By Ed Brock
Beneath the seemingly placid faces of those in line at the Georgia Department of Motor Vehicle Safety testing center in Forest Park boils an ocean of frustration.
Scratch the surface with the question "How long have you been waiting?" and a torrent of anger rips down the dam of polite patience that previously had barely contained the lake of ugly feelings.
"We've been waiting too long!" Jesse Jackson of Jonesboro complains.
Budget cutbacks that led to a hiring freeze in January have resulted in a shortage of staff in DMVS positions with high turnover, DMVS spokeswoman Susan Sports said. License examiners are a high-turnover position, and the state has had to pull them from other programs such as sending them to rural counties without permanent testing facilities.
And still there is a shortage of people in major testing centers such as Forest Park and Conyers.
"This time last year we had 16 people and we now have 12," said Harriet Taylor, field operations supervisor based in Conyers.
Jackson and his 16-year-old daughter Jessica had been waiting 30 minutes for Jessica to take the test for her first driver's license. That was a drop in the temporal bucket compared to some.
For Kermit Simms of Morrow the wait had begun at 11 a.m. Friday morning when he went to the DMVS facility in Griffin seeking to exchange his Ohio driver's license for a Georgia license. The computer system there collapsed before he could complete his mission, and by 4 p.m. he was still waiting at the Forest Park facility.
"I think it's ridiculous," Simms said.
Nearby Lendy Legreaux of Jonesboro had been waiting since 2:45 p.m. with her husband and their four children to do the same thing Simms was trying to do, get a Georgia driver's license. Neither was required to take a road test.
"They're driving me crazy," Legreaux said about the young children who played about her feet.
Her infant, Kiara Reynoso, slept peacefully on her shoulder.
Other customers sitting in the lobby gladly chime in about how things could be better and one man angrily exclaimed about the closing of several sub-stations in Kroger grocery stores where Clayton Countians once could go to renew their license or do other, limited procedures not including road tests.
The estimated 27 percent increase in wait time hasn't been easy on the DMVS employees, either, said Belinda Mosley, supervisor of the Forest Park center.
"If we had the staff we could get them in and get them out," Mosley said. "When the customers get to the desk they're a little angry. We try to do the best we can with what we have."
Mosley also pointed out that there is a separate line for current license holders seeking to renew their license or change their address. That allows them to avoid the longer wait of taking the road test, and since the test now must be conducted on the open road rather than the contained course near the center it takes longer to complete.
On high-traffic days such as Saturday the wait can average two to three hours, Mosley said, but it's not as bad on weekdays when school is in session.
Also, while the Kroger sub-stations in Jonesboro and McDonough have closed, the one in Lake City on Jonesboro Road is still open. And Georgians now have the option of renewing their driver's license by Internet if their address hasn't changed.
"That helps out a lot," Mosely said.