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Motor Vehicle Bureau Chief Makes Case for Autonomy

June 2, 2004 – Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone convened a second public hearing of his Government Operations Committee, this time Wednesday on St. Croix, to take testimony on a bill to remove the Motor Vehicle Bureau from within the Police Department and make it a separate agency. However, the only public official to testify was Lawrence Olive, the bureau director.
In his written testimony, Olive made his case for autonomy, stating that bureau conditions on St. Croix are "substandard and unacceptable." From 1989 until this year, he said, the bureau was housed in "two old trailers donated by FEMA" – the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Earlier this year, when the Police Department's executive, administrative and operational offices were moved to the Rainbow Center in Hannah's Rest, the Motor Vehicle Bureau moved into the old Patrick Sweeney Headquarters without any needed repairs being made to the facilities.
Olive described his employees there as "hard working, diligent and dedicated." He urged the senators to invest money in improving the bureau infrastructure — which he said would increase revenues. He said the bureau lacks equipment needed to inspect some commercial vehicles.
If given the resources, he said, the bureau could support the federal mission of homeland security by providing "biometric data, vehicle registration and licensing data" to other agencies. This would make the bureau eligible for federal homeland security funds, he said.
Malone read into the record a letter that he said was received from Motor Vehicle Bureau employees. In it, workers listed a litany of woes including alleged inhumane working conditions, dead rodents in the air-conditioning system affecting workers' health, threats of reprisals and basic human rights violations. Employees publicly thanked Sens. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Malone, and Celestino A. White Sr. for their support.
Another piece of correspondence, from the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, supported the idea of an independent bureau. The most efficient way to deliver quality motor vehicle and driver-related services, the letter said, "is to establish a stand-alone motor vehicle department whose sole responsibility is to address motor vehicle-related matters."
According to the letter, South Carolina and Georgia recently moved their motor vehicle and drivers' license operations to an independent agency.
The Senate committee's first public hearing on the bill, introduced by Donastorg, was held May 4 on St. Thomas. There, the committee heard from Assistant Police Commissioner James H. McCall, representing Commissioner Elton Lewis, who opposes the bill; from Winston Parker, V.I. Taxi Association president, who complained of current conditions; and Riise Richards, local president of the Law Enforcement Supervisors Union, who described interpersonal conflicts and rat infestations at the St. Thomas bureau facility. (See "MVB's Need for a Makeover Undisputed".)
The only committee member present for the entirety of Wednesday's three-hour hearing was Malone, the chair. Sen. Emmett Hansen II was present for part of the meeting. Sens. Lorraine Berry, Douglas Canton Jr., Carlton Dowe and White were excused. Also present was Donastorg, who is not member of the committee.

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