SACRAMENTO — Jean Shiomoto, the embattled director of the California Department of Motor Vehicles, is stepping down.
In a statement on Dec. 17, the DMV said, “Director Shiomoto announced to staff last month her intent to retire at the end of the year after 38 years in state service.”
On the same day, Gov. Jerry Brown announced his selection of Bill Davidson as acting director, effective Dec. 31. Davidson is currently chief deputy director. Brown did not comment on Shiomoto’s performance.
On Dec. 14, Secretary of State Alex Padilla called on Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom to replace Shiomoto, saying that “the director of the DMV has lost my confidence and trust” due to a series of problems.
A spokesman for Padilla said the secretary did not know that Shiomoto was already planning to retire.
The latest problems involve the “Motor Voter” program, which automatically registers eligible people who visit the department. Shiomoto told Padilla in a letter that the DMV had mistakenly failed to transmit 589 voter records before the Nov. 6 election. Of that number, 329 were registering to vote and 260 were trying to change their address.
According to Shiomoto, the records arrived at the DMV after the Oct. 22 voter registration deadline but were postmarked or signed before it, so they still should have been eligible. But the DMV didn’t send the records to the Secretary of State’s Office until Nov. 30.
“This pause was due to a misunderstanding on the part of the department, for which we take responsibility,” wrote Shiomoto, who said that the small number of voters involved meant that no election outcomes were affected.
In October, the DMV said that about 1,500 people, possibly including non-citizens, may have been incorrectly registered to vote.
The DMV also received numerous complaints about hours-long wait times at its offices. The agency cited the federally mandated Real ID cards — which are required by October 2020 for people who want to board airplanes or enter federal facilities without a valid passport — as a major factor.
One of Shiomoto’s critics in the Legislature is Assemblymember Jim Patterson (R-Fresno), who said that her departure was “inevitable, given the history of the failures of the DMV.”
Patterson said of the next permanent DMV director, “This gives the incoming governor the opportunity of taking a very deep, hard look at the director position and team of people that the director puts around them. The DMV failure has been a leadership failure.”
Last August, a request to audit the DMV passed the Assembly, but fell one vote short in the State Senate. Shiomoto argued that an audit would be a “strain” on the agency’s resources and requested $26 million to fix wait times, of which $17 million was granted. DMV said it would use the money to hire 230 new employeees.
Shiomoto said in a statement, “I appreciate the swift action of the Legislature to help the department tackle these long waits with a new wave of employees. Today’s wait times are unacceptable and we are continuing to take action to improve service for all Californians.”
Patterson tweeted, “The CA DMV audit request has been rejected. They have just sentenced CA drivers to never-ending wait times. This is what one-party rule looks like and it’s real ugly.”
However, the following month Brown directed his administration to conduct an audit. In a letter to Shiomoto, the Department of Finance acknowledged that DMV had made progress in addressing ongoing issues but said that recent developments “underscored the need for further analysis.”
“We welcome the Department of Finance’s input into DMV’s ongoing efforts to reduce wait times and improve customer service and stand ready to assist with the audit,” Shiomoto said in a statement.
Then-Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox, who repeatedly called for Shiomoto’s resignation, said of the audit, “It’s an important first step that I have been shining light on for months. The Sacramento political class has done a shameful job addressing these real problems plaguing millions of Californians.”
Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said the audit will look at DMV’s field operations, IT system and governance structure, and make recommendations. A full report is expected in March 2019.
In November 2013, Brown appointed Shiomoto, who had been named acting DMV director earlier that year, as permanent director. She had served in multiple positions at DMV since 1988, including chief deputy director, chief of operations, deputy director of the communication programs division, chief financial officer, advisor to the director and chief deputy director, controller, fiscal officer, cost accounting manager, and systems development manager.
Shiomoto oversaw eight divisions and over 9,000 employees, and provided oversight of significant statewide programs, including driver licensing, vehicle and boat registration, motor carrier licensing and regulation, driver safety, and occupational licensing and regulation.
During her years in state government, Shiomoto, a graduate of CSU Sacramento, also served as an accounting administrator at the Franchise Tax Board in 1988 and in multiple positions at the Department of General Services from 1980 to 1988, including fiscal systems manager, systems development analyst and auditor. She was an auditor at the Department of Developmental Services in 1980.
A retirement dinner will be held in Sacramento on Jan. 23.