By: Sharon W. Jordan, President
Florida Tax Collectors Association
In an article recently published by Independent Dealer in August of 2017, Jennifer Finlay, a sales manager for a private tag agency, wrote a scathing critique of government service provision and urged Florida’s car dealers to avoid Tax Collector offices and use private tag agencies instead. In a self-serving manner and with little to no regard for facts, Ms. Finlay paints a false dichotomy between the private and public sectors by arguing that Tax Collectors are distinct from private tag agencies and that the private sector is superior in areas such as customer service, convenience, and efficiency. Ms. Finlay lacks a fundamental understanding of the relationship between private tag agencies and Tax Collectors and blithely ignores what has long been recognized in Florida public policy: when public servants and their private tag agents cooperate together, customer service, efficiency, transparency, and convenience reign supreme.
Long ago, the Florida Legislature, as a matter of sound public policy, appointed Tax Collectors as agents of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to oversee and perform titling and registration services. The intent of the Legislature is that the “provisions of [titling and registration law] be implemented in such a manner that the convenience of the applicant is the first consideration.” Moreover, the Legislature has made clear that: “all services affecting motor carriers be consolidated in order to . . . achieve maximum efficiency in registration, permitting, and safety programs administered by this state. In order to achieve this goal, Florida must join the cooperative effort.” The essence of the law is that the government and private sectors must cooperate together to achieve efficiency, transparency, and high levels of customer service.
Indeed, Ms. Finlay paints a false dichotomy between Tax Collectors and private tag agencies. Private tag agencies are agents of Florida’s Tax Collectors. As stated in a January 2010 OPPAGA report: “Dealers statewide may use private tag agencies . . . to process title and registration transactions. These agencies are authorized by those county tax collectors to process title and registration applications . . .” Office of Program Policy and Government Accountability Report 10-02 Motor Vehicle Electronic Filing System is Beneficial But Stronger Oversight is Needed.
A principal-agent relationship is an arrangement in which one entity (Tax Collectors) legally appoints another (private tag agencies) to act on its (i.e. the Tax Collector’s) behalf. In a principal-agent relationship, the agent acts on behalf of the principal and should not have a conflict of interest in carrying out the act. When a dealer sends work to a private tag agency the work is being sent to an agent of the Tax Collector.
Tax Collectors across the state contract with private tag agents in order to carry out titling and registration services with a focus not on profit, but on convenience and transparency. Collectors have vast experience on the front lines in serving the public to whom they are directly accountable. Collectors are required by law to protect sensitive information of citizens and offer a wide array of convenient services. Is it really a bad thing that a citizen is able to handle a wide-variety of services at their friendly local Tax Collectors office? Tax Collector costs (fees?) are set out in the Florida Statutes for the whole world to see. The only focus of Tax Collectors is public service. Tax Collectors have a long history of working closely with car dealerships to ensure that motor vehicles are accurately titled and registered in an efficient and affordable manner. Dealers are not just “one of the hundreds of customers in the lobby,” but are valued constituents being served in a professional and accountable manner.
There are many benefits to Tax Collectors working with private tag agencies, but those benefits quickly disappear if private tag agencies attempt to create an adversarial relationship. It is appalling that someone so ill-informed would belittle elected public servants who are directly accountable to the public. Why try to drive a wedge between Tax Collectors and private tag agents? Surely customer retention is important to private tag agencies, but is it really more important than that fundamental democratic tie that binds Tax Collectors to their constituents? What is best for Florida dealers and the car buying public alike is for Tax Collectors and their private tag agents to work together as a team to serve Florida in a professional, accountable, and transparent manner. Ms. Finlay, can’t we all just get along in order to put Floridians first?
Sharon W. Jordan is the elected Tax Collector for the Suwannee County political subdivision and current president of the Florida Tax Collectors Association, the state-wide association of Florida’s 67 Tax Collectors.