Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is receiving mixed reviews from the public and legislature recently on her performance across the state.
During the recent pandemic, everyone understood the need to restrict branch hours and reduce services. They supported the Secretary’s decision to eliminate waiting rooms in branches, postpone certain non-essential services, and require appointments. But not anymore.
From State Senators to County Commissioners in places like Chippewa County, elected officials sounded off in May about wait times for an appointment. Many citizens upset with Benson’s recent announcement on permanently closing branches to walk-in services are also speaking up.
Some say Secretary Benson is getting a bum rap. However, residents from Oxford, Independence Township, Troy, Lake Orion, and Davisburg gathered at the Clarkston branch on Sashabaw Road despite the rain last Saturday, May 22nd, to say otherwise.
Despite high vaccination rates and other measures that reduced the risk of infection to her staff, Secretary Benson decided not to reward residents with easier access to needed services. Instead, her April 29th announcement caught residents off guard with the requirement to go online and register for appointments. Most open slots are months from now.
As of May 23rd, the S.O.S. website offered appointments for watercraft registrations, enhanced and first-time driver’s licenses, title transfers and corrections, and five other services on September 1st or later. Alternatively, lucky residents might be able to snag a next-day appointment if they can go online at 8:00 a.m. or 12:00 p.m. and find time slots held previously by others but recently canceled. Many residents attempting to obtain these earlier slots reported no luck using that option, however. Others who have to work during those times did not have access to the phone or computers. Instead of improving access, the Secretary seems to be going in reverse.
Protesters along the road in front of the Clarkston office seemed pleased on Saturday as many motorists honked their horns in passing support. Signs reading, “Madam Secretary: If You Cannot Handle Michigan’s Volume of Drivers, Step Aside,” “Don’t Stop Walk-Ins,” and “Save Our State from the S.O.S.” lined the road during the noon hour.
The Secretary’s decision to restrict access to branches, made without input from residents or their elected representatives, raises some questions:
• Since residents pay taxes and fees to provide governmental services, shouldn’t those services be available when convenient for them rather than for government employees?
• If services are not available for three months, shouldn’t offices be open more hours?
• Why aren’t branches open at more convenient times, such as after 5:00 p.m. on one or more weekdays or some Saturdays?
• Shouldn’t the Secretary prioritize certain types of transactions for quick appointments rather than making residents call day after day to find help?
• Why did Secretary Benson eliminate the previous same-day appointment process using text messaging that provided a time when the resident should arrive?
• Protesters mentioned other areas of frustration, such as being allowed to perform only one transaction per visit and not allowing a spouse to use a long-awaited time slot initially made in the other spouse’s name.
These and other questions should be answered in Lansing this week when Secretary Benson appears before the legislature. Working people in Michigan should be able to plan these visits convenient to them — not to bureaucrats.
Jay R. Taylor