Controversial Indiana BMV Chief Steps Down

Published: Sep. 27, 2006 at 9:19 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 4, 2006 at 2:14 PM EDT
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(INDIANAPOLIS) -- Bureau of Motor Vehicles' Commissioner Joel Silverman, who angered many lawmakers, local officials and residents when he closed more than 20 license branches and completed a computer overhaul that resulted in weeks of problems, is resigning.

Silverman, probably the most polarizing agency head appointed by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, will step down on Oct. 16, Daniels said Wednesday. His resignation was among four leadership changes Daniels announced in executive agencies and one in his office, although at least one had been previously reported.

Ron Stiver, commissioner of the Department of Workforce Development, will become the new BMV commissioner. He will be replaced by Andrew Penca, Workforce Development deputy commissioner for strategic research and development.

Harry Gonso, the governor's chief of staff, will leave his post before the end of the year and be replaced by Earl Goode, currently Daniels' deputy chief of staff.

Michael "Mickey" Mauer, Secretary of Commerce and president of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, already had announced that he would leave his post at the end of the year. Nathan Feltman, current IEDC executive vice president and general counsel, will replace him.

Miguel Rivera, Department of Labor commissioner, has submitted his resignation effective Oct. 6. He has accepted a private sector position. Lori Torres, an attorney with the Greenwood firm of Smart Kessler and Torres, will take over on or before Nov. 1.

"Indiana has been so fortunate that seasoned, proven business leaders like Harry, Mickey and Joel were willing to enter public service," Daniels said in a news release. "All have worked incredibly hard to reform state government and launch Indiana's economic recovery. None of them needed either the jobs or the headaches."

Daniels spokeswoman Jane Jankowski said Silverman had made a two-year commitment to Daniels when he took the job and was resigning voluntarily. However, fulfilling a two-year commitment would have meant leaving in January.

Gonso and Mauer also had made two-year pledges, which they were fulfilling, Janowsksi said.

Silverman issued a statement saying he felt optimistic about the state of the agency.

"As a team, we achieved our primary objective, making the BMV a better place to do business for all Hoosiers," he said.

Daniels had publicly backed Silverman despite controversy he stirred in making changes to an agency that the BMV chief said was a wreck when he inherited it. House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, repeatedly called for Daniels to fire him in recent weeks.

Silverman waited until two days after the General Assembly adjourned the 2005 session to announce plans to close several license branches. That angered many lawmakers, and not just those who had branches in their districts shut down. Many also considered the timing sneaky, since the session had just ended and they had no say.

The agency permanently closed 24 branches last year. Silverman said he did it to free up money and transfer employees to other branches to improve overall services. But thousands of people attended public meetings denouncing the closings.

Silverman and Daniels publicly apologized for technical problems that occurred when a $32 million computer system was installed in early July. Several tasks could not be performed for days, and other glitches resulted in hourslong waits at some branches.

The switch also raised concerns about the accuracy of driving records police and prosecutors access.

Silverman said recently that there were numerous reasons for the problems, including flawed testing. He said ultimate blame rested with him, because he convinced Daniels the agency was ready to convert to the new system.

The upgraded system is designed to be more secure, meet new federal ID requirements and enable the agency to verify data in a way a 1970s-era mainframe computer would not allow. The BMV says it is one of the largest -- if not the largest -- data conversions in state history and involved more than 250 million files.

Many legislators -- some publicly and many more privately -- also had accused Silverman of being arrogant, secretive and just plain rude. They raised eyebrows at him for some other things, such as hiring more than 20 BMV employees who used to work for the Galyans sporting goods chain, where Silverman was once a top executive.

Bauer, the House minority leader, said he thinks the Daniels administration wanted Silverman out before the election, "which shows some signs of intelligence."

"I'm happy for the public because they have suffered so much pain. It's been awful for them," Bauer said. He characterized the changes in general as "having four new holes in the whole new crew."

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)