A top official in Gov. Jay Nixon's administration abruptly resigned Monday, becoming the first person to step aside amid a controversy over the way Missouri gathers information about people with concealed gun permits.
Department of Revenue Director Brian Long had been on the job for just four months. His appointment had come shortly after the agency had launched a new driver's licensing process in which clerks make electronic copies of people's personal documents, such as birth certificates and concealed gun permits, to be saved in a state database. Long and other members of the Democratic governor's administration had defended the process as a strong safeguard against fraud, despite criticism from Republican lawmakers who denounced it as a potential invasion of privacy. But on Monday, Long submitted his resignation effective immediately, noting he was doing so "with great regret."
"My brief tenure as Director has taken a toll on me and my family that I could not have anticipated when I accepted the position in December 2012," Long wrote in his resignation letter, which the governor's office released upon the request of The Associated Press.
Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said Long was neither asked nor encouraged to resign. Long did not immediately return a telephone message.
The controversy began in early March, when Republicans touted a lawsuit challenging the licensing office procedure of making copies of concealed gun permits. Local licensing offices handle concealed gun documents because they issue the necessary photo identification cards or place the concealed-carry endorsement on people's driver's licenses.
Long and other members of Nixon's administration have said those scanned documents are being kept on a state computer server and not shared with the federal government or other entities. But during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing last week, the head of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said his agency had twice obtained a separate electronic list of concealed gun permit holders that was based on driver's license information and shared that list with a fraud investigator in the Social Security Administration.
An email a federal agent sent Nov. 17, 2011, to the Highway Patrol said "the purpose for this list is to cross match it to the Social Security Administration database for people who are currently collecting disability for a mental illness." People who have been judged mentally incompetent aren't supposed to be able to get Missouri concealed gun permits.
The Social Security Administration said Monday that its investigators were unable to read either the original encrypted disk or a subsequent electronic spreadsheet provided this January. In both cases, it said the disks were destroyed.
But even that acknowledgement came with confusion and controversy. Late last week, the inspector general of the Social Security Administration had told U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., that its investigators had been able to read the second disk. Luetkemeyer held a news conference Monday in Jefferson City recounting that conversation. Only after that did the Social Security Administration say it had mistakenly provided him incorrect information.
Page 2 of 2 - "Blaine is absolutely furious," Luetkemeyer spokesman Paul Sloca said later Monday. "We are now definitely going to become more involved in light of these recent developments. This is supposed to be an investigatory body, and they should know better than to give out information unless it's verified."
Long's resignation was announced in a news release by Nixon as a House committee was hearing testimony on a bill motivated by the Revenue Department's handling of concealed gun information. The bill would let the Legislature oust department directors when they deem it "necessary for the betterment of the public service."
Among those testifying for the bill was Stephen Barnes, a disabled former sheet metal worker from California, Mo., who said he has a permit to carry a concealed gun. He was outraged that his name likely was on the list shared with Social Security investigators.
"They've been going rogue up there in the federal government, and you don't know what they're going to do with this information," Barnes said in an interview.
The Missouri House already has passed legislation that would bar the Revenue Department from making electronic copies of applicants' personal documents and require any materials already collected to be destroyed. A similar bill is pending in the Senate. State Rep. Todd Richardson, who sponsored that legislation, said Long's departure does not alleviate the need for the Legislature to also take action.
"I'm not going to pass judgment on whether Director Long was the right person to take the fall for this decision or not, said Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, adding "I hope that it shows the governor is taking this seriously."