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May 17, 2012

License Plate Sales Not So "Vermont Strong" After All

Vermont_StrongTurns out those ubiquitous, green “I Am Vermont Strong” license plates aren’t quite as ubiquitous as Gov. Peter Shumlin thought.

Pete Hirschfeld over at the Vermont Press Bureau has the goods on a bit of a “miscommunication” between the gov’s office and the Department of Motor Vehicles over how many of the $25 plates have been sold. The state hopes to sell 50,000 of them, raising $1 million for the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund, which supports Vermonters affected by last year’s spring floods and Tropical Storm Irene.

At a press conference early last month, Shumlin ceremoniously bought what he thought was the 25,000th “Vermont Strong” plate sold. But as Hirschfeld found out, the gov actually bought the 25,000th plate made. Only 7832 have actually been sold, the DMV now says.Hope Shumlin kept his receipt!

So how did the governor’s communicators miscommunicate so badly?

His spokeswoman, Sue Allen, says it boils down to a simple misunderstanding she had with DMV Commissioner Robert Ide as the two were setting up the presser to announce the news.

“It was a completely innocent mistake,” Allen says. “I think we were probably having two different conversations and didn’t know it. He was talking about production and I was talking about sales would be my guess.”

Mistakes happen, to be sure, but didn’t anyone notice the discrepancy?

Turns out the Commish did. In an interview with Nancy Remsen over at the Burlington Free Press, Ide said that when he heard the governor accidentally mischaracterize the number during the press conference, Ide “flinched.”

But he didn’t step up to the podium, tap the governor on the shoulder and whisper that, um, there’s a problem.

“The governor made his statement. I realized it was not perfect, and I probably should have brought it to his attention right then,” Ide tells Seven Days. “I did not and that was another error on my part.”

Why not?

“I have no answer for that. I don’t know why I didn’t correct it. Clearly I should have,” he says.

Surely the Commish didn’t keep quiet for political reasons — to, say, avoid embarrassing his boss? No, he says. It just didn’t occur to him.

“The legislative session was going on. There were a number of DMV issues [before the legislature]. I guess it just didn’t register as high with me as it should have,” he says.

According to the DMV, the program hasn’t yet raised much money for Vermont families after all. The department has brought in $195,800 in sales, but the state has spent $136,250 producing the plates.

Allen, who says she only learned of the mistake when reporters contacted her yesterday, hopes the episode will prompt Vermonters to pick up a plate and throw it on their Subarus.

“This is a great cause and I hope people really step up to the plate, forgive the pun, and start buying these plates [to support] their neighbors,” Allen says. “It’s more important than ever.”

As for Ide, he’s busy mopping up the mess.

“We had a miscommunication and I’m deeply upset about it," he says. "I have apologized to the governor’s staff. Clearly it’s my job to make sure the governor has the right information.”

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