Golden Valley's licensing office to reopen in July

The office has been closed for more than a year following an employee's arrest.

After being closed for more than a year, Golden Valley's busy Driver and Vehicle Services office on the first floor of City Hall will reopen in July.

The office closed in March of last year after an employee was arrested and fired for misconduct. Courtney A. Olson was later charged with pocketing vehicle fees and getting paid by a car dealer to falsify title and registration documents.

The office remained shut down as the investigation continued. Eventually all six city employees who staffed the office were let go.

The DVS office, which also issued fishing licenses and passports, had been at City Hall since 1986 and handled 75,000 transactions a year. As host of the service, the city received about $125,000 a year, money that was missed as the closure stretched on, said City Manager Tom Burt.

"That's a big number to us," he said.

Burt said city officials grew frustrated with the extended closure, and when they couldn't get the answers they were seeking from the state, sought relief at the Legislature. After a bill to reopen the office was overwhelmingly approved in the House, a meeting with state officials resulted in permission to reopen the office if the city met several requirements.

Those conditions include background checks on all employees, oversight to ensure compliance with state law and regulation, sending employee names to the state and having an appropriate training program.

While only Olson was charged with criminal behavior, Burt said an audit showed that some employees used sloppy practices like signing applicants' names for them if they had missed a page on car titles. He said new employees will be trained to stick to the letter of the law.

In those cases, "No money was involved, but it was very inappropriate," he said.

The city will hire three or four people, and the required training means the office will have a "soft" opening in mid-July and at first deal only with car tabs and licensing. Once it's clear employees are comfortable with those procedures, applications for fishing licenses and passports may be reinstated, Burt said.

Olson, 36, has been charged with three felonies -- theft by swindle, theft of public funds and failure to pay over public funds -- and two gross misdemeanor counts of misconduct of a public employee. According to the complaint, Olson admitted to police that she often stamped title applications "paid" but did not enter the transactions into the computer system.

Another employee who recognized Olson's handwriting on forms that were fraudulently stamped went to her supervisor, who reported the suspicions to Golden Valley police.

Olson, who had worked in the office since 2008, admitted redoing forms and changing prices and said she did it because she needed the money, police said. She told police that she had arranged with a Spring Lake Park car dealer to receive $200 every week or two for stamping their state applications and registrations so the dealer could obtain loans.

A hearing on her case is scheduled for May 23 in Hennepin County District Court.

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan

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