The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles is in dire need of a shake-up. Erin Deveney’s resignation in the aftermath of a deadly crash in New Hampshire that might not have happened had her agency done its job unscrewed the lid from a rotten jar. Tuesday’s firing of Thomas Bowes, head of the Merit Rating Board, was another important step toward righting the registry.
But there’s truth in comments made by Bowes’ attorney, Leonard Kesten, who appeared with him at a meeting of the Merit Rating Board’s three-member oversight panel. While Bowes accepts responsibility for his role, Kesten noted there are many other people and departments to consider. “There are multiple failures, which took years to happen, that’s been going on for years,” he said.
The registry won’t be fixed until all are brought to light and addressed.
So, while there’s satisfaction in seeing people like Deveney and Bowes lose their jobs, there is no assurance that the registry is fully equipped to handle the challenges that left it with a backlog of out-of-state reports about arrests and infractions involving Massachusetts drivers in the first place. Those challenges are technical, as documented by a Grant Thornton audit that pointed to long delays in implementing a computer system that processes such notices. The problems also appear to be cultural in an agency devoid of any sense of urgency or appreciation for its role in ensuring the safety of the public.
Among the many breathtaking revelations since Volodymyr Zhukovskyy’s truck collided with a group of motorcycles on a two-lane highway in Randolph, New Hampshire, in June, killing seven people: His license should have been suspended had the Massachusetts RMV acted properly when receiving notice of an earlier drunken driving arrest in Connecticut; thousands of such records had not been processed at the registry; officials knew about the backlog but were stymied by the logistical and technical issues underpinning it; and at least one RMV staffer specifically looked at a notice of Zhukovskyy’s arrest in Connecticut but closed the message within a matter of seconds, taking no further action.
In the department of further action, the departure of Deveney and Bowes are just the start. The registry has spent two months chasing paperwork to ensure it catches other outstanding violations and violators, but it’s a ways from assuring those of us it serves that it’s ready to make sure the job gets done in the future.