The Long goodbye

Brian Long has said goodbye to his job as director of the Department of Revenue about four months after Governor Nixon appointed him.  He says the strain on his family caused by the month-long investigation of his department is the reason he is stepping aside. 

His department has been under intense investigation by the Senate Appropriations Committee because it started gathering personal information from Missourians getting driver’s licenses and other state ID cards and keeping it in a database.  Some of the allegations that have been thrown around have been easily made and less easily proven.  But in the end the key is a rule the department should have promulgated to remove any doubt about the legality of what it has been doing.  But it didn’t make that rule. 

The wobbly-wheeled Revenue Department wagon had been sent on its way by Brian Long’s predecessor who was appointed to an administrative hearing judge’s job the day after sending a letter to Homeland Security that has been pounced on by Senator Kurt Schaefer and his appropriations committee. They read it as the state saying it is complying with the Real ID law although Missouri has a law saying it will not do so.  Long argued the letter was intended to show the department that Missouri was doing some things the Real ID law requires but is prohibited by state law from doing others, and hoping the feds don’t start banning Missourians from airline flights because it can’t fulfill all of the criteria for adopting Real ID.  Perception, however, is in the eyes of the committee.

Long might have been able to remove some of the pressure if he had told the committee last week that he was going to order a halt to the information-gathering.  But he said he was not ready to make that commitment.  He didn’t explain why and the committee didn’t ask why–and perhaps it should have.

His position was not helped by the department’s lack of candor about how accessible this personal information is to others.  And when it was mentioned last week that a list of people with concealed weapons permits was made available to a federal government agency, the committee jumped on that issue with both feet.   Guns are involved.  The federal government is involved.  A list of people with guns is involved.  A federal agency got that list.  It couldn’t read the files, though.  But it got the list and it took three weeks for the Revenue Department and the Department of Public Safety to admit it.  

We don’t know why the department has handled this investigation as it has.  We don’t know why Brian Long didn’t want to commit to solving the problem last week.  Some of this stuff is pretty complicated and pressure comes to bear from several directions.    

Some Senators say others caught up in the questioning should join the private sector.  Senator Rob Schaaf has suggested that Long was thrown under the bus by the Nixon administration, although the governor’s spokesman, Scott Holste, told us the resignation was not requested.  But in our years of covering statehouse politics we have seen plenty of people fall on their sword to try to end a controversy.  

There is some sympathy, even among his critics, for Brian Long.  It appears he inherited a situation ripe for political controversy and tangled with a powerful group of legislators. 

Brian Long has been in state government for a long time in a number of different roles including a couple of years as state budget director and as the head for several years of the Council on Public Higher Education.  He’s been a career bureaucrat and administrator—two positions that merit more respect that the public and some politicians give them–for a long time.  This is the first time we recall any controversy about what he has done.  To be hit this hard after so many years of competent service is difficult to take.  The circumstances of his departure from state government are unfortunate and disappointing but the reason for it—to take his family out of unaccustomed and harsh spotlight–is proper.  

Somebody, somewhere in or out of government, is going to get a good man–soon, we hope. 

In the meantime we wait for the next shoe to drop, the next card to fall, and perhaps the next head to roll. 




Jay Carr could have kept all of this from happening

But he didn’t.  Because Jay Carr is not a person.  And if he was a person, he would have been ignorant of the seeds of controversy that were planted a while ago.  But if he had been a person and if he had known of a lawyer’s conversation with a client, this whole investigation of Revenue Department records retention practices and the growing ripples from the investigation might not be creating the Kabuki theatre production that is diverting attention away from the mundane happenings in legislative chambers as this session enters its final weeks.

Kabuki seems to be an appropriate description.  It’s a dance-drama performance. Those who have watched the drama build during the last month have seen a lot of dancing to go with it.

And Jay Carr, which is legislator-speak for JCAR, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, could have stopped all of this before it started.  But Jay Carr never had the chance.   Because nobody told Jay Carr that something had not been done. And if you know nothing about the  nothing that was done, you can’t do anything.

There could be Hell to pay when Jay Carr and his friends learn something about nothing being done.  That became a key piece of information that came out this week in the investigation of new Revenue Department procedures for issuing driver’s licenses and other state ID cards.

The root of all of this was exposed last Wednesday night, the 10th, when Jackie Benboom, the head of the motor vehicle licensing in the department, met with the Senate Appropriations Committee and was  confronted with the state administrative rule (12CSR10-24.448 for those who are fascinated by such things) requires that proof of lawful presence in this country has to be SHOWN to the clerks at the license office.  But nothing in the rule says anything about scanning and retention of documents.   Benboom said she’d been advised by the department’s lawyer that the rule did not need to be changed to require scanning and saving.  That brought General Counsel Trever Bossert to the microphone to maintain, “the scanning and the retention is an internal procedure.  Doesn’t change what an individual is required to bring to the office.”

Senator Kurt Schaefer of Columbia (committee chairman): “Right.  But isn’t the point of a rule, and as Chapter 536 specifically states, the purpose is to notify the public of standards of general applicability and things that they’ll have to comply with when they come forward to do stuff?” When Bossert agreed, Schaefer asked, “You decided not to promulgate a rule?”

Bossert: I think that is correct.

Schaefer: Still think that’s a good idea?

Bossert: …There are certainly pros and cons.

Mr. Bossert had just spilled some of his blood in the water.  And the committee sharks recognized it.

Later, Bossert was called back by Senator Ryan Silvey of Kansas City, who wanted to know what the “cons” are.

Bossert: I suppose the cons of promulgating a rule would be the, you know, mainly the administrative burden of bringing the rule up.

Silvey: So the administrative burden of having oversight, because the promulgated rule goes through Jay Carr which the members of the House and Senate have an opportunity to review and weigh in on, so that’s too big of a burden that somehow, now the administrative hurdle of going through Jay Carr and the action of the administrative process supersedes the notification of the public of this change?

Bossert: I can’t tell you why the previous director determined that she didn’t need to promulgate a rule.

Silvey: But you advised her that it wasn’t necessary.

Bossert:  I think I probably did.

Before the night was out, the committee had eliminated all funding for the motor vehicle licensing operations and specifically cut out the line for Bossert’s salary.

The problem with writing a new rule and running it through the administrative rules system is that the process takes time.  And the members of the House and Senate who are Jay Carr would have reviewed it.  They probably would have thrown a fit and killed the rule.

But Jay Carr never saw the rule.  There was no rule. Now we have some legislators suggesting it’s time for the Governor to step in and start lopping off some heads because of what they perceive as evasion and lack of cooperation.  Legislators who continue to bore into this issue have complained frequently that they are unable to get clear, simple, straight answers to their questions.  Governor Nixon, who has appointed many of the heads that critics would like to see in a basket, did nothing to quiet the situation  when a reporter caught him off-guard during a tour of tornado sites in eastern Missouri on Thursday and asked him if he knew state information had gone to the federal government.  He stumbled badly: “Like I say, we, we, we comport ourselves with the law and I’m not, I’m, I, I,  I won’t…..uh…(pause)…y’know (pause)  uh, We are, uh, (pause) we are following the laws as written by the, by, by the, by, in our state and the federal level, uh,  and, uh, you now,  I signed a law a couple of years ago saying , saying, what we’d do, and we’ve following those. so I, I uh you know, so I,  I will only say, as is our usual (pause) process and procedure we follow the laws and will continue to.”   But Senator Schaefer and some of his colleagues are quick to insist that some laws have not been followed.

Now,  Schaefer vows the show is about to hit the road, an action not without some peril. The value of the performances in the Capitol lies in the participation of the people responsible for the policies and actions in question as well as those investigating and alleging.  A road show that will be heavy with investigators and those doing the alleging runs the risk of taking the effort beyond policy and into politics and there are skeptics who think it is walking a fine line now.  It is hard to see how far all of this will go.

Regardless, all of this might not have been possible if Jay Carr had been consulted at the start.

Three Little Words

Frank Sinatra and dozens of other singers have used the lyrics:

“Three little words, oh what I’d give for that wonderful phrase,
To hear those three little words, that’s all I’d live for the rest of my days.
And what I feel in my heart, they tell sincerely.
No other words can tell it half so clearly.
Three little words, eight little letters which simply mean
Waste, Fraud, Abuse.”

Okay, so Frank Sinatra didn’t sing it exactly that way. And these three little words have fifteen letters, not eight.

It’s WFA season in Jefferson City. We’re already hearing some lawmakers claiming they can cut taxes but avoid any loss in state revenue by getting rid of WFA. We’ve listened to office-holders and pretenders to their offices say everything will be just hunky-dory if we can get rid of waste, fraud, and abuse. How this phrase has escaped making Lake Superior State University’s annual list of banned words is one of nature’s great mysteries.

It too easily dribbles from the lips of those in politics or those wanting to replace them. And every time a candidate or an office holder falls back on that tired old tri-word phrase, he or she insults a lot of people, some of whom they serve with or want to serve with.
Here’s why continued assertions that there are millions and millions of dollars of WFA are insults to colleagues and past dedicated public servants.

This will be the 39th session of the Missouri legislature the Missourinet has covered. Think of all of the Speakers of the House including the one this year. Think of all of the Presidents Pro Tem of the state Senate, including this year’s leader. Think of all of the House and Senate Appropriations and budget committee chairmen and women and the hundreds of budget hearings and budget reviews they have held during those years, looking for ways to hold spending down, searching for ways the state can spend its money responsibly and efficiently. Think of all of the appropriations bills members of the House and Senate—including many now serving–have approved, apparently approving WFA as they did. Think of all the state audits done on agencies and programs and their questions about WFA that have produced voluntary results or have or should have produced legislative appropriations action to stop the discovered WFA. Both political parties have held legislative majorities or elective positions and chamber control during those years. Governors have come and gone. Treasurers have come and gone.

Today our legislators return to the Capitol for their 2013 session. Failure to bag the 12-point buck of WFA, after all, might be seen as a Waster of time, Fraudulent promises of success, and further Abuse of the English language.