Governor’s office: Milford mayor drove DMV closure

The darkened office of the closed Department of Motor Vehicles office Tuesday at the Parsons Government Center in Milford.

The darkened office of the closed Department of Motor Vehicles office Tuesday at the Parsons Government Center in Milford.

The governor’s office and Milford mayor are finger-pointing over who made the controversial call to temporarily close a Department of Motor Vehicles service center in the city.

In his State of the City address Thursday, Democrat Mayor Ben Blake blamed the state for July 24 shutdown of the DMV office at Parsons Government Center, which had been plagued by long lines and a staffing shortage.

“In particular, we’ve been frustrated by the state’s decision to temporarily close the local DMV,” Blake said. “I certainly don’t agree with the basis for closing such an important office instead of sorting out the operational inefficiencies, and so I’ve been working again with our delegation to shake some sense into the DMV decision-makers.”

But in a July 18 email from Blake to DMV officials, obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media, Blake appeared to call for operations to be suspended at the service center. The facility had been staffed Tuesdays and Thursdays with two employees reassigned from full-service branches elsewhere in the state.

“While I have appreciated your attention to reviewing improvements to Milford’s licensing center, it appears that we can wait no longer for the changes to happen,” Blake wrote. “I would like to discuss with you temporarily shutting down the Milford center until DMV is able to address the problems.”

Differing accounts

A spokeswoman for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat to whom DMV Commissioner Michael Bzdyra reports, admonished Blake for his account of the closure.

“Quite frankly, we are befuddled by Mayor Blake’s comment about the DMV branch closing,” said Kelly Donnelly, Malloy’s communication’s director. “We are hard-pressed to imagine why the mayor would say that he’s frustrated with the decision to close the Milford branch when he’s the one who asked the state to close it.

“It’s our understanding that the city and DMV were working on ways to alleviate the situation and that Mayor Blake requested it to close temporarily in the meantime,” Donnelly said. “To present this to the people of Milford as something that was forced on the town by the state is just not accurate.”

Blake, who is running unopposed for a fourth term this fall, provided a July 19 email from him to DMV brass that he said Tuesday showed he tried to prevent the temporary closure of the service center.

“Even though you anticipate the closure will be temporary — a few weeks — I’d ask that you take steps other than closing,” Blake wrote in the email.

Struggling agency

DMV spokesman William Seymour confirmed the agency received both emails from Blake.

“We considered the mayor’s request in the late morning and reviewed his other comments during previous months about long lines at the DMV Milford service center,” Seymour said. “We believed based on his previous complaints, morning email and notification to us that he wanted the office closed and was comfortable with his solution. We then began the internal preparations to follow the mayor’s suggestion and close the office. We called the mayor mid-afternoon to notify him we accepted his solution. He said he understood. We sent the press release announcing the closing at 3:48 p.m. to the media and at 3:53 p.m. he sent another email to us reversing himself.”

In addition to the Milford service center, the DMV closed a similar facility in Derby, where at least two customers fainted after waiting in long lines in the heat last month. A review of the operations at both locations is expected to take a few months, according to the DMV.

Tensions between Blake and DMV brass have been mounting in recent months over how to cut down on lines and improve the operation. DMV officials say the state, grappling with a budget impasse, doesn’t have the money to hire more employees to handle the volume of customers in Milford.

Blake said Tuesday that he met with the DMV commissioner and made a number of recommendations that were dismissed by the agency, from offering alternative office space to using the city’s electronic reservation system for customers to make appointments. The mayor’s administration further proposed using city employees, hired on a short-term basis by the DMV, to maintain order and public safety.

“The city of Milford bent over backward to make sure they had a better operation,” Blake said.;; 203-625-4436