SIKESTON - A lot has changed in the 12 years since the Coles last ran the local License Bureau.
"We had it for 12 years under Gov. Bond and Gov. Ashcroft," said Terry Cole. "I lost it under the Carnahan administration and the Holden administration."
Cole and his wife, Cindy, are now back in the saddle after being awarded the contract to operate the license fee office by Gov. Blunt.
"The offices always change under different governors," Cole said. "Well, not always, but a lot of times."
One the last remaining plums of Missouri's political patronage system, license office contracts are awarded by the governor through the revenue department director. The state has 171 privately-run fee offices. Contracts typically go to the governor's political supporters but some offices are given to community service organizations or charitable groups.
Having lost the governor's office, Democrats in the House have proposed ending political patronage license office contract awards in favor of a competitive bid system in which profits for the state go to education.
Technological advances over the last decade have significantly changed the way license fee offices are operated. "Everything's computerized now where before it wasn't," Cole said. "One of the things changed are the driver licenses are done right on the spot - you don't mail them in."
The Coles are responsible for providing a building, staff and just about all the equipment needed to run the License Bureau. "They gave us the machine to take the pictures and one computer and we're required to supply everything else," he said. "We put in a new computer system where all renewals and title applications go through this system. It cuts down on mistakes and it's faster."
The License Bureau is now located at 1515 East Malone, "right next to the bowling alley," Cole said. "We're opening Monday morning, 8 a.m., bright and early." The phone number for the License Bureau is still 471-3160.
With the change in operators, License Bureau customers will also enjoy new, expanded hours.
The old License Bureau hours were from 9 a.m. till 4:30 p.m. weekdays only, according to Cole.
"Now we will be open from 8 a.m. till 5 p.m. Monday through Friday," he said, "and we do not close for lunch."
Fee agents are now required to be open at least one Saturday a month. "We'll be open the first and last Saturday of each month from 8 a.m. till noon," Cole said.
With this round of contracts, agents who fail to comply with applicable laws and additional state oversight are subject to financial penalties.
Cole said one of his personal requirements for License Bureau employees is friendliness.
"We want to serve the public - we enjoy serving them," Cole said. "We want them to have a pleasant experience here. They're going to get friendly, courteous service. We're going to take care of everybody."
In addition to Cole and his wife, License Bureau employees so far are Sherry Slayden, Karen Kluesner and office manager Dawn Collier.
"I really enjoy the people so I was very glad the governor gave us this opportunity again," Cole said. "I like meeting the customers and helping them."
Some information for this story was provided by the Southeast Missouri News Service.