PLANT CITY — Liz Gatley needed to renew her car registration. As if that task wasn’t cumbersome enough, she says a Department of Motor Vehicles manager told her she had to wait outside until she could be served because her 1-year-old daughter was with her.
Her registration was past due. Leaving wasn’t an option, unless she wanted to continue to risk getting a ticket.
"That was the first day I could get there," she told the Tampa Bay Times.
Gatley, a mother of three from Valrico, said she and two other women with young children were sequestered under the sun Thursday because they were with young kids. Her daughter, London, quickly tore through her milk and water because she was so hot.
"One by one people leaving would tell us how disgusted they were and reassure us we were not in the wrong and we had great children," Gatley, 27, wrote in a now-viral Facebook post about the ordeal.
Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden said he’s aware of no rule that mandates people wait outside the office if they bring young children.
"I want to apologize to Miss Gatley for her bad experience," Belden told the Times on Friday. "I have reached out to meet with her at her convenience to gather all the facts. .?.?. I will take the appropriate action sooner rather than later."
DMV offices were closed Friday because of Veterans Day, but Belden said he will meet with the employee who Gatley and others said told them to go outside with their children.
"I don’t take this incident lightly," Belden said. "I’m on top of this and there will be a resolution very quickly."
Bystander Emily Cooper was troubled enough by what she saw to snap a photo of the mothers and their children waiting outside and share it on Facebook.
Cooper couldn’t immediately be reached by a reporter, but wrote in her post that none of the infants were disruptive. She didn’t even realize one of the children was there until she saw the mother get sent outside, she said.
Belden said he became aware of the incident after it blew up on social media Thursday night. He said he hadn’t heard of any similar complaints before, but people commenting on Cooper’s photo said they had witnessed similar situations before at the Plant City tag office.
Gatley said her daughter was walking between a few chairs and baby babbling to others waiting, but wasn’t screaming, crying or touching anyone. Gatley was shocked to be asked to wait outside.
"I was so mad, but I was also embarrassed and confused," she said on Facebook.
She even arrived at the DMV 10 minutes before it opened — likely hoping to make an experience nearly every driver dreads as smooth as possible.
Instead, she spent about two hours standing outside with a toddler.
Contact Sara DiNatale at [email protected] Follow @sara_dinatale.