Blunt's office "happy" that Montee is taking their lead
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Blunt's office "happy" that Montee is taking their lead

Date: November 15, 2006
By: Rachel Higginbotham
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Gov. Blunt's chief of staff Ed Martin issued a letter Monday to the board of the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, calling for "greater openness and transparency."  Since the governor proposed the sale of MOHELA assets in January, the board's policies and procedures have been under strict scrutiny from state leaders, particularly Attorney General Jay Nixon.

Board meetings have typically been closed to the public. Nixon called for more public discussion in the sale process in a letter that he wrote to the board in September.

In Martin's letter, which was also sent to MOHELA director Raymond Bayer Jr., Martin specifically recommended that the board discontinue closed meetings and the limitation of public access. Martin also suggested that copies of all minutes and annual audits be posted on the MOHELA Web site. Martin was unavailable for comment. 

Martin also suggested that the board stop referring to itself as a "non-profit" or "quasi-state agency" as it has typically done in the past; rather, it should be called a "state board" or "state agency."

"We believe that the [MOHELA] board should be consistent with other state boards," said Brian Hauswirth, interim spokesperson for the governor.

Hauswirth cited former MOHELA director Michael Cummins' severance package as reason for concern with the board's operations. Not the attorney general's letter. In fact, Hauswirth said he had not even seen the attorney general's letter.

"I can't say that [Nixon's] letter specifically lead to this," he said.

Cummins was fired in January. He was reportedly opposed to the sale.

Cummins' severance package is worth more than $830,000 according to a story by the Associated Press. In his letter, Martin called for an annual report of the agency's financial records, including the salaries and benefits of all senior board members. 

State auditor-elect Susan Montee was also concerned about the severance package, the AP reported, and has said that one of her first acts as auditor will be to investigate the agency. Montee could not be reached for comment.

Hauswirth said that Montee's announcement of her plans to audit MOHELA on Tuesday was consistent with Martin's letter.

"We're very happy that Ms. Montee is following Ed Martin's lead on this," Hauswirth said. "She's right on the mark."