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Motor Vehicle Bureau Office Closed Without Explanation

May 13, 2004 – The St. Thomas office of the Motor Vehicle Bureau didn't offer slow service on Thursday. It offered no service. A hand-lettered sign taped to the front door said it all: "Motor Vehicles is closed 5/13/04."
The office was shut down because several employees staged what appeared to be a sickout, Sgt. Thomas Hannah, Police Department spokesman, said Thursday afternoon. "I just heard about it about 40 minutes ago, myself," he said.
The bureau falls within the Police Department. There were reports circulating on Thursday that the office also had been closed on Wednesday, with "computer problems" being cited as the reason.
In early April, Lawrence Olive, bureau director, said the St. Thomas office, then open three days a week, had "two typists and two cashiers." Hannah said on Thursday that "there are more typists than that, but not more equipment. Only two people can type the information at one time."
Hannah said the employees who called in sick would have to answer to newly sworn-in Assistant Police Commissioner James H. McCall. "Hopefully the bureau will be open tomorrow," Hannah said, "but the employees will have to explain their actions."
The Sub Base office has been chronically underfunded and understaffed for years. Last November's heavy rains and flooding left it a physical wreck, as well.
At a Senate Government Operations Committee hearing on May 4, Riise Richards, local president of the Law Enforcement Supervisors Union, described the working environment as rat-infested, with 3- to 4-inch holes in the walls and "mosquitoes the size of flies."
At that hearing, in the face of Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg's proposed legislation to create a separate Motor Vehicles Department, McCall defended keeping the bureau a Police Department agency, although he referred to the Sub Base office as a "cancerous growth." (See "MVB's Need for a Makeover Undisputed".)
On Thursday it was not possible to contact Olive for comment about the closing, as telephones went unanswered at the Sub Base facility. On a normal working day, the line rings busy almost continually.
"It's unbelievable," Hannah said. "There is only one phone line." He said more lines can't be installed because of "budget concerns."
The MVB is one of the few government agencies that generate sizable revenues. Olive, at the Senate committee hearing, said the bureau is expected to bring in $8 million to $10 million annually by the end of 2005. He said the current operating budget is around $1 million.

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