Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Nixon Begins Bids On First 6 License Offices

Leslie Carter, whose husband has close ties to the Blunt family, is currently the contract agent for the office.
State Rep. Luke Scavuzzo of D-Harrisonville will carry a bill for a permanent end of patronage
Immediately following our television report, Mike Stokes from Pleasant Hope calls to object to the Governor's plan: "Isn't it discrimination to give it out based on women or minorities? It says in the Constitution we can't discriminate. I feel like he's discriminating against males and those who aren't minorities."
Governor Jay Nixon called Wednesday the beginning of the end of a longtime Missouri political patronage system.
As promised after he was elected, Nixon announced the first six state driver's license offices that would be awarded by competitive bid. It's the beginning of a new plan that will overhaul who runs the 183 state offices that you go to, to renew your driver's license or get plates. Springfield's South Fremont license office will be one of the first that goes out to bid.

"All of the others will follow in the weeks and months to come," Nixon promised in a Capitol press conference. Nixon also said he would push legislators to pass legislation to end the patronage system permanently. State Rep. Luke Scavuzzo of D-Harrisonville, has been the primary sponsor of that legislation since 2007 and will file a similar bill this year. Scavuzzo’s 2009 bill is in the process of being drafted.
Requests for bids have been posted for offices in Columbia, Liberty, Mexico, Moberly, St. Charles and the South Fremont Avenue location in Springfield. HERE is a link to review a proposal request.
Springfield South Fremont license office is currently operated by a longtime political ally of the Blunt family, Leslie Carter. Carter is the contract agent for two Springfield offices and one Ozark office. She's also the wife of Tom Carter, who is a contributor and fundraiser for Congressman Roy Blunt. (Carter did not return repeated calls for comment. A worker at the office said no interruption in service is expected.)
But Nixon said that the South Fremont office, which handled more than 200,000 transactions last year, will now be awarded based on merit and not political connections.
Several patrons of the fee office complimented the service, but thought that a competitive biding process was a good idea.
"I think it would be more fair to go ahead and bid them out," said Linda Brammer.
"I think it's more fair," said Richard Kisner. "Instead someone just appointing someone, it ought to be bid," he added.
According to the standards Nixon set out, applicants to run the offices will earn points for sales, service and experience. Minorities and women will also get extra points, as will non-profits, civic groups, and those that agree to give a portion of their profits back to a cash-strapped state.
Former Democratic state lawmaker Doug Harpool campaigned on this type of reform during his unsuccessful 2006 State Senate run, and said local groups should see this move as an opportunity to reinvest the money in the community.
"I thought it'd be great idea if some of our local entities, be it the Missouri State University Foundation, Springfield Public Schools Foundation, the Rotary Club, the City of Springfield, any of these groups could decide to bid to be an operator of the license office," Harpool said.
Ron Mark was picked by former Governor Matt Blunt to run the Republic license fee office back in March of 2005. He acknowledges that he got the opportunity, in part, because he knew Blunt through his political ventures.
"I campaigned for him when he came back from the Navy," said Mark.
But by many accounts, Mark's office has received high marks for cheery service and helpful attention.
"I have been to Republic," said license office patron Jose Rojas. "A-plus. (South Fremont) and Republic are the best," he added.
In 2007, Mark's office was honored as Republic's business of the year. He made a mark in the community by developing flashy signs and handing out thousands of magnets with the office's phone number. He doesn't dismiss the competitive bid process, but said that offices that are already run well, should get special consideration.
"I really feel like that if the office has been running properly, and reviewed annually or biannually, maybe the person should stay in there," Mark said.
Mark also has some concerns with Nixon's "point system."
"I'm a veteran, you always see veterans get a few points. But there's no points for being a veteran," Mark observed.
Mark also lacks a bachelor's degree, something he said that could hurt his chances. "Of the 183 offices, right now, not more than 35 percent have a BS degree," Mark said. "I can understand the need for well-educated people but I've run a business successfully, so that should be shoved aside."
Mark said he'll most likely submit a bid to keep his office, but wonders if being a Republican supporter of former Governor Matt Blunt will hurt his chances. He expects to get notice within the next few weeks.
Nixon has said the entire process will take months. His office said once a bid is awarded, the Department of Revenue will have the option of renewing the contracts for up to three years after the first year is completed.
While many embrace the idea of the end of a patronage system, questions about turnover with new workers have some concerned.
Some customers, like Rojas, just think the best offices should be left alone.
"I think if these people know what they're doing already, they should stay working right here," said Rojas who was doing business at the South Fremont office late Wednesday afternoon. "If it works right, don't fix it."

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