Five wheelbarrows holding 300,000 pennies.
That’s what Nick Stafford of Cedar Bluff, Va., and his crew carried into the Lebanon Department of Motor Vehicles last Wednesday.
The 1,600 pounds worth of Lincolns paid the sales tax on a car Stafford had bought, a new Corvette for his son.
But what was the message Stafford was trying to send with his coins?
“If they were going to inconvenience me then I was going to inconvenience them,” he said.
Stafford claims that his problems with the DMV started in September when he wanted to find out which of his four houses spanning two Virginia counties he should use to license his son’s Corvette.
A call to the Lebanon DMV was routed to a call center in Richmond.
Still intent on talking to the Lebanon DMV, Stafford used a Freedom of Information Act request to get their direct number. Employees there answered his call but told him the number wasn’t meant for public use. Finally, after multiple calls, the DMV relented and answered his question.
For some reason, Stafford then asked for direct phone numbers to nine other local DMVs, but Lebanon DMV staff wouldn’t give him those lines.
He then filed three lawsuits in Russell County General District Court, but they were dismissed Tuesday by a judge after the state gave in and handed Stafford a list of the phone numbers in the courtroom.
“The phone numbers are irrelevant to me,” Stafford told the Bristol Herald-Courier newspaper. “I don’t need them. I told the judge ‘I think I proved my point here.’ I think the backbone to our republic and our democracy is open government and transparency in government, and it shocks me that a lot of people don’t know the power of FOIA.”
For their part, the Virginia DMV wasn’t pouting.
“We are pleased that the court agreed with our counsel that the argument was not a sufficient request to invoke the FOIA statutory penalties,” said Brandy Brubaker, a spokesman for the state DMV. “We make every effort to share information with citizens as state and federal law allows.”
We don’t particularly think it was worthwhile to tie up the court system over something this trivial, but apparently Mr. Stafford does.
Intent on proving his point further, Stafford hired 11 people, paying them $440 to help him break open hundreds of rolls of pennies (nearly $3,000 worth) and dump them into wheelbarrows (which he bought at a cost of $400). The three lawsuits also cost him another $165, and we assume he paid five of his employees at Craft Vinyl to help him deliver the pennies to the DMV.
By the way, Stafford’s form of payment was entirely legal as the U.S. Department of the Treasury says U.S. coins and currency are legal tender for all debts, public charges, taxes and dues.
For their part, the employees at the Lebanon DMV were nice about the unorthodox form of payment, according to Stafford.
“They’re really nice in there,” he said.
As of 8 p.m. Wednesday, the Herald story said that DMV workers were still counting the coins, and Stafford said they expected to be done around 1 a.m. Stafford said he planned to remain at the DMV until the counting was finished.
We wonder if Lebanon taxpayers are as happy about the outcome as Stafford, what with the costs of paying the DMV workers overtime to count the coins.
We also wonder if the whole mess could have been avoided if Stafford’s original call to Lebanon had just been answered locally.
Bristol Herald Courier
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