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May 2014

Q&A with the former South Dakota DMV director

Recently retired, former director of the South Dakota Division of Motor Vehicles, Deb Hillmer, reflects on her 40-year career.

You retired on May 8 as the Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles in South Dakota. How does that feel?

I feel somewhat sad because I’m leaving all of my friends, acquaintances and co-workers, and because I’m no longer working for the good people of South Dakota.

It also feels good to be retiring, because I am no longer carrying that workload on my plate.

I will truly miss the creative side of being able to deliver services to the people of South Dakota. Working in the DMV, you really need to have a passion for it. I’m going to miss being a part of the solution, but I’ll look for other opportunities to get involved in my retirement.

Tell me a little bit about your career.

I’ve been working for 40 years! I started with the South Dakota Department of Revenue in 1974 as a claims clerk, and have worked my way up. I was continually promoted; I had bosses that saw things and capabilities in me that I didn’t even see in myself. In 1984, when the South Dakota Department of Revenue took over the Division of Motor Vehicles, I was presented with an opportunity to be deputy director of the Division of Motor Vehicles. Within two years, I was promoted to director.


Deb Hillmer was honored with a certificate of appreciation for her years of dedication and service to AAMVA at the 2014 Workshop and Law Institute in St. Louis.

What is one of your fondest memories at the South Dakota DMV?

I have a lot of fond memories. I worked for former South Dakota Governor Bill Janklow, and he was a very interesting person—and very supportive. It was not unheard of for him to call you directly and ask you questions.

More recently, in March of this year the Senate Transportation Committee presented me with a commemoration for my years of service. That meant a lot to me, because I don’t think that happens very much.

What is your proudest accomplishment as Director?

One of my goals was to change how we did things and move our Division into the 21st century through the use of technology—and I did that. During my time as director, we implemented computer systems in the 66 counties across the state, which changed the way we did business. Our citizens today can do Internet renewals and use self-service terminals. We’re still looking for other ways to do business with citizens—like getting all of our dealers online. We’ve also built a system where we have set ourselves up to be able to do electronic titles.

Tell me a little bit about your involvement with AAMVA.

I’ve been heavily involved in a number of activities with AAMVA, including saving the National Motor Vehicle Titling Information System (NMVTIS). AAMVA was on the verge of pulling the funding for that particular project, and I was an advocate for keeping it because I saw the advantage for the jurisdictions. I was ‘honored’ with the title of “Queen of NMVTIS.” My colleagues in South Dakota call me “Queen of DMV.”

I was AAMVA’s Chair of the Board in 2007. The year I took over as chair, my husband and I rode our motorcycles from South Dakota to Burlington, Vt. I thought that if I could ride a motorcycle that far, that I could handle being Chair of the Board. I was there during a challenging time, and I think we put AAMVA in a better direction and provided more state-driven solutions to some of the issues.

I hear you’ve been a fixture at AAMVA conferences for a number of years. What was your favorite conference destination and why?

My favorite destination was South Dakota. Everybody always says things about how there’s nothing there, so having [the international conference] in South Dakota and getting to show off all of the good things about the state—like Mt. Rushmore, the Black Hills and Crazy Horse—was one of the best things I got to do. It’s a beautiful state!

What are you planning to do in your retirement?

My husband and I are currently building a home in the country to be close to my mother, who is 85 years old. We’re going to help her and take care of her. I hope to travel a bit, read, spend time with my six grandchildren and just enjoy life. I also like to garden a lot. I make a mean salsa.

Are there any hot topics within the motor vehicle community right now that are important to you?

Yes: I think e-titling and the e-odometer are going to be key to the member jurisdictions down the road. It’s probably going to be at least five years to get people to buy into these ideas and participate, but I think the jurisdictions can set the roadmap for these services.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I started with the Department of Revenue at age 19, and I think that’s pretty unique.