(Updated at 5:45 p.m.) Gov.-elect Dan Malloy on Thursday nominated East Hartford Mayor Melody Currey to head the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Malloy said Currey has been an outstanding mayor who deftly handled labor relations and negotiations with her work force, which made sure her government center could remain open at least one night per week without additional costs to taxpayers.

“She’s smart, she’s talented, she’s hardworking, and she’s everything I would like to have in a person who heads up a part of state government that most interacts with the public, a part of state government where people remember that interaction,” he said.

Malloy added that the DMV and the people who work there are the face of state government.

“It’s what they remember. It’s the interaction that they measure us by and I’ve asked Melody to do everything in her power to make sure that that interaction is of the quality that would appropriately represent that hardworking people at the state of Connecticut,” he said.

Malloy said he would like Currey to make the DMV more consumer friendly and make transactions with the department easier to do from home.

“My aim has always been to make [government] work better for people,” Currey said. “Government is working for people and we should do everything in our power to make it work well and we should do it as cost effectively as possible.”

Currey said her marching orders from Malloy were simple—make sure the consumer is happy and do it as cost effectively as possible.

But Currey will be taking the helm of a troubled agency with potentially large changes on its horizon.

Malloy indicated he may want to move forward with decentralizing the department by looking into offering DMV services through other providers like the state’s current agreement with AAA.

“I’ve specifically discussed with the commissioner-designate whether or not that’s a model that could be replicated beyond a relationship with one provider,” Malloy said. “In a perfect world, [Currey] would put herself out of business at least with respect to some of the businesses they’re in.”

Malloy also said that the department in will likely be merged with other agencies at some point in the future, though not within the next few years.

“If she can do her work as well as I believe she can and make some of the changes that need to be made, then that’s a subject we could address in the future,” he said but noted it won’t be happening soon.

The department also recently drew criticism from the Attorney General’s office after an investigation found it had been lax in enforcing state laws on driving schools.

That report has some concerned including Bob Green, the director of Survive the Drive, a nonprofit group dedicated to educating young drivers about the dangers of inattentive driving.

“These officials were charged with, not only inspecting and managing the schools’ operations and law compliance, but also the quality and consistency of the learning process for a large population of vulnerable minors,” Green said. “You might conclude that the educational process was less than effective, and that’s dangerous.”

Malloy said he expects those issues to be worked out either by the DMV or another consumer department.

“We need driving schools. I think they need to be appropriately regulated,” he said. “I think some of the complaints were consumer driven so that can be handled within the DMV or maybe should be handled within a more robust consumer department. But yeah, I expect everyone in state government to do their jobs.”

Currey was elected as mayor in 2005 after serving as a state representative for 12 years.

Changes Impact East Hartford’s Top Two Leaders

Less than a week before Malloy nominated Currey, U.S. Sen.-elect Richard Blumenthal hired Rich Kehoe, the chairman of East Hartford’s town council, as his state director.

According to the town’s charter, Kehoe would have become mayor when Currey resigned but he said Wednesday he would likely be stepping down as chairman.

With the departure of the town’s two top ranking officials, the Democrat-controlled council is free to appoint a replacement chair, who will then become mayor, according to the charter.

Kehoe said the council will likely decide on who to appoint as the new chair at its Jan. 4 meeting but noted there are many issues to consider.

“It’s really a question of who feels capable enough to run the whole town and at the same time, within their own life, take on the mayor’s salary,” he said.

A town council position is a part-time job and many of the members have other, full-time jobs, he said. But the mayor’s position is full-time and whoever took it on would likely have to resign from their other occupations.  At $81,400, Kehoe said the mayor’s salary would be a pay cut for some members who now have more than one source of income.

Regardless of whom is appointed chair, the idea that the council can now pick the city’s new mayor doesn’t sit well with Susan Kniep, a former mayor of the town and
president of the Taxpayers of East Hartford group.

“I will be calling for immediate reform to our town charter,” Kniep said. “To think that the Democratic Party could end up appointing anyone to that position, I consider that a failure of democracy.”

“All I can say is that charter provision has been there for 40 years and quite frankly it’s never been used,” Kehoe said of Kniep’s concerns. “There has to be some sort of transition.”