Jon Lender: Renew Your Driver's License At Credit Union, Jobs Agency Or Tax-Prep Office?

A credit union, a nonprofit jobs agency, and a tax-prep business.

All are seeking a contract to process driver’s license renewals in New Haven and Fairfield counties for the state Department of Motor Vehicles, which is trying to replace eight AAA offices that stopped processing those renewals nearly a year ago.

The DMV advertised two months ago for vendors to fill a void left by the Dec. 31 expiration of its contract with an auto club affiliate called AAA Northeast, which for 16 years renewed DMV-issued licenses and ID cards in offices in Branford, Danbury, Fairfield, Hamden, Milford, Norwalk, Stamford and Waterbury.

AAA Northeast and the state couldn’t agree on a contract because the state wouldn’t drop the longstanding requirement that it renew licenses for non-AAA members as well as members. AAA Northeast’s eight offices processed 150,000 renewals in 2016 — and now, with those unavailable, customer legions have returned to DMV branches barely recovered from nightmare flashbacks to a 2015 computer fiasco that created lines of miserable people stretching out to parking lots.

Another independent auto club affiliate, AAA Allied, still processes renewals in its offices in Avon, Cromwell, Enfield, Manchester, Old Saybrook, Plainville, Waterford and West Hartford, but the DMV says it’s imperative to restore such outside license-renewal services in the downstate counties.

Finding an outside vendor that’s as natural a fit as an AAA office will likely be a challenge, though. Responses to DMV’s ad arrived in mid-October from three prospective vendors:

  • Nutmeg State Financial Credit Union, based in Rocky Hill. Nutmeg has about 90 employees in eight branches, only one of which — in the ShopRite of Orange — is within in the service area specified by the DMV. To qualify, a bidder needs to have at least two offices in New Haven and/or Fairfield counties by the time a contract is awarded early next year. Nutmeg plans to open a second qualifying branch — in Stratford — by the end of November, said Lisa Asadourian, senior vice president and chief engagement officer for Nutmeg.
  • The WorkPlace, a nonprofit organization based in Bridgeport that serves employers and job seekers in its role as southwestern Connecticut’s state-designated regional Workforce Development Board. The WorkPlace, with about 120 employees, has six sites where licensing services could be provided — including its main office in Bridgeport and smaller ones in Stamford, Derby, Ansonia, New Haven and Waterbury, said Tom Long, the organization’s vice president of communications and development.
  • Gateway Tax Services, based in East Haven, with other offices in New Haven, West Haven and Meriden. Gateway — smallest of the three would-be vendors, with 11 employees — offers tax-preparation and various lines of insurance including coverage for home, auto, motorcycle, business liability and workers’ compensation. “We would do it [licensing renewals] in all four of our locations,” said Gateway owner Yamile Valdez. “We have the space.”

The DMV says it may hire more than one vendor to cover enough of the southwestern Connecticut map.

All three of the prospective vendors told Government Watch that a flow of people into their offices for license renewals would bring side benefits such as building their customer bases and letting people know about available services.

The next step is for DMV to examine what each vendor has submitted in coming weeks, with the goal of negotiating a contract or contracts by early 2018.

A big focus will be the proponents’ abilities to maintain security and integrity of not only the licensing transactions — the DMV was hit by a license-fraud scheme about a decade ago — but also the state-owned electronic equipment that would go into the vendors’ offices.

“Evaluations of their responses have begun,” DMV spokesman William Seymour said. “Once a vendor or vendors are selected, negotiations will begin for a contract.”

DMV has arrived at this crossroads after complaints late last year by AAA Northeast’s president and CEO, Mark Shaw, that his motor club offices were being overwhelmed by the contractual requirement that he process renewals for both AAA members and nonmembers. “Our members were very upset that we provided services to nonmembers,” he said.

Shaw briefly stopped doing renewals for nonmembers, but, after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy threatened a breach of contract lawsuit, Shaw agreed to resume serving nonmembers through the contract's conclusion on the last day of 2016. He tried to negotiate a new contract permitting the same members-only policy that he says has “flourished” in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, where AAA Northeast also has offices that handle license renewals.

But the DMV wouldn’t budge from its stance that state services can’t be dispensed selectively by a private vendor favoring its members.

Courant coverage of the DMV’s new vendor search caught Shaw’s eye and he wrote Malloy Sept. 22, offering to: resume license renewals at his eight Connecticut offices, for AAA members only; expand into vehicle registration renewals for AAA members; “absorb the costs associated with service delivery, valued at over $1 million annually”; and not charge AAA members the permitted fee of $5 per transaction (which AAA Allied does charge as it renews licenses for both members and nonmembers).

DMV Commissioner Michael Bzdyra wrote back to Shaw Sept. 28, suggesting that he “re-read” DMV’s public solicitation because Shaw’s proposal was inconsistent with its terms. “If you think you can satisfy those terms, please submit your qualifications so that yours can be reviewed with the others,” Bzdyra wrote.

“I have no plans to respond,” Shaw told Government Watch.

To qualify for the new contract, the DMV says that a vendor would need to conduct transactions for at least 24 hours a week during any of the following times: Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The contractor could collect the existing $5 transaction fee. At least one employee would have to be dedicated to the DMV work. The department would train such employees and screen their backgrounds by means including a fingerprint check. At least 24 square feet would be required to accommodate a camera and other equipment. DMV audits would be mandatory.

The DMV says “additional weight” will be given to vendors for: “multiple established locations within Fairfield and New Haven counties; plans for expansion in those counties or in other counties within Connecticut”: “surveillance equipment ...that is able to capture and record DMV transactions”; and “underlying business that involves secure document handling, emphasis on financial transactions and rigorous employee screening and training in these areas.”

Jon Lender is a reporter on The Courant's investigative desk, with a focus on government and politics. Contact him at, 860-241-6524, or c/o The Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115 and find him on Twitter@jonlender.

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