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Benson should speed up branch wait times

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson campaigned on a promise that the wait in line at Secretary of State branch offices would be no longer than 30 minutes, and she had a slate of good ideas to make it happen.

Now, in her eighth month in office, wait times are consistently worse than they were under her predecessor, Ruth Johnson.

What gives?

In July, Detroit residents looking to renew plates or get a driver’s license at the branch office on West Grand Boulevard endured an average wait time of 130.8 minutes, according to data from the Secretary of State office compiled by Bridge Magazine. That’s over two hours — up an extra 31.1 minutes from last year.

Citizens in Ann Arbor were looking at an average 136-minute wait — up 23.4 minutes from 2018, and Novi residents could expect an average wait of 182.8 minutes — a 62.7-minute increase from last year.

That kind of a wait could discourage citizens from complying with the law. It may lead to more motorists driving illegally.

And those with expired licenses risk 93 days of jail time and/or a $500 fine.

In April, after visiting all 131 of the state’s Secretary of State branches, Benson told The Detroit News that problems in the department could push her 30-minute goal out to 2022.

Benson said a significant factor in increasing wait times is the previous administration’s downsizing to 131 offices from 174.

“Bottom line, we’re looking at the result of decades of short-term fixes or problematic solutions that have not stood the test of time,” she says.

One of the biggest issues Benson says she faces is structural problems arising from outdated business practices.

“If you want to renew a license plate, you have to go to an office and do it,” she says.

Yet she knew that to be the case when she made her 30-minute guarantee.

In addition, Benson says there is currently no triage of the lines stacking up in branch offices.

“A third of the people in line have quick transactions that would take five minutes online,” she says. “I want to create an express line, just like an express checkout at a grocery store.”

Noting how past administrations treated employees like part-time workers so they could avoid paying benefits, Benson says the lack of investment in staff created low morale and a high turnover, adding to costs.

Benson wants to reorganize positions to make them full time with benefits.

She says all these structural changes are going to take a while.

“I’d like to be able to make them yesterday, just like everyone else,” she says. “But big government moves slowly.”

Benson is right about that, but she’s also trying to deflect responsibility for lack of progress in tackling something as straightforward as wait times.

Since that promise was such a major pillar of her campaign, she should move more quickly to put reforms in place.

— The Detroit News. August 21, 2019

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