Lewis retires as head of DMV | NevadaAppeal.com

Lewis retires as head of DMV

Cathleen Allison/Nevada AppealDepartment of Motor Vehicles Director Ginny Lewis reflects Friday on her 29 years with the department. Lewis and her husband, Steve, are looking forward to traveling the world.

When Ginny Lewis started work as an administrative aide in DMV’s records division, a driver’s license was a business-card sized piece of paper that didn’t even have a picture on it. And the ID number was your initials followed by birth date.

Now, 29 years later, that license is a digitally produced, high-tech plastic card with a half-dozen security features to prevent counterfeiting and identity theft. And that’s just one example of how much DMV has changed.

Lewis retired Friday as head of a department she helped completely reorganize and bring into the 21st century.

“It’s really bittersweet. My whole career has been in this complex,” she said.

She left to join her husband, Steve, who will be district governor for Rotary International in 2010 on a year-long project that will take them not only around the U.S. but to some of the world’s most exotic and poorest places.

She said they will work on the goal of eradicating polio as well as developing clean water sources and other projects sponsored by Rotary.

“I’m going to take a year and going to make a difference doing something,” she said. “I think it’s going to be amazing.

“I’m worried though that it’s going to be emotional. Extreme poverty, I’ve never been exposed to that.”

“And I’m excited about having something to do with Steve, to find something we can do together.”

When Lewis took over DMV in 1999, things were being done the same way they had been done for 40 years or more. Antiquated processes coupled with Nevada’s rapid growth left customers standing in line for hours to renew licenses, register vehicles and take care of other business.

“It was a very inefficient and cumbersome process,” she said.

That meant the governor’s office and lawmakers were getting hundreds of complaints.

She was given the job and told by Gov. Kenny Guinn to fix DMV.

“Because we’re so high profile, I always say we’re the front door of state government,” she said. “We touch more people.”

Now, the lines are mostly gone with customers waiting maybe a half hour in the busiest offices. The primary reason: People don’t have to go to a DMV office for most business anymore.

Nearly everything can be done through the Internet or at one of the growing number of DMV kiosks around the state. People pay with credit or debit cards and can even use cash at the kiosks.

“Everything we do is technology,” she said. “We haven’t built a new building in 10 years because we’ve been able to give the public an alternative to coming into the office.”

That, Lewis said, has saved the state millions.

Using the technology, she said, DMV was reorganized so that customers can get everything they need done on line or at one window whether it be registration, licensing or titling a vehicle.

For those people who do have to come to the office, such as first time applicants for a driver’s license, she said, the key is the department’s 1,260 employees.

“They have the hardest job, dealing with the public day in and day out,” she said. “I never worked the front window. I don’t think I could have done it. It takes a rare person.”

She credited much of the progress the department has made to Guinn.

“He was such a phenomenal leader,” she said. “In those eight years with him, we got a lot done.”

That made her popular with the Legislature as well because when she took the job, they were getting constant constituent calls complaining about DMV’s poor service and long lines.

“There were customers waiting, and there would be five closed windows,” she said.

She said things began to get better when lawmakers approved enough staff to man every window in every office.

“When the constituents started not complaining and we weren’t on the front page of the paper every day, then they were happy.”

After the year working on Rotary International’s projects, she said she isn’t sure what she’ll do.

“You have to be passionate about what you’re doing ” and have fun,” she said. “I’ve always had fun with this job.”

– Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.