He then submitted a FOIA request — a submission under the Freedom of Information Act that citizens, journalists and others can use to obtain public government information — to get a direct number to the Lebanon DMV.
As reported by The Bristol Herald Courier, when Stafford called the given number, he said the employees at the DMV told him the phone line wasn’t meant for public use. After many repeated phone calls, however, Stafford said the DMV eventually answered his licensing question.
Stafford then decided he wanted the direct phone lines to nine other local DMVs: Abingdon, Clintwood, Gate City, Jonesville, Marion, Norton, Tazewell, Vansant and Wytheville. He said the Lebanon DMV employees wouldn’t provide those numbers.
So Stafford decided to go to court to get them.
“If they were going to inconvenience me then I was going to inconvenience them,” he said.
Stafford filed two lawsuits against specific employees at the Lebanon DMV and on against the DMV itself.
On Tuesday, a judge dismissed the lawsuits at the request of the state when a representative of the state’s attorney general handed Stafford a list of the requested phone numbers in the courtroom. The court also did not impose penalties on the DMV and its employees, which could have been between $500 and $2,000 per lawsuit if the employees had “willfully and knowingly” violated public records law.
Stafford said, “The phone numbers are irrelevant to me. I don’t need them. I told the judge ‘I think I proved my point here.’”
“I think the backbone to our republic and our democracy is open government and transparency in government and it shocks me that a lot of people don’t know the power of FOIA,” Stafford said.
Brandy Brubaker, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, said the DMV is happy with the outcome.
“We are pleased that the court agreed with our counsel that the argument was not a sufficient request to invoke the FOIA statutory penalties,” Brubaker said. “We make every effort to share information with citizens as state and federal law allows.”
Still, Stafford had one final act planned. He collected hundreds of rolls of pennies and hired 11 people to help him break open the paper rolls with hammers Tuesday night. It took four hours and he paid each person $10 per hour, costing him $440.
Stafford also purchased five wheelbarrows to deliver the pennies. The wheelbarrows cost $400, and he wasn’t going to dump the coins on the DMV’s floor, so he left the wheelbarrows there, bringing his expenses to $840.
He also paid $165 for the three lawsuits, which means he spent $1,005 to get 10 phone numbers and the satisfaction of delivering 300,000 pennies. Not to mention the nearly $3,000 he paid the DMV for the cars.
It was and inconvenience for the employees at the DMV, but Stafford is within his legal right. According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, “United States coins and currency are legal tender for all debts, public charges, taxes and dues” under the Coinage Act of 1965.
Private businesses, individuals or organizations, however, do not have to accept coins as payment.