Few Maryland motorists are aware of it, but they are about to lose the services of a friend. W. Marshall Rickert, chief of the Motor Vehicle Administration for the past 10 years, has been unceremoniously dumped by Gov. Parris Glendening. Not because he hasn't been doing the job well, but in spite of it.
Not many state officials have earned the gratitude of the people they serve as has Mr. Rickert. What makes him all the more remarkable is the widespread respect he holds nationally, as one of the most innovative and service-minded motor vehicle officials in the country. Drivers need only think back to when he took over the MVA, and contrast it with the vastly more customer-friendly and efficient agency it is today, to appreciate his achievements.
Remember the long lines at Glen Burnie headquarters? Now there's an expanded network of express offices around the state offering most of the same services. Remember the annual license plate renewal rat race? Now tags are good for two years and expire on a staggered schedule. Remember those easily forged drivers licenses? Now they come with digitized pictures, bar codes and magnetic strips, good for five years. Critics can quibble that things still don't always work perfectly, but motorists have a lot less frequent and less unpleasant contact with an agency they used to revile.
Add to these achievements a national reputation as a leader in his profession. His colleagues in other states speak of him as "the one everyone listens to." He was a key player in the creation of a network connecting state motor vehicle agencies which made possible adoption of a nationwide commercial drivers license that cleared some dangerous operators from the highways. Ironically, his last official act will be to preside next month over the convention of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators in Baltimore.
So why fire this man? Mr. Glendening is determined to bring more minorities and women into high state posts. That is a praiseworthy objective. But at what price? There are certainly some agencies where the introduction of diversity at the top is overdue. However, firing an outstanding public servant with national stature like Mr. Rickert was the wrong place to start.