Thursday, 30 November 2006 17:00

BAR chief to expand inter-agency partnerships and research efforts

Written by Karyn Hendricks
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By Karyn Hendricks

Don't be fooled by her mild-mannered demeanor. Sherry Mehl is tough as nails when it comes to her new job - Chief of the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR). Just because the new BAR chief is a woman, don't think she will be soft on those who violate BAR rules. Having served three years as chief deputy director for the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), BAR's parent organization, Mehl is well aware of the demands of the position and issues of the day.

"I see this as one of life's challenges, and believe I can make some changes to improve the image of BAR. There has been some disconnect with DCA and other entities and I look forward to mending those relationships. I've already begun to meet with the Air Resources Board (ARB) and the California Inspection and Maintenance Review Committee (IMRC) to find better ways to work together."

For instance, Mehl plans to focus on the BAR working as partners in clean air efforts. BAR does important work in that venue but does not get enough credit for its efforts. She plans to bring light to BAR's positive accomplishments and promote them, along with enforcement issues. She sees one aspect of her new job as publicizing all of BAR's programs which have received short shrift in the past.

"I believe in transparency in government. It is important to acknowledge the things BAR does - right or wrong. Effort needs to be spent on consumer education - informing the public what they can expect from the repair procedure and how to get satisfaction if things go awry. We want to make sure we are giving people tools to know what to expect from the repair process."We'll be doing surveys to get more information regarding what people know and think about BAR. We definitely will be working on BAR's image. One way is to insure that enforcement is doing a good job in being fair and consistent."

Off limits

One topic was off limits. Mehl could not talk about San Diego's Progressive Service Center operating without a license because of the on-going legal action (See Autobody News, November 2006).

Post-repair inspection program

Mehl plans to re-implement the auto body inspection program which lost funding a couple of years ago. Following a collision repair, consumers can contact BAR via an 800 number or in person to arrange for a post-repair inspection - at no cost to the consumer.

"I am really excited about getting this program up and running again," enthused Mehl. "This allows us to bust those repairers who are not doing a quality job and give consumers peace of mind."

Cleaning up the air

The mandatory smog check is an important clean air effort. "I'd like to see a public relations effort to get the general public to understand that keeping cars repaired properly does a significant part in keeping the air clean," she continued. "There have been increases in childhood asthma that need to be confronted. This is an opportunity for people to do their part. The public often does not make the connection between smog checks and clean air. We can help change that mind set."

Vocational education

Another goal is to see BAR look at vocational education and roles it can play in getting together and working with the industry to establish some type of high school program - perhaps sponsoring vocational education or even adopting a high school.

Coordinating research

Mehl is looking at working with other agencies on research projects. "We can use our roadside units to study cars as they go by. It would be knowledge-based, not punitive. BAR has equipment and methods of accumulating information as cars pass by. We can learn a lot by collecting this information. BAR has good resources and I want to see them used wisely by getting projects off the ground that will provide a positive effect.

"I love seeing change as long as it has a purpose. I hope to get people excited about making changes and participating."

Positive reception

Mehl's history has been to gravitate toward traditionally non-female roles. She is comfortable with her choice to lead BAR. "I have not experienced any kind of prejudice. My reception has been very positive. Truthfully, I bring so much to the table in terms of resources. I am a familiar face around here having already worked as DCA's chief deputy director. I have a lot of resources in DCA and can help get things done. People recognize that."

Before joining DCA, Mehl was executive officer for the Board of Behavioral Sciences from 1995 to 2004 and the Acupuncture Board from 1992 to 1995. Prior to that, she served on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, representing the 4th district from 1986 to 1991.

Accepting the challenge

It is Mehl's job to make sure that BAR is fulfilling its mission. Summing up, Mehl reiterated her goals - "strong enforcement, making sure things are fair, consistent and policy-based across the board, helping to educate consumers, and working towards a positive partnership role in state government.

"My role is to make sure if there are gray areas, those loopholes are closed. Education is important because knowing the law is to understand it. When licensees are informed, enforcement is a lot easier. There is a great deal to accomplish and I accept that challenge."

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