Thursday morning, Kent Abernathy will assume a new title: Commissioner of Indiana’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
Gov. Mike Pence announced the changes last week at a news conference, the same time Pence said another $2 million dollars in overcharges were identified to Hoosier taxpayers over a 6 year period.
“I’m the person in the seat now, so I’m ultimately responsible for what happens or doesn’t happen,” Abernathy said in an exclusive interview with CBS4 Wednesday, explaining his plan to regain the public’s trust and fix the problems revealed in the past year.
Refunds to Hoosier taxpayers now total more than $60 million.
“People are trying to put a time frame on it and stuff,” Abernathy said. “My initial impression, folks I’m talking to, and folks who have been viewing it for a while, lead me to believe it’s been going on for years, decades under multiple administrations. It’s been kind of building over time and now it’s reached a critical mass.”
Pence has placed trust in Abernathy to fix the slew of problems, still being identified by an ongoing audit by accounting firm BKD. Abernathy said Wednesday that audit should be complete in May.
“I think we have to build some trust and confidence back,” he said. “And we need to demonstrate to folks we’re doing the right thing, and the only way we can do that is by analyzing.”
The audit, and its subsequent recommendations, Abernathy said will act as a roadmap to fix the problems both he and Pence believe span decades.
“In a lot of cases it appears the laws, the rules, the regulations don’t match,” Abernathy said. “They’re in conflict, even some of the practices in the branch, so that’s what we’re looking at. So there’s going to be heavy lifting involved. There’s no doubt about it.”
Abernathy has an extensive military background. What’s quickly evidence is that experience, both overseas and at the Pentagon, will guide his leadership decisions. Most recently Abernathy served as chief of staff for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
Outgoing commissioner Don Snemis will assume a new role at the state’s Family and Social Services Administration.
“You can’t get in the ready, aim, fire mode,” Abernathy said. “You’ve got to know what the target is you’re shooting at. And I think that’s one of the things we need to focus on first.”
And right now Abernathy knows the focus is on him.
“As late as Friday, at the cabinet when the governor introduced me, he said we brought in Kent to help fix these problems. And he looked at me and said, ‘You’re going to fix these problems aren’t you?’
“And I said, ‘Governor, you’ve known me for a lot of years. And if I don’t, I’m sure my successor will.’
“So I’m the guy in the seat,” Abernathy said. I’m the guy who’s responsible now.”