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Could the gains of Montee's ex be her loss?

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 24, 2009 - The Missouri Republican Party has once again taken note of the success of prominent St. Joseph lawyer James Montee in capturing the state contract for a license-office contract.

A firm affiliated with Montee, St. Joseph License, won the bidding for the St. Joseph License Office. Earlier, another firm linked to Montee was the winning bidder in the contract for the Lee's Summit office. And a third fee office is run by Montee's business partner at the Lee's Summit office.

Montee, by the way, is the ex-husband of state Auditor Susan Montee.

All the contracts were awarded by the state's Department of Revenue, which oversees the quasi-private network of 183 offices that handle drivers licenses, vehicle plates and titles. The privately run offices are called "fee offices'' because a fee is tacked onto each transaction to cover the costs and profit for each office.

Traditionally, such contracts used to be doled out to supporters of whoever is governor. Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, has continued the bidding process that began in the latter years of Republican Matt Blunt. At Nixon's urging, the Legislature OKed a bill last session that requires all the license office contracts to go out for bid.

But Nixon and his staff have acknowledged for months that some of the contracts would end up going to Democratic supporters. Others have gone to non-profit groups, and in some cases have remained in GOP hands. The bid criteria is the same, with the best bid for the state getting the award, said a Revenue Department spokesman.

The Republicans' continued high-profile attention on James Montee appears to stem, in part, from the fact that he shares the same last name as his ex-wife, who will be seeking re-election next year.

State GOP party spokesman Jonathon Prouty denies any link. "It's the fact that he'a a Democratic powerbroker in the state,'' said Prouty, citing almost $100,000 in donations that Montee and his law firm have given to various Democrats and the state party.

A spokesman for Susan Montee emphasizes that she is no longer married to James Montee, and that she has no role in the awarding of the office contracts by the Revenue Department, which is controlled by the governor.

In any case, said Montee spokesman Glenn Campbell, all the fee office contracts are bid out and "subject to the same kind of oversight."

But given the type of publicity, the state auditor may prefer that none of the remaining 140 fee office contracts to be awarded end up in the hands of her ex.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.