Montee discusses goals, plans
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Montee discusses goals, plans

Date: January 25, 2007
By: Sarah D. Wire
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The Vietnam War shaped a nation and a generation. It also shaped the future of Missouri's new State Auditor -- then six-year old Susan Montee.

Montee began paying close attention to the media after the disappearance of her father, U.S. Marine Galen Humphrey, in hopes of hearing news of him.  His body was never recovered.  He was lost in a plane crash over water in 1966.

"When someone is missing in action there is no closure so from a very early age I watched the news and paid attention in a way I probably wouldn't have otherwise," she said.

Montee said her father's disappearance caused her to keep up to date on political events.

"It was hard and it probably shaped my view of politics," Montee said.

Montee grew up in her father's hometown of St. Joseph. Her grandmother was very active in the civil rights movement and continuously sent letters to congressmen. Montee said her grandmother gave her a way to channel into action the political fascination she had as a child.

Forty years have passed and now Susan Montee is Missouri State Auditor. Montee said she has tried to implement her grandmother's lessons into her life and her political career.

"I've tried to be active because I think that's how you get things done," Montee said. "If you want something changed, go out and work for it."

Montee joined the Missouri Democratic Party and is currently chair of the Buchanan County chapter.

"Certainly I came into office with my eyes open because I had been involved with grassroots campaigns," Montee said.

Montee was elected Buchanan county auditor in 2000.

"She's fun to be around and has a great deal of energy," said State Democratic Party Chairman Roger Wilson. "Mix that with professionalism and you've got a great auditor."

Her experience as Buchanan county auditor taught Montee how legislation affects government on a county level. She said counties often struggle to implement decisions that come down from Jefferson City because there is no money to fund them.

Montee said her office is responsible for the 89 counties that have no county auditor. She credits her work in Buchanan County for preparing her for that aspect of her job.

Buchanan County Chief Deputy Auditor Don Beavers worked with Montee for six years.

"She gave you a lot of flexibility to get your work done," Beavers said. "She was very gracious and good to work for."

Before being elected in Buchanan County, Montee earned her accounting degree from Drury College in 1985 and attended law school twice to get her law degree.

In 1987, Montee became pregnant and left law school. She waited until her three children entered school before starting her education at the Kansas City campus of the University of Missouri in 1997. Montee said she lost the credits she had earned because of the time span.

"When I could get back to it, I did," she said. Montee has never practiced law full time.

The 2006 State Auditor race was close with both candidates currently serving as county auditor in neighboring counties. Following the primaries, Montee and her opponent, Platte County Auditor Sandra Thomas, began negative campaign tactics. 

"I think that anytime you run a campaign, it's important to talk about your own record," Thomas said in a Sept. 2006 interview. "And it's also important to talk about the record of your opponent."

The two candidates accused each other of faulty book-keeping and negligent work. The race was also tempered by an independent audit, which questioned Thomas' ability as Platte County Auditor. The audit found a $195,000 in the Platte County records.

Montee went on to win the election with 52.9% of the vote.

Montee is the first state auditor in Missouri to hold both a accounting degree and law degree. She said this means she has greater insight into doing both performance and financial audits.

"It means something now to have additional skills in the legal field in this office because it's expanded more technically," Montee said.

Balance is something the new state auditor plans to aim for in her term; a balance between performance and financial audits, and a neutrality of her office when it comes to the political process.

Montee said the term of former State Auditor Claire McCaskill was marked by a strained relationship between the her office and the governor's. Some felt McCaskill audited for political reasons.

Montee said she has a little different perspective about the role of government. Wilson agrees, citing her work with the Missouri Democratic Party.

"She understands politics, but also understands what government's mission is supposed to be and she doesn't lose sight of that," he said. 

Governor's office spokesperson Jessica Robinson said the governor has shown his willingness to work with the state auditor's office.

Montee said her office would not be releasing their opinion on an audit one way or another.

"My office makes recommendations, but we have no ability to get recommendations implemented anywhere," Montee said.

Beginning her term by proposing a MoHELA audit garnered criticism of Montee by the Republican party spokesman who called her move politically-driven. But, Montee said, it's an example of how her office will operate over the next four years.         

She said her office plans to gather information regarding topics currently in the legislature in order to help legislators make important decisions. No matter what decision that is.

Her MoHELA audit announcement led to a mixed-message from the Republican Party. 

The state party's spokesman Paul Sloca attacked the audit plans. "Missourians have to be concerned that Susan Montee's first decision as auditor is to launch a politically motivated audit aimed at vital funding for students at our colleges and universities before she has even learned the basics of her office," Sloca said in a release.

But one day later, the Republican governor commended the audit plans and even asked Montee to expand the audit's scope  Gov. Matt Blunt asked Montee to include the past ten years in the report and to examine the loan authority's pension plans.

Sloca, however, said he stood by his criticism. "There's never been an audit of MoHELA. We just felt why all of a sudden is the auditor involved with MOHELA?" Sloca said.

Sloca said he thinks Blunt is standing by the MoHELA audit because it will prove that the MoHELA sale is a smart move.

Montee said the proposed audit of the loan authority is a political issue because it's relevant. But she said her reasoning behind the audit is not politically driven.

"We have to do it right now because it's in the legislature," Montee said.

Montee said because the legislature is moving forward now, the information the audit will provide is needed now.  

Some legislators have voiced concerns about Montee's choice to hire former state Senate minority leader Ken Jacob, who was known for being divisive within the Senate. Montee said his hire was not a political move. She said his extensive institutional knowledge could be very beneficial for completing performance audits.

Montee said past of the former Columbia Democratic legislator "really doesn't have anything to do with how we do business here."

Montee said her family is working on her transition to Jefferson City, with her youngest son finishing his last year of high school in St. Joseph, and her two oldest children in college in Kansas City.

"Because I've been running for the last year and a half, we really made the transition a year ago," Montee said.

Montee's daughter will be interning at the state Capitol for Rep. Ed Wildberger, D- Buchanan, during this legislative session. Montee and her daughter will be living in the home she bought in Jefferson City in early January.