June 14, 2009

Kicking out the press

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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Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Tell Frank Nicastro!

JW said...

Steve, is there a difference between a 'policy' and a law? Or is that open to interpretation as well?

Poboy said...

First, you will have to wait till Tuesday, (maybe it's news to YOU but everyone else in the state knows DMV is closed on Monday.) Second, if there were a bunch of reporters wandering around distracting people, those waiting could miss their number being called. I can just see people cutting in line complaining they missed their turn because of an annoying reporter. Lastly, if they are already as bored as you say they are how could you possibly help?

Anonymous said...

Yeah I don't know, Steve... you're starting to sound like Abbie Hoffman or somethin... "freedom of the press" doesn't equate to unlimited access to anyplace anytime anywhere. You can't go to OPM and start asking around for advance copies of the Governor's budget... you can't go into an operating room and start interviewing surgeons... you can't go hang out in a booking room and interview prisoners while they're being fingerprinted. Government can enact policies restricting public access. At the Capitol, there are even ropes beyond which the press is not allowed to go.

If you had your way, I wouldn't be able to even perform CPR on an accident victim without pulling your camera out of the poor guy's throat first.

We're not gonna see you on CNN getting dragged out of the Supreme Court in a chicken suit, are we?

Odin said...

Poboy: Do you stay up nights thinking of stupid things to say? What kind of idiot would wait three hours for his turn and then miss it having a conversation? You must be Jodi Rell, or some other Republican hypersensitive to criticism.

Joanna said...

Wow, Poboy, what's with the attitude? There's really no need for that. For starters, who's talking about a "bunch of reporters"? And secondly, I'm pretty sure that the reporter would simply ask each person if they WANT to speak; if not, he will move onto the next one, no problem. This is, however, a matter of being given the *opportunity* to speak with people.

Steve Collins said...

Hey Poboy,
I'm not sure it's even possible to get "a bunch of reporters" together anymore given the decline in the number of journalists these days.
And while the DMV offices may be closed Monday, I'm quite sure most of the department's policy makers are on a Monday-Friday shift.
You really do have a sour attitude today, Poboy. Are you taking lessons from Concerned Conservative?

and 9:07 -- Hmmm... a chicken suit? Cool. Have to think about that one.

Anonymous said...

Rules are rules and its time the press follow them also. Theya re not above the law. I don't want to be bothered by the press when I'm waiting in line.

Why is it that you reporters think you can do whatever you want whenever you want?

cseguin said...

@ Odin - This isn't a Republican/Democrat thing, so can you give the partisan stuff a rest, at least for one post?

@ JW - there are substantive differences between policies and laws, but a policy can't be illegal in its substance and/or application.

Steve - it is a bit odd that they would have kicked you out, especially being that it's a public, government-operated building. You see people having conversations in line all the time, I don't see how it's fundamentally different if you're a reporter asking questions. It doesn't sound like you were being at all disruptive to business. In fact, people go in and out of the DMV all the time, if for no other reason than to see if the line is too long to bother waiting.

I'd be interested to hear their rationale, or to see if there is some sort of official policy on the books.

Bill Seymour said...

A DMV employee on Saturday - when the administrative offices were closed - mistakenly advised Mr. Collins that a reporter could not walk around the public area of the building to speak to customers. I routinely receive calls from reporters and they are allowed to enter the public areas and speak to customers. There is no policy prohibiting that opportunity. While a reporter cannot walk into the secure areas where license tests are done or behind counters where employees process transactions, they can enter the public areas or hang out in the parking lot to take still pictures or video, or speak to customers. We are reminding our staff today about it. We apologize for that mistaken information.

Bill Seymour
Director of Communicaton
Department of Motor Vehicles

Odin said...

Hey, Anonymous June 15 at 9:38 am, your side lost in November. Or didn't you get the memo? The Constitution is back in effect.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it would have been better if she spoke to people in the parking lot and not in the waiting area inside.

Anonymous said...

It's a PUBLIC WAITING ROOM, people, not an operating room, not a booking area, not a private office. A public. Waiting. Room.
Open to The Public.
Last time, I checked, reporters were part of the public.
Steve is only doing his job, and looking out for the public in the process. Thank you, Steve.

Anonymous said...

Steve, I knew Abbie Hoffman, and you, Steve, are no Abbie Hoffman.
(Thank goodness, since he killed himself, the poor tortured soul.)

Steve Collins said...

Poboy,
Feeling a little sheepish now?

Anonymous said...

Odin:

Obama will screw the constiution when we become a Muslim Country.

Maybe he should throw his hat in the ring for President of Iran.

The Constitution says I have a right to bear arms and your moron President wants to take that right away from me, so don't throw the Constituion in anyones face until you liberals understand it as well.

Anonymous said...

@ June 15, 2009 1:33 PM

How nice of you to find time to contribute to this blog in between listening to Mush (brain) Limbaugh and Faux News.

Although not in the Constitution, you also have the inalienable right to be an ignorant fool. And you obviously have elected to exercise that right, too!

AnonymousWestconnStudent said...

The Constitution says I have a right to bear arms and your moron President wants to take that right away from me, so don't throw the Constituion in anyones face until you liberals understand it as well.


How bout not hiding behind the constitution like it's your own personal property. The last time I checked your gun doesn't stop my free speech, or somehow rank as more important than my free speech.

Anonymous said...

Obama has done less than nothing to restrict guns. I wouldn't worry about him.

Poboy said...

"What kind of idiot would wait three hours for his turn and then miss it having a conversation?"

You obviously don't spend much time at the DMV.

Poboy said...

"Poboy,
Feeling a little sheepish now?"

Yeah Steve I just wet my pants. (What a childish retort coming from a so-called professional) Seriously, I never said I agreed with the policy, just trying to offer up a logical explanation. If you have spent any amount of time at the DMV, (five cars and 5 drivers in my household) you would understand how easily this could become a problem. Though it is not their policy, I am sure they could make something like this stick if they chose to. Nice to see some of your regular fans coming to your defense. I am sure it is a comfort.

Poboy said...

Scene at the New Britain DMV:

DMV electronic voice:
now serving 101 at station b4
Steve:
sir did you realize the DMV is closed on Monday?
customer:
oh I thought today WAS Monday!
Steve:
no today is Tuesday. I called DMV yesterday but got a recording telling me they were closed.
customer:
why did you call them?
Steve:
don't you read my blog? I am doing a report about the DMV. I want to ask people here a crucial question - "Do you want your DMV services cut? " So far everybody says no. It's very confusing. I thought there was a story here.
DMV electronic voice:
now serving 102 at station b4
customer:
Why would you possibly think anyone would want their services cut? Everybody knows what a zoo DMV is. I've been waiting here over an hour, don't know when I'll get out of here.
DMV electronic voice:
now serving 103 at station number b4.
customer: did they say 103? I have 102. They skipped me!
Steve: no, they called 102 while you were answering my question.
customer:
That's ok, you are such an interesting reporter, I don't mind waiting a little longer. I was really bored before you showed up!
Steve:
I know , everybody on my blog says the same thing. (sheepishly) Well ALMOST everybody.

Anonymous said...

Just wait til the government provides your healthcare! See if Steve can interview the hundred people waiting for days in the ER!

Odin said...

Wow, Anonymous June 15, 2009 1:33 PM, what's the co-pay on those hate pills you're taking? Not high enough, I think.