7OYS: DMV avoids questions on $35 ticket refund

(WJLA) - Your tax dollars were hard at work here last Friday as the security guards at a D.C. DMV literally held the doors closed in order to prevent 7 On Your Side from asking questions about a refund that is now six months overdue.

Back in February of 2011, Christen Eliason received a ticket during a trip to the Smithsonian despite using her Parkmobile App to pay for two hours of parking at a D.C. meter. The ticket was given to her at 3:28 p.m., even though her parking would have expired a little after 4 p.m.

Eliason challenged the ticket, sending the DMV a receipt showing the ticket was an error – but the DMV countered, saying Eliason "had not provided sufficient evidence for the ticket to be dismissed."

On page two of the "hearing record," it said: "Please send payment for the ticket along with a $10 appeal fee.” Eliason ended up paying the ticket, the DMV ultimately denied the appeal.

After 7 On Your Side got involved, the DMV told us on July 10th the ticket would be voided. But Eliason’s refund is still nowhere to be seen. We followed up in early October, when the Department of Public Works, who issued the ticket, apologized citing human error as the reason why the ticket was not voided until October 7th.

Keep in mind that the DMV office on M Street is open to the public. We even told DMV officials we would be coming and hoped to speak with Director Lucida Babers – but it appeared she had her security team waiting for us. One guard told 7 On Your Side’s Kris Van Cleave “the administrator of the building” issued orders not to let us in.

“The notion that security would be holding the doors closed to bar the media from entering a public building is absolutely shocking and intolerable. That must never happen,” says Councilman Jim Graham, who adds that complaints to his office about the DMV are second only to those about trash. He also says that the agency is “falling short” in terms of customer relations.

“I'm going to speak to Director Babers and ask her what is going on when our security guards who are being paid for with taxpayer money are being used in this fashion,” he says.

The question the DMV won’t answer is why Christen Eliason has been waiting since July to get a refund for a parking she did not deserve.

“When I see the check, I'll be happy and I'll feel some justice has been done,” says Eliason. And it seems that she’ll be getting her check soon.

The DMV issued a statement regarding the incident, saying:

DC DMV has communicated directly with Ms. Eliason about the status of her refund. The Office of Finance and Treasury has informed DC DMV that Ms. Eliason’s refund is scheduled to be mailed out on Monday, January 13, 2014. Additionally, DC DMV is researching why there was delay in processing the refund. Once the research is completed, then DC DMV will know what happened and be able to address it accordingly.

Mayor Vincent Gray’s office did not respond to our requests for comment about the DMV’s guards prohibiting 7 On Your Side from entering a public building during business hours.

DMV spokesperson Vanessa Newton told us in an email, “Director Babers and I communicated that you and your photographer could enter the building; however, you could not videotape employees or impede the flow of business. Customers could not be videotaped without their permission and interviews could only take place outside.”

A review of the video confirms our crew was never given that message.

Councilmember Mary Cheh says there is a lesson from Ms. Eliason’s situation: Eliason paid the ticket while attempting to follow the directions to challenge it—don’t do that.

If you are trying to challenge or appeal a ticket through the DMV ticket adjudication process, do not pay the fine. Paying the fine is considered an admission of guilt. You may have to pay the appeal fee, but following the process outlined on the DMV website for challenging and/or appealing a ticket puts a hold on that citation while the matter is being considered.

Cheh chairs the transportation committee that could begin markups on a bill as early as February, which would offer a number of reforms to the DMV adjudication process.

Under the proposed bill, anyone who adjudicates a ticket will have the opportunity to file a motion for reconsideration of new evidence or probable errors made in the initial proceeding or during the issuance of the ticket. Also, DMV hearing examiners would be required to take judicial notice of evidence that can be readily determined from sources under the DMV’s control.

Additionally, Cheh told us on Monday that she would pursue the idea of adding an Ombudsman or consumer/citizen’s advocate at the DMV to deal with customer relations issues like those 7 On Your Side has been reporting on for months. The reform measure was initially proposed by Council Chair Phil Mendelson and Ward 1 councilman Jim Graham.

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