight wanted to get some direction on the license center from council members. In a special meeting Monday, council members considered a few options for the center. Going to McCormack and asking what could be done to get approval, seeking new legislation and talking to state lawmakers were among the ideas considered.

Ultimately, though, council members decided the time had come to step back and let the license center idea go, at least, for now.

"We do not have a willing partner in the state, and more importantly, we have more important priorities to work on this year," McKnight said. "They were pretty unanimous. It's just time to stop right now."

To date, attempts to open a license center in Farmington have not cost the city any extra money. But the effort has taken up many hours of staff time, McKnight said.

Mayor Todd Larson said he is disappointed with the way things fell apart.

"It's a very big disappointment. I do believe the license center would bring people downtown. I still don't understand why we can't do that, what the problem is. But there doesn't seem like there's a whole lot we can do about it," he said.

Larson said he's also disappointed in state lawmakers for not helping the city reach McCormack or to help get some kind of variance so the city could open the license center. Someday, he hopes state lawmakers will write some new legislation so Farmington can get a full license center.

"I'm disappointed by the lack of help we got in St. Paul. I don't understand St. Paul at all," he said.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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