Recorder to stop issuing passports

Published 9:28 am Thursday, April 21, 2011

Starting May 1, the only place people will be able to go in Albert Lea to obtain a passport or have questions answered about one will be the post office.

Freeborn County Recorder Kelly Callahan announced Tuesday that after 11 years of acting in a shared capacity with the U.S. Postal Service, his office will no longer be an agent for passport applications to the U.S. Department of State. Prior to the involvement of the Recorder’s Office, the court administrator’s office had this duty.

Callahan said the change is happening because of rules by the Department of State that do not allow staff in a county office to handle vital records or driver’s license applications while also serving as agents for passport applications.

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“While we understand the Department of State’s concern for fraud and their need to adopt uniform rules applicable nationwide in response to issues arising in other parts of the country, the direction they are headed in with these new rules is not going to be conducive to making it easier for people in Minnesota to obtain passports,” Callahan said in a release.

He said the rule essentially forces most county offices that handle passport applications to either stop doing so or else compromise taxpayer services in other areas, such as vital records. Vital records primarily are certificates for births, deaths and marriages.

“Since vital records are governed by Minnesota law and are a more integral service component for more taxpayers, while acting as a federal acceptance agent for the Department of State is an optional service that counties provided, the choice was quite simple,” he added. “I am concerned that people will not have the convenience of hours or quality of service my office has provided over the years.”

According to records kept in Callahan’s office, typically more than 400 passport applications are processed each year through the Recorder’s Office alone.

In 2010, there were 491 applications. The highest number of applications processed was in 2007 with 965. The lowest number was 2003 with 301.

Since the involvement of the Recorder’s Office, the county workers have processed more than 6,300 applications.

John Novotny, customer service supervisor at the Albert Lea post office, said the post office staff will do the best they can to take on the extra load and asked that people call ahead and make an appointment before coming in.

The phone number for the Albert Lea post office is 373-3167.

Currently, passports can only be received from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the week; however, staff will be looking at whether they need to expand hours.

Passport applications processed by the Freeborn County Recorder’s Office
Year        Applications
1999        420
2000        440
2001        406
2002        366
2003        301
2004        422
2005        524
2006        786
2007        965
2008        609
2009        610
2010        491