Eye on Lansing: Secretary of state details plans; Johnson is pushing for better technology

By Tim Martin

Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson detailed plans Tuesday aimed at improving customer service and boosting the number of people who register as organ donors during visits to state branches.

The Republican, who took office in January, checked on the department's status from the reports of volunteers sent to branches anonymously through what Johnson called a "secret shopper" program. The volunteers reported that wait times at some of the department's busiest branches were between one and three hours, a span Johnson wants to reduce.

A key is getting more customers to use online services and eliminate in-person crowds at branch offices for customers renewing their vehicle tabs and driver's licenses.

"Less transactions at the branch in line, and more transactions on the Internet online would dramatically shorten the wait times," Johnson said during the "State of the Secretary of State" speech.

Johnson said she is pushing for better technology and working with a contractor to deliver computer upgrades that could improve customer service. Johnson said the state has invested $27.5 million in the system over the past five years, but it is not yet operational.

Johnson also announced plans to boost organ donor registration in Michigan. State employees, when time permits, will ask customers directly whether they would like to join the organ donor registry. That's done at some branches but not at others.

About 27 percent of Michigan's adult residents are on the state's organ donor registry. Many neighboring states have higher percentages of adults registered as organ donors.

Johnson's department likely will lose funding next year as state government continues to struggle with budget problems. So could the Michigan State Police, which has announced a regionalization plan that would close some posts and leave troopers working out of their vehicles in some parts of the state.

Johnson said her department is talking with the state police about allowing troopers to use secretary of state offices in some areas of Michigan. The office-sharing arrangement could save money for both departments and give troopers closer access to high-speed Internet and other services.

Johnson's speech may be the first of its kind by a Michigan secretary of state.

"I want people to know where we're at and where we're going so you can judge -- are we doing a good job or not?" Johnson said after her speech.

The Michigan Democratic Party said in a statement Johnson is "out of touch" with the needs of citizens.

Published: Thu, Apr 21, 2011