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Roberts brothers' firm only bidder for Northside license office

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 29, 2009 -  The company owned by St. Louis' politically connected brothers Mike and Steve Roberts --Roberts-Roberts Associates LLC -- is apparently the only bidder for the contract to run the St. Louis license office that has been operated by the equally connected Yvonne Hunter.

Hunter, a Republican and wife of prominent lawyer Jerry Hunter, plans next Tuesday to close the license office -- officially known as the Northside License Office -- that she has been running for several years at 1330 Aubert Ave, just east of North Kingshighway.

Yvonne Hunter obtained the contract under a fellow Republican, then-Gov. Matt Blunt, at a time when such "fee office'' contracts went to political allies of whoever is governor.

Under Missouri's license setup, contracts to run the state's 183 "fee offices'' change whenever the governor changes. They are called "fee offices" because a fee is tacked on to each transaction to cover the costs for operating the office, and any profit.

The Roberts brothers are Democrats (although they have been on good terms with some Republican governors over the years). Missouri Ethics Commission records show that various firms run by the brothers, or top employees of those firms, had donated at least $4,900 to Gov. Jay Nixon's successful campaign for governor.

However, Nixon is changing the fee-office system to end the blatant patronage by putting the contracts up for bid. He is expected to soon sign into law a bill guaranteeing the bid system. Blunt had begun putting the contracts out for bid a couple years ago when controversy arose over some of the fee office contracts his administration had awarded.

Yvonne Hunter had gotten the contract when Blunt converted the 11 formerly state-run license offices into fee offices in 2005. The Northside office had been state-run and was situated for more than 20 years in the old Sears building at 1408 Kingshighway.

That building is owned by the Roberts brothers (who weren't too thrilled when Hunter moved the license office out, and down a block). So if the Roberts get the contract, it's likely the license office will return to its old quarters, or nearby.

But the Robertses may not be a lock, even if they have no obvious competition.

Department spokesman Ted Farnen said that negotiations are continuing. The initial deadline for bids was back in March. The Roberts' firm has been asked to submit its "best and final offer."  The deadline to reply was last Wednesday.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.