A Chattanooga judge is questioning the state's decision to close the county's only center that reinstates driver's licenses, saying it will lead to more unlicensed drivers on local roads.
"[The state] is leaving the centers in Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis open, but Chattanooga seems to be getting left out. I don't think it's right for the citizens down here," said City Judge Russell Bean.
The Department of Safety and Homeland Security announced Wednesday the Hamilton County Driver License Reinstatement Center, one of six across the state, would be closing Nov. 15 because not enough people were using the services.
Through September this year, the license reinstatement center on Northgate Park Lane had 4,426 transactions. That's compared to 19,066 at the reinstatement center in Davidson County; 11,594 in Shelby County and 7,647 in Knox County, Department of Safety spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals said.
The 4,426 local reinstatements also compares with the 27,828 transactions completed at the Bonny Oaks Driver Services Center and 18,397 transactions completed at the Red Bank Driver Services Center, spokeswoman Dalya Qualls said in a news release.
After Nov. 15, drivers can get licenses reinstated in person at one of the remaining centers -- the closest are in Nashville or Knoxville. Or they can pay reinstatement fees online by credit card or check card, email confirmation to the state and then go to a Hamilton County driver service center and get their license reissued.
In a letter questioning Commissioner Bill Gibbons, Bean argued that his decision will have a negative effect on the public.
"I do hope that the Department of Safety realizes that this is just going to create more people driving without a driver's license," Bean wrote. "This just exacerbates an already tremendous problem of people driving in our state without insurance."
Bean also pointed out that Greene County and Obion County are smaller than Hamilton County and the state isn't cutting their reinstatement centers.
Donnals said that's not the intent; she said moving workers from the reinstatement centers to the Bonny Oaks and Red Bank offices is aimed at shortening wait times there. She said the Greene and Obion County centers are part of full-service offices that also issue and renew licenses.
Qualls said Gibbons will be reviewing whether the other Chattanooga centers could add reinstatement services, but there's no time frame for the process.
Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at email@example.com or 423-757-6659.
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...