Blunt takes exception to Nixon efficiency plan

Saturday, June 25, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Republican Gov. Matt Blunt has set a goal of making government more efficient. But he is taking exception with the way Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon is proposing to do so. Nixon has notified the Division of Professional Registration, which falls under Blunt's Department of Economic Development, that his attorneys will no longer routinely attend board meetings and will provide less day-to-day legal advice.

Nixon said it's part of his plan to make the attorney general's office more efficient during tight budget times.

But Blunt doesn't see it that way. Nor does his economic development director, Greg Steinhoff.

"I'm obviously concerned," Blunt said Friday when asked about Nixon's June 16 letter to the Division of Professional Registration. "They often need the assistance of the state's lawyer, and the state's lawyer is the attorney general."

Steinhoff sent a letter Friday to Nixon expressing concern about the reduced services to the nearly 40 citizen commissions, boards and committees under the division. The specialized boards handle licensing matters for doctors, accountants, dentists, barbers and many others.

"These professionals deserve legal guidance and protection in their decision-making," Steinhoff said in his letter.

Nixon's chief of staff, John Watson, seemed perplexed by the response from Blunt's administration. He said the attorney general's office wants to coordinate its priorities with the division's, focusing its time on litigation and attending board meetings when there are pressing legal issues.

Sometimes, professional registration boards meet for a full day or two without ever discussing legal issues, Watson said.

"Instead of having an attorney sitting in a board meeting some day when there's nothing on the agenda involving a legal issue, that attorney may be able to be out working on litigation involving a doctor who has an issue pending before the board of healing arts," Watson said.

Department spokesman Paul Sloca countered that it's important for boards to have an attorney on hand, in case legal questions arise.

"The department is concerned that basically Jay Nixon and the attorney general's office is shirking its responsibility as our attorney," Sloca said, "and at the same time subverting the state's ability to carry out its responsibilities."

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