By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
A few years ago, it could take seven to nine months for paperwork filed with the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office — paperwork ranging from LLC filings to commercial liens — to be approved and put into the system.
The delays often left businesses with outdated information that is important when starting a new business or moving business to the state. Others waited weeks for checks to be deposited or cashed.
“We had been told that because the Business Services Division made money for the office, don’t mess with them, let them do what they need to do,” Merrill said.
But for the last year, that hasn’t been the case in the Secretary of State’s Office. Last Friday marked one year of consistent compliance with Secretary of State John Merrill’s strict new standard requiring filings with the Business Services Division be updated on the same day.
For 52 straight weeks, the Division met that goal — with less staff on board than when it started.
Merrill said he and his new staff focused on changes in other divisions in the office before they began focusing on the Business Services Division. Even before they stepped in, 14 months after the start of Merill’s leadership, the Division had already cut wait times from seven months to about six weeks.
That’s when, about a year ago, Merrill’s chief of staff, David Brewer, began working with the Division staff to speed things up, implementing the new same-day standard. The office as a whole had even lost 11 employees since January 2015, but Brewer and Merill thought it was still possible to meet the goal.
“We restructured the way the office was going to be reporting and what the expectations were,” Merrill said. “It’s not acceptable to delay the work to the next day, or week just because you can. You get the work done the day the work comes in.”
If work isn’t finished during the week, managers and executive staff come in on Saturdays to get it done, which has only happened once in the past year, Merrill said.
“The bottom line is that we’re not working at the speed of government, we’re working at the speed of business,” Merrill said. “It’s good that people know what we do with the elections — registration and all that — but most of the people that work in our office work with it in the Business Services Division.
“Information from our office is how they determine at what level they are able to do business in Alabama,” Merill said. “If you don’t have that current when somebody’s looking for it, they’re going to be behind when they try to close a business deal. It should be important for everybody in the state.”
Email Chip Brownlee at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at ‘@chpbrownlee’.