The DMV: North Carolina’s political graveyard

Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.


There is not a faster route to North Carolina’s political graveyard than an appointment as commissioner of motor vehicles.

Most commissioners are predisposed to failure because they have no business trying to run a multi-layered, technical service oriented governmental agency. For some reason, governors believe that they can appoint a political hack to run the agency, and then they are shocked beyond belief when it blows up into scandal.

I like to call the DMV the political equivalent to the graveyard of the Atlantic because it will sink the mightiest of political ships.

Remember the Algie Toomer scandal? Remember George Tatum? The missing driver’s license production units? If famed reporter Pat Stith was around, he could reel off a long list of foils and troubles at the DMV for sure.

So, we should not be shocked when we read news of dysfunction, poor management and lax leadership. Look at who you are asking to run the place — people with political ambitions, backgrounds and pressures; not professionals.

Watching the current DMV director try to explain the long lines at most DMV offices in a hastily called news conference that was televised was painful at best. He lacked command, seem ill-prepared and could not convey what the state was doing to fix the problem.

You have some really smart political folks in Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration. You would think they would realize it is time to reach out to some professionals for help — and here’s why.

The N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles is the single most important public interaction portal in state government. At some point in time, most citizens end up having to interact with the DMV. Too often it is like a visit to the dentist, but it shouldn’t be.

There are some really smart business leaders in our state who deal with complicated logistics every single day. It would make sense to reach out to some of these people for help. For example, how does Lowe’s Home Improvement run multiple stores with thousands of employees and still focus on positive customer outcomes?

One possible fix for the DMV would be taking the approach Jack Welch used in the early 1990s when he was reorganizing General Electric. Create a special task force that is not involved in day-to-day operations that can look at the bigger picture for the DMV, its mission and its function.  Perhaps, bring in executives from Lowe’s; Wells Fargo, McKesson, FedEx and others to help staff the task force — find someone who knows how to run big operations and make them customer-friendly.

There is one thing for sure, you’re not going to get different outcomes when you stick with the policy of putting ill-equipped political appointees in to run the Division of Motor Vehicles. It is a recipe for disaster, has been in the past, is today and will continue to be in the future.

Maybe someone in the State Capitol building is smart enough to figure that out.

Brad Crone is a campaign strategist and a panelist on “N.C. Spin.”