Indiana Public Servant Fired for ‘Talking to Paper’

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(AP) The manager of a Bureau of Motor Vehicles branch which state officials plan to shut down this month said she was fired for talking with a newspaper reporter after the closing was announced.

Patty Lockhart, manager of the Middletown branch for the past two years, said last week she “felt betrayed” by BMV Commissioner Joel Silverman’s decision to include it among six offices to be shut down in the agency’s latest round of closings.

BMV employees are told not to grant interviews to reporters and to forward all requests for information to agency officials in Indianapolis. Lockhart, however, spoke with a reporter from The Star Press of Muncie who visited the Middletown branch Thursday to interview customers and staffers after the closing decision was announced.

Lockhart told the newspaper she was fired Friday by a regional manager who came to the branch in the town about 15 miles south of Muncie.

“If I can’t express my feelings, I don’t think they have the right to stop me from having feelings or expressing them,” she said Sunday. “I’m supposed to keep them inside, I suppose.”

A message seeking comment was left Monday for BMV spokesman Greg Cook.

Lockhart, who has worked for the agency for 15 years, also spoke up in support of the Middletown branch last month when she was among about 150 people who attended a public hearing about its proposed closing.

State Rep. Tom Saunders, R-Lewisville, testified during that same hearing and said Sunday he was concerned about Lockhart’s job when she took the microphone.

“I know there’s a rule that they’re not to give an interview,” Saunders said. “I’m curious to see what the definition of interview is. I don’t know if she’s ever been warned. I’m going to check it out. I don’t know if there’s a grievance … or if she can get a hearing or a reversal.”

Lockhart told the newspaper last week she thought the Middletown branch was “an asset” because of its proximity to customers not only in Middletown and northwestern Henry County, but to those in neighboring Madison and Delaware counties.

Since May, BMV officials have either closed or announced plans to close 21 license branches, with the Middletown office to shut down Sept. 17. Eight more operating branches are still under review and could be closed this year.

Several other branches near Middletown — including Chesterton and Knightstown — have been among those closed.

The state began the year with 170 branches, second in number only to Texas and California.

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