Town clerk resigns following license plate issue

TREMONT – The town clerk designated as an “agent” for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) resigned Wednesday, two days after she met in executive session with selectmen to discuss the state’s downgrading of motor vehicle registration services for the town.

In her resignation letter to Town Manager Dana Reed, Town Clerk McKenzie Jewett, who also serves as tax collector and deputy treasurer, wrote that strained relations with town officials led to her decision.

“I feel that my relationships with you and the board of selectmen are beyond repair,” she wrote. Jewett has worked at the town office for almost 16 years.

The major issue for residents is a recent change requiring them to travel to Ellsworth to obtain new licenses. Up until March 28, the plates were issued by the town.

In a March 25 letter to the town, Tina Gowell, municipal coordinator for the BMV, wrote that, as of March 28, the town “will be reduced from a ‘New’ level agent to a ‘Limited New’ level agent.” This means residents can still register their vehicles in Tremont and transfer plates from one vehicle to another; new license plates are no longer available. Those needing plates must first stop at the town office to pay excise tax and then make the trip to Ellsworth for the plates.

“This is going to be a real inconvenience for people,” Reed told selectmen on Monday.

Reed took some of the blame.

“I apologize for that,” he said. “I did not get that straightened out in time.”

Reed, without going into detail, told selectmen that “mistakes” had been made and reports were “not filed in a timely manner.” Discussion of the issue was cut short after Reed reminded selectmen that it might be prudent to go into executive session because the matter involved a town employee, in this case, Jewett.

After coming out of executive session, the four selectmen present voted to schedule a special meeting for 5 p.m. April 11 to discuss town office organization.

On Tuesday, Reed declined to elaborate on what concerns led the BMV to lower the level of service, saying he would prefer that the BMV provide those details.

Kristen Muszynski, communications director of the Department of the Secretary of State, which oversees the BMV, said the action was in response to “ongoing issues” at the town office. The BMV first contacted the town with concerns about 18 months ago, she said.

A major problem involved recordkeeping. The “inventory was not matching up to cash reports” made to the BMV, Muszynski said. There are no accusations of wrong-doing, she added.

The situation most likely will not be permanent.

According to the BMV letter, the town can request that it be returned to its previous status after “appropriate staff members” have retaken the required training. Once that is completed, the BMV would monitor the situation for at least six months before considering the upgrade, Muszynski said.

Training is offered at a BMV office in Augusta or, in May, the bureau has a session scheduled in Calais. Training is not offered online or through other remote methods, Muszynski said.

Reed, at the meeting Monday, said there might be a way to avoid residents having the make the trip to Ellsworth if proper arrangements could be made with another town on the island. License plates are available at town offices in Bar Harbor, Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor.

Mark Good

Mark Good

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Mark Good

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