Inside the New Britain DMV office yesterday were more than 140 people clutching numbers and waiting for their turn at the counter. Most of them were sitting in little waiting areas -- not bad for a government office but still excruciating.
I met one guy who'd been there for three hours already, waiting for his turn at the counter.
I talked to a few people, who were pretty nice, before a fellow walked up to me, identified himself as the manager and asked me if I was a reporter.
I said yes.
He said that he was sorry, but that the Department of Motor Vehicles doesn't allow reporters inside their buildings to wander around talking to people.
I couldn't believe it, since the people inside were just sitting there, bored out of their minds, but I didn't quarrel with him.
I told him I understood it wasn't his rule and that I'd take it up with the DMV on Monday.
Let's consider this for a second, though: There I am in an office slated for closure, talking to the people who use it and I'm booted out?
It's not as if I was interfering with the operations of the place, or even bothering anybody. This isn't the sort of story that I'm going to get in someone's face and insist that they tell all. If they wanted to talk, fine. If they didn't, fine. I just moved on, quietly and respectfully. That's usually how I am anyway.
Why would there be a policy -- a potentially unconstitutional one, by the way -- to limit access to a public waiting area in a public building?
I can't wait to hear the rationale for it.
Given that the state constitution specifically says that "no law shall ever be passed to curtail or restrain the liberty of speech or of the press" I'm particularly eager to hear how throwing reporters out of the DMV waiting rooms isn't a restraint on the press.
It strikes me as yet another example of government prefering to do its work as far from prying eyes as possible.
In this case, it's simply nuts, since everyone I talked with had kind words for the employees, no real problems with the DMV and as far as I could see, the New Britain office was humming along efficiently. It was just mobbed.
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Contact Steve Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org