Gov. Jay Nixon has opened the Pulaski County drivers' license fee office up for bids. The current fee agent is Charles Bassett of Dixon, who was appointed by former Gov. Matt Blunt.
PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (April 23, 2009) — County commissioners decided Thursday morning that they don’t want to act on a proposal by Gary Porter, a longtime local businessman, that the county bid on the state license fee office.
Missouri law allows the governor to select the agents for the offices that issue drivers’ licenses and vehicle license plates to residents. While governors have wide discretion in assigning the contracts, former Gov. Matt Blunt received widespread criticism based on claims that he was treating the license fee offices as a reward for political support. The new governor who took office this year, Jay Nixon, has decided to use a bid process to decide who gets the contract to run the license fee offices.
Porter, a former Iowa resident who was used to the practice in that state of license fees being collected by county officials, had urged Presiding Commissioner Bill Ransdall to use whatever influence he may have with Nixon to assign the license fee office to the county commission so the county’s cash-strapped budget would have more money available. After Nixon announced this week that the Pulaski County fee office would be opened for bids, Porter went to a local radio station and repeated his call for Pulaski County to bid on the contract.
Commissioner Bill Farnham agreed, noting that the Pulaski County fee office had a $231,126 profit in 2008.
“We have to find ways to come up with extra money for the county, and this is just a thought,” Farnham said.
Ransdall wasn’t convinced that’s a good idea. At Thursday’s meeting, he said he’s obtained the 66-page bid document but said he has a conflict of interest because two other boards on which he serves in his capacity as presiding commissioner, the Missouri Ozarks Community Action board and the Pulaski County Growth Alliance board, have considered bidding on the fee office.
Ransdall warned that the Pulaski County Growth Alliance has only been able to raise commitments of $50,000 per year for three years to pay for hiring an economic developer to maintain a county website and help attract businesses to the county.
“I would be in favor of the Pulaski County Growth Alliance bidding on it to pay for an economic development person for the county. I think over the long run, over the long haul, if we had a professional economic development person, this (the fee office) would fund it,” Ransdall said.
The alternative, Ransdall said, would be to have the county run the fee office directly which would likely make the fee office employees into county employees.
Employers in the private sector can pay whatever they want to their employees, but Commissioner Ricky Zweerink said the county’s wage scale and benefit package might make it prohibitively expensive to bid on the fee office.
“If that is the case, we’d have to hire county employees to run this and we’d have to supervise it?” Zweerink asked. “By the time we get done with all the benefits of a county employee that have to go with it, would we have any profits left?”
Ransdall had other questions as well.
“If Mr. Porter would have his way, where would you put it in the courthouse?” Ransdall asked.
Farnham suggested that the fee office be placed in the Pulaski County Treasurer’s office or the Pulaski County Extension Office and that those offices be moved elsewhere.
Ransdall said there might be some benefits to putting the fee office under the authority of County Treasurer Barbara Thomas, noting that County Clerk Diana Linnenbringer is already overworked.
“We can’t pile anything more on the clerk ... I think you’d more than likely have to give it to the treasurer and the treasurer would be responsible for it,” Ransdall said. “With the number of vehicles and the number of transactions, I don’t know what you’d do about the parking. We’ve got a problem as it is now.”
“I think this is going to be a headache and a major deal,” Zweerink said.
“I understand that, but the county needs the money. If it’s too big of a deal then let’s say that and move on,” Farnham said.
Ransdall said he didn’t see any way Pulaski County could submit a license fee office bid, but said he’d support a bid by the Pulaski County Growth Alliance which could potentially have the same effect by augmenting the county’s budget through additional growth, as long as the fee office remained in its current location rather than moving to the courthouse.
However, Ransdall said he wanted to clarify his relationship with Nixon in light of Porter’s claims.
“It puts me in a very awkward place being on three boards that are looking at it,” Ransdall said.
“A lot of this stuff was, ‘Bill Ransdall is going to get it because of his association with the governor.’ I am not going to apply for it,” Ransdall said. “I am a little upset that everyone thought I was going to get it; I am not going to get it because I am not going to bid on it.