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Springfield non-profit to run Olivette license office, seeking others in area

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 28, 2009 - Alternative Opportunities, a Springfield-based nonprofit that focuses on helping the disabled and youth in foster care, is making a major foray into the state's license-office business.

This week, the nonprofit was awarded the contract to run the fee office in Olivette, its first in the St. Louis area. Alternative Opportunities earlier had won the six office contracts the agency already has won in southwest Missouri.

Alternative Opportunities chief executive Marilyn Nolan said it also is bidding on several other license offices in the St. Louis area, including those in Creve Coeur and Maplewood.

Alternative Opportunities's aim is to increase its profile in communities where it serves. The agency has two area offices, in Sunset Hills and Lake St. Louis. The fee offices, she said, will also be used as job-training sites for some of the foster-care youth that the agency assists, as the teens graduate out of the foster system into the regular workforce.

A spokesman for the Department of Revenue says Alternative Opportunities' success has nothing to do with campaign donations of close to $6,000 that various executives at the agency, including Nolan, gave last year to Gov. Jay Nixon.

Nolan said the non-profit's officials donate to a variety to candidates, from both major parties, to advocate for additional services dealing with mental health, child welfare, substance abuse and employment services.

Until this year, the state's contracts to run the state-supervised 183 private license offices were typically given to allies of whoever was governor. They are called "fee offices'' because a fee is tacked onto each transaction, to cover the office's expenses and profit.

Last session, the Legislature approved a bidding requirement for the offices, a move sought by Nixon. Former Gov. Matt Blunt had begun bidding out some fee offices, after he came under fire early in his term over some of the awards to allies.

The state Republican Party has jabbed at some of the fee-office contracts awarded under Nixon, although his staff has noted that some Republicans had won the bidding process for certain offices. In particular, the GOP has taken note of the contracts won by the ex-husband of state Auditor Susan Montee, who is seeking re-election next year.

Department of Revenue spokesman Ted Farnen said that Alternative Opportunities has made bids to run at least 18 fee offices around the state, losing out on at least one. Several contract awards are pending, meaning that Alternative Opportunities is likely in the running for several more. (Editor's note: An earlier version of this paragraph was inaccurate.)

"We really base the decisions on the bids submitted for each office,'' Farnen said. "It has nothing to do with individual people who work with Alternative Opportunities. Who gave contributions to whom plays no role. It has nothing to with it. Zero."

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.