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Friday, June 1, 2012

State Pulls Fee Office License From St. Louis County Council Member

BY PAUL HAMPEL > 314-727-6234 | Posted: Friday, June 1, 2012 12:05 am
The Missouri Department of Revenue on Thursday withdrew the fee office contract it awarded last month to St. Louis County Council member Kathleen Burkett, saying her application failed to meet financial requirements.
The decision to give the contract to Burkett, D-Overland, has proved embarrassing to the administration of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, because Burkett declared bankruptcy last year and owed federal income taxes dating to 2008.
The Revenue Department did not cite a specific reason for its reversal. The state Office of Administration, however, in response to a Freedom of Information request from the Post-Dispatch, on Thursday disclosed a letter that was part of Burkett's application. In it, a bank indicated it would "consider" extending $105,000 in credit to Burkett.
However, applicants are required to document that they actually have credit and/or assets of at least $105,000.
To replace Burkett, the Revenue Department gave the contract for running the Maplewood fee office, one of the top revenue-producing fee offices in the state, to Mid-America Transplant Services.
Burkett has been County Executive Charlie A. Dooley's staunchest ally on the County Council, and Dooley on Thursday took out after Nixon in defense of the council member.
Dooley cited Nixon's promise in 2009 to end the tradition of awarding fee offices to political allies.
"I'm very disappointed in the governor," Dooley said. "Kathy Burkett won this award fair and square, through a competitive process that was championed by the governor in order to remove politics from these contracts awards.
"What's different today that wasn't apparent when the contract was awarded ..."‰? So much for taking politics out of this decision."
Nixon could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
Dooley and a fellow Democratic official, county Assessor Jake Zimmerman, were among the references listed in Burkett's application. Dooley and Zimmerman said last week that they gave Burkett permission to cite them as references but had not heard from anyone concerning her application and had never contacted anyone on her behalf.
Burkett, 66, has served on the County Council since 2002 and is running for re-election.
She said she fell into debt when she lost a full-time job several years ago and was forced to take a lower-paying position.
Through bankruptcy, Burkett shed about $130,000 in credit card bills. Her petition also noted that she had owed over $8,000 in federal income taxes but had paid off about half of that through a payment plan negotiated with the federal government.
To criticism that her selection was politically motivated, Burkett cited her 47 years of experience working in and managing license offices, including several decades at one her family operated in Overland until 2005.
On Thursday, Burkett said that the state had treated her shabbily.
"A lot of people have told me lately that I'm the strongest woman they know, but I have the right to cry if I want to," she said, her voice breaking with emotion. "Life is tough, and times are rough. I know that. But I could have been treated fairer."
The letter about the line of credit was from Eagle Bank and Trust Co. of Missouri. The letter, dated Dec. 13, stated only that the bank "commits to consider a $105,000 line of credit" to Burkett.
"I guess 'consider' was the word that got me into trouble," Burkett said. "I never got the loan because I didn't feel that I needed it. I know I made mistakes that got me into bankruptcy, but I'm not destitute.
"I had enough money to get (the Maplewood License Office) up and running, and I thought it would be enough for the state if a bank said it would consider giving me a loan."
Burkett said she got a call from the state's Office of Administration on Tuesday night telling her that the letter was insufficient and that she had until noon Wednesday to provide proof of her assets.
"I have friends who are willing to co-sign on a loan for me, but the bank said there was no way they could get all that documentation together by noon," she said.
"Now, I'm angry. I gave the state that letter in December, and they waited six months to tell me it's no good? That's too late for me because I've already spent $15,000 purchasing the equipment at the Maplewood office."
Burkett was due to take over the Maplewood office on June 11. She is currently working as manager of the Ferguson license office but has given that office her notice to resign from there as of June 6.
"Would the Ferguson office possibly consider letting me stay? They have been very good to me, but I don't think I will ask them. Honestly, I don't know what I'm going to do now," she said.
Unanswered questions
The Revenue Department did not return phone calls or emails seeking further explanation of its decision.
Left unclear was who made the ruling to pull Burkett's contract or how the state had initially ruled that Burkett had fulfilled all of the application's requirements.
The state had given Burkett the highest overall score among nine applicants, and had scored her highest in a category that included financial stability and experience.
A spokesman for Dave Spence, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, accused the governor of playing political games with the Maplewood office.
"Jay Nixon's backtrack on the most recent fee office award can be summed up in one word: guilt. Once again, he was caught handing out political favors instead of doing the right thing, and now he is trying to cover it up by blaming the person he awarded the office to," said Jared Craighead, campaign manager for the Spence for Governor campaign.

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