READY: I fought the odds, and the odds almost won

Staff Writer
The Destin Log
Mary Ready

I may regret writing this column.

Retaliation by a state agency is an ugly thing. My best hope is that the bureaucrats who have made my life a living hell for these past few months don’t read insignificant little articles written by nobody columnists for a bi-weekly newspaper.

It wasn’t bad enough that the cable, phone, credit card, garbage, power, and water companies, along with the Florida Retirement System and bank, gave me major grief after Frank died. Apparently it doesn’t matter that no payment was ever late or not paid in full. Since Frank was the primary, they reasoned that dead people don’t pay their bills. I had to open up all new accounts in my name with some of them and pay a lawyer to deal with others.   

Maybe widows should think twice before telling anyone that their husbands are deceased.

Frank left me a car lot to deal with. But, rest his sweet soul, he never dreamed the nightmare that was to come as a result of his passing. The other aggravations I’ve mentioned pale in comparison to what happened when the Department of Motor Vehicles found out my husband died. They swept in like the Gestapo, snatched his dealer license off the wall, confiscated our dealer tags, put “Not for Sale” signs on the cars, and advised us to go out of business immediately.

It seems that, according to the state (and it’s a philosophy, not an actual law), the license dies with the owner, and it doesn’t matter that the will is under probate, and the letters of administration enabling me to act in his name would be soon forthcoming. No grace period.

When I checked the Florida State statutes governing motor vehicle dealerships, not one point in the entire Chapter 320 mentions revoking a license due to the owner’s death. A license is forfeit due to fraud, felonious activity, and generally naughty behavior on the dealer’s part.  

I was told by the big guy in Tallahassee in charge of dealer compliance that this situation had never happened before.   

OK. So, never in the history of the state has a car dealer died?   

If it’s never happened before, and there is no statute that addresses the situation, why take Frank’s license off the wall and tell us to go out of business? The answer was (and I have his words on my answering machine) that Florida Administrative Code rule 15 C-7.003 section 6C gives state agencies the power to make up rules as they see fit.  

Scary, huh?

Of course, the rule does say it should be in the best interests of the petitioner and the decision should not be “capricious” or “arbitrary.” I guess like the word obscene, the definition of those words is up to whoever has the governmental clout.

The DMV even denied us transporter tags for our mechanic’s shop. This is a request that ANYBODY can make in order to transport a car. No dealer license is required, but they said NO anyway, just because they could.

All the compliance agents kept repeating that it wasn’t personal, but it sure did seem that way. They even repeated the “not personal” thing when they returned to the lot with a cease and desist order because we still had a business website and because they got it into their bureaucratic minds that we were selling cars in violation of their mandate.

We weren’t. The cars belonged to other dealers left for us to repair or detail. Those dealers were then targeted by the DMV and were audited. Finally, they called several of our customers to ask if they had any dirt to share on our business.  

Finding none, they went away sorrowing. 

The nightmare with the DMV dragged on for several months, losing thousands of dollars, having to let valuable employees go, and paying the rent and utilities out of savings since the business had no sales income.

But finally, it’s over (unless they can think of something else awful to do to me). 

 After a lengthy struggle and several other set-backs, I took the dealer’s license exam and got the dealership in my name.  I got fingerprinted, cross examined, background-checked, and discouraged at every turn by an agency hoping to run me out of business. But we hung on, partly out of stubbornness and mostly out of honoring Frank’s memory. He loved that business, was proud of it, and thought he was leaving it to me as retirement security.

Speaking of Frank, representatives of other government and public agencies I dealt with had the manners (fake or not) to offer condolences on my husband’s death and acknowledged “this difficult period.” Not so with the DMV. Not one kind word or hint of compassion.

 I’m left to ponder why a state agency worked so hard to shut down a viable business. DMV officials (in icy terms) swore that I would never get that license back, that I should give up, and don’t bother them again unless I spoke to them through an attorney. Why was there such vindictiveness, why such blatant disregard for fairness and common sense?

We’re slowly recovering … bloody, bowed, but not beaten.

Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.