Schwarzenegger names interim DMV director

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Chon Gutierrez, a career government administrator, replaces the fired Gourley.

The Orange County Register

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced a new director of the Department of Motor Vehicles on Wednesday, putting a career government administrator in charge of repealing the increase in the vehicle license fee, and ousting a director known for his pursuit of fraud.

Schwarzenegger fired DMV Director Steve Gourley within hours of taking office. Gourley had revoked or suspended the licenses of 440 car dealers for violating consumer regulations, making him an unpopular figure in an industry whose leaders gave $600,000 to Schwarzenegger’s campaign.

Consumer advocates worried that the change in leadership shows a pro-business bias
on the part of the governor. But Schwarzenegger’s spokesman, Vince Sollitto, said the new governor wants his own man to run the agency responsible for two priority issues: refunding the car fees and repealing a law allowing illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

“The governor wanted someone there with a great deal of experience and in whom he had trust,” Sollitto said. “A number of the governor’s priority issues touch on this agency, and two he addressed his first day in office.”

Schwarzenegger named Chon Gutierrez, currently assistant secretary of state, as interim director of the DMV, which has 8,000 employees, 167 field offices and a budget of $650 million a year.
Gutierrez, 59, has worked for the state since 1973. He begins his $123,252-a-year position immediately.

“My first priority is implementing the repeal of the car tax and getting refunds to the citizens of California as quickly as possible,” Gutierrez said in a statement.

Gourley was ordered to leave as the Legislature began a special session to address the driver’s license bill, among other issues.

“This very unceremonious firing is another sign Schwarzenegger is looking at his donors’ interests and not the public’s interests,” said Doug Heller, a spokesman for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica. “When you ax somebody like that, it sends a message that consumer protection comes behind interests of businesses.” Gourley struck fear into car dealers accused of unscrupulous practices, Heller said.

Auto dealers contributed almost 9 percent of Schwarzenegger’s campaign funds. Among local dealers, the family of Fletcher Jones, owner of dealerships in Newport Beach and Las Vegas, gave $100,000. David Wilson, owner of Toyota of Orange, gave $46,200 to Schwarzenegger but
said Gourley was not a major concern. Wilson bought South Coast Toyota of Costa Mesa and South Bay Toyota of Gardena in 2001 after the previous dealer lost his licenses and paid a $2 million fine to settle charges that his salesmen had defrauded more than 2,000 customers on auto leases.

“I haven’t heard anyone in the industry say anything negative about him,” Wildon said of Gourley. “I’ve never heard of any sort of subterranean campaign to get rid of him. He wanted to get rid of bad dealers, and good dealers are all for that.”

Gourley faced a grilling from state senators in 2001 for using his position to investigate six motorists. The most far-reaching case involved an immigrant from Kuwait who was put under surveillance as a possible terrorist after he cut in front of the DMV director on the Ventura (101)
Register staff writers Ron Campbell, Diana McCabe and Chris Knap contributed to this report.
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