The North Texas Tollway Authority has had trouble in recent years of actually making drivers pay to use its roads. Hence the tens of millions of dollars in unpaid tolls and fees it says it's owed, hence its infamous list of the most egregious offenders, hence the lawsuits it began filing a few months ago.
The agency has had a much easier time navigating the Texas Legislature, where it persuaded lawmakers to ease its debt-collection efforts by giving it the power to impound the cars and block the vehicle registrations of unrepentant scofflaws. It's found equally compliant partners in Tarrant, Denton, and Dallas counties, where commissioners voted yesterday to allow NTTA's registration blocks.
With the taste of victory fresh, who knows what the agency might push for next? Garnishment of paychecks? Debtor's prison? Secretive NTTA black sites? The slope could get quite slippery.
To do any of that, however, the NTTA will first have to reckon with Collin County Tax Assessor-Collector Kenneth Maun, who has established himself as the best friend of toll scofflaws since the agency did away with toll-booth arms.
The Dallas Morning News reported yesterday that Maun is refusing to block vehicle registrations in Collin County.
"They're trying to get somebody else to do their work for them," Maun told the paper. "They're not doing anything on their own."
That dulls the NTTA's new tool considerably, given that a fifth of its nearly 80,000 habitual violators live there.
Nor is this Maun's first time to thumb his nose at the initiatives of other agencies. In 2010, the Plano Star-Courier reported that he would not be opting in to an initiative blocking the vehicle registrations of people with warrants for outstanding traffic tickets.
So, hats off to Maun, we guess.
Update at 3:05 p.m.: We just spent a few minutes talking to Maun, who explained the rational for his stance -- and his frustrations with NTTA -- in more detail.
"Number one is easy: I'm elected, and I'm in an office that hasn't gotten any new people for the last eight years," he says. Meanwhile, "the population keeps growing, and every person comes with a vehicle."
Right now, his office handles the average vehicle registration in three minutes. Add in the extra work and confusion from processing the NTTA's files, and Maun thinks that would edge closer to 20 minutes. That would not make people happy.
Point two, as he told the Morning News, is that he doesn't think very highly of the NTTA.
"I'm irritated because I think the NTTA is playing games," he says. They first floated the possibility of partnering with his office to block vehicle registrations 10 months ago then, after nine months of silence, came back last month ready to get started.
That tells Maun that they're "not setting the world on fire" trying to collect unpaid tolls.
Maun says he hasn't heard from the agency since his comments became public. He's heard from a handful of constituents on both sides of the issue, which is interesting given how universally reviled the NTTA seems to be. He's taking it all in stride.
"I' just trying to do a job -- I'm trying to do a good job. And I don't feel they've been doing their own."