AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board unanimously voted to appoint Daniel Avitia as executive director at its meeting Wednesday, amid ongoing problems with the state’s temporary paper license plates.
Avitia was appointed interim executive director in February, following the resignations of his predecessor, Whitney Brewster, and the agency’s general counsel. He will earn an annual salary of $210,850, the board announced.
“It is an honor to be selected and trusted for this position,” said Avitia. “I am humbled to continue the leadership and development of this amazing agency. With the help of dedicated staff, leadership of the board, and widespread support from our stakeholders and constituents, I am excited to accept this position with deep humility and great eagerness to keep the department moving forward in the right direction.”
Avitia has been praised by fellow board members and law enforcement for his handling of Texas’ temporary tag fraud problem, which saw criminals infiltrating the TxDMV’s system by posing as car dealers to fraudulently print and sell tags. It’s an issue KXAN has investigated for years.
“All I wanted to do was give another opportunity to thank staff and thank this board for the light-years that y’all have leaped in the last three to four months compared to the last several years,” Central Texas law enforcement deputy David Kohler — who had previously been critical of the agency’s handling of the tag problem — said during public comment. “It’s very much appreciated.”
Avitia said the agency has made “significant progress” in cracking down on paper tag fraud. To date, the TxDMV has cut off access to its system to 50 car dealers suspected of fraud. Placing limits on the number of tags that can be issued is also “working smoothly,” he said.
“Subsequent reviews of these dealers continues to show that their ability to engage in fraudulent activity has been significantly curtailed,” said Avitia.
Avitia said the agency is trying to do a better job of providing real-time records to law enforcement. In 2020, the Travis County Constable’s Office had to serve a search warrant on the TxDMV headquarters to get access to records officials said were needed, and denied, related to ongoing investigations. The TxDMV is now creating a “centralized law enforcement contact center” that will be staffed with analysts familiar with the data to be a point of contact for police. Law enforcement will be able to access a closed portal for real-time motor vehicle datasets, Avitia said.
In addition to system security enhancements and discussions about a paper plate “redesign,” Avitia said the next priority for the board is approving a measure that would require all car dealership owners to be fingerprinted. Law enforcement and board members say that will help to significantly cut down on fraud. Avitia said it could be done by this summer.
“I think you’ve done an incredible job stepping into a very, very tumultuous time,” said TxDMV board member Manny Ramirez. “And your spirit of collaboration working with all the department heads, working with all the stakeholders, it is not an easy thing to do. It is a very, very heavy lift. And I hope you take this gesture as our commitment to you as our executive director going forward…We’re very lucky and fortunate to have you here.”
Board vice chair Tammy McRae noted “this has been a rough time” for the agency but credited Avitia for working to get the problem “straightened out” and praised his ability to engage with law enforcement — “which was missing.”
“We’re glad to see this progress,” said board chair Charles Bacarisse. “The job’s not done, but we’re making progress.”