Sometimes, it feels that antiquated and potentially corrupt systems of the past are better than the allegedly improved ones we have today.
Such is the case with state license bureaus.
To give a brief history lesson, for decades, owners of the local license offices were awarded ownership on the system of political patronage. In other words, if you had a tie to a state politician, better yet, the governor, then your chances of acquiring an office were almost certain.
Roughly a decade ago, this system was ended.
Critics crowed that handling state-required business, in this case the licensing and titling of vehicles, as well as issuing driver’s licenses and a plethora of other things, shouldn’t be doled out as political capital. I understand the mindset.
So, operation of the offices first was offered to non-profit organizations.
That didn’t work.
Then came bidding for the offices. The end result was that because the bid is an annual thing, larger groups, i.e. professional companies specializing in license offices, were awarded most of the offices. In essence, license bureaus are much like Walmarts or Walgreens; local folks work at them, but larger, non-local businesses own them.
Fast forward to the present.
Here in Webster County, we have only one license office.
It’s located in Marshfield on the north side of the square.
You can’t just walk in and do your business.
Instead, you have to make an appointment.
The number to call is 417-468-5100.
I urge you to call the number. I did last week. Eight times.
And each time, I got a busy signal.
The previous week, I called four times. I got three busy signals and one recording to leave a message. So I left my message, including my number to set an appointment.
As of this writing, I’m waiting for my call back.
Because getting an appointment for the Marshfield license bureau seems akin to viewing gold bricks at Fort Knox, Ky.,
I hopped in my car and drove to Ava, which is about the same distance from Seymour as Marshfield.
When I arrived, I hopped out of my car, walked into the office and immediately was served. I needed to renew tags on two vehicles and title another. The entire process took roughly 10 minutes.
In Webster County, making an appointment takes roughly two weeks ... or longer.
Which leads me to believe that Webster County sorely needs a second license bureau. Specifically, an office on the south side of the county seems a pressing one.
Neighboring Wright County has just over half the population of Webster County. There are two license offices there in Hartville and Mountain Grove.
But Webster County, with a population likely exceeding 40,000 when the new 2020 federal census is officially tallied, has only a single office. The last time that I actually did do business there, a line wrapped around the corner and the wait time was approximately two hours.
Our own Harry Chapin, Seymour’s investment guru at Hometown Financial Services inside The Seymour Bank, has taken up this cause for more than a year.
Chapin has beat the drum for a south-side license office in Webster County to a wide variety of political figures. He’s contacted the Missouri Department of Revenue, which oversees the offices. He’s called and e-mailed politicians.
And he’s had no luck.
Last week, he reached out to State Rep. Hannah Kelly, who represents Webster County in the Missouri House of Representatives.
Chapin wrote to Kelly, “Through Gov. Parson’s ‘Stay Home Missouri’ order, subsequent emergency declaration order extension and possible second wave of COVID-19, the need for Webster County’s second license office has become a critical problem that can no longer be ignored.”
Chapin continued, “With the overcrowding at the Marshfield office creating an inability to maintain social distancing and forcing Seymour residents to risk their health, it is time to take a hard look at why Seymour and the southern part of Webster County does not have access to a local license office.
Is there some barrier we don’t know about? Is someone or something preventing this?”
Kelly answered Chapin’s e-mail. She let him know that she again was checking into the situation.
“The last time we checked, the specific things that were keeping us from qualifying included population and distance from other license bureaus,” Kelly told Chapin. Then she added, “Please know that I’m a firm believe that we need one in Seymour. I will continue to ask questions and seek to get them to change their department rules if their answer is no again.”
Hopefully, Kelly makes some headway.
Because Webster County desperately needs a south-side license bureau.
Current population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau peg Rogersville at more than 4,500 residents, Seymour at just over 2,000, Fordland at nearly 1,000 and Diggins at 350.
In addition, there are roughly 15,000 rural residents who live south of the James River.
There’s a need for a second license office here.
It’s comical that the state cites “population and distance” as barriers to a second office here.
Again, Wright County has two offices. Its population is just over half of Webster’s. When I study a map of other license offices, Webster County stands out ... simply because that map shows a geographic island on our south side. A trip to Marshfield is 22 miles from Seymour. A trip to Ava is 24 miles away. In comparison, I can find 10 counties smaller than ours with license bureaus 15 miles apart.
To me, the state’s excuses for not granting a second office in Webster County are just that, excuses.
I suppose it’s easier to overwork the local staff at the Marshfield office that can’t even answer calls to set appointments, much less actually wait on county customers who must seek their services.
Vehicles must be titled.
They must have current tags.
The list goes on.
It’s a shame the people of Webster County have to beg for state services.
We deserve better.
Dan Wehmer is the Citizen’s editor, publisher and owner. He can be reached at 417-935-2257 or via e-mail at email@example.com.