The Public Deserves Details About the Cost of Governor Burgum’s Security

Gov. Doug Burgum, left, and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, right, convene the Industrial Commission meeting at the state Capitol in Bismarck on Thursday. On the right is Karlene Fine, the commission's executive director. Mike McCleary / Bismarck Tribune

For a while now there has been a lot of hot gossip in North Dakota’s capitol building about Governor Doug Burgum’s travel expenses and his security expenses. The rumors hold that Burgum has traveled excessively and often has an excessive security detail in tow.

State Auditor Josh Gallion, to his credit, took a look at travel expenses in the governor’s office and found some relatively minor problems that can seemingly be fixed with better record keeping. But the issue of Burgum’s security expenses wasn’t something the auditor’s office was able to answer sufficiently.

At least not to the public. The state’s auditors got details about Burgum’s security detail (click through to read the new report) but according to the report they can’t make what details they got public. They said they found “no issues” with the information they were provided, but the taxpayers aren’t allowed to know what’s going on.

Before the report from Gallion’s office came out I attempted to get details about Burgum’s security as well. When I asked for some basic details about the costs of the detail I got shut down. “For security reasons, we cannot divulge specific information which may compromise the safety of those who depend on these services as stated in NDCC 44-04-24 and NDCC 44-04-25,” Lieutenant Michael Roark told me in an emailed response to my request.

We know more about the cost of providing security to President Donald Trump and his family than we do about the security provided to Governor Burgum.

“We do not release specific information regarding security operations,” Roark told me in a follow-up email when I pushed back on his claim that even the broadest details about gubernatorial security are not public record. Roark also told me that the North Dakota Highway Patrol, which provides the security, does not keep specific records as to its costs.

Roark cites to section of state law relating to the disclosure of security plans. The interpretation of those laws being used here is overly broad, I think.

What I’m told – and I want to make it clear that this is unverified rumor – is that Burgum has taken a state security detail with him out of state and even on vacation. But when I ask questions about that of state officials – things like whether or not Burgum takes his security out of state, how much security costs, etc. – I’m directed to the NDHP, and the NDHP claims they don’t have to say anything.

Enter state Rep. Corey Mock, Minority Leader for the Democratic caucus in the state House, who has put in his own request for details about Burgum’s security detail.

Mock, apparently, has been hearing the same rumors I have. “Mock said Burgum has had ‘more of a security presence than any other prior governor, to my knowledge,'” my colleague John Hageman reports. Though I should note that Mock also claims he’s requesting the information to prepare for the next Legislative session in which Burgum has (rightly, I think) called for more budget cuts.

I hope Mock is successful in getting some information.

That’s not to say that Governor Burgum, or anyone working for him, is doing something untoward (though Burgum didn’t exactly earn the benefit of the doubt after the Super Bowl fiasco). The problem is I have no idea if they’re doing anything wrong or not. I can’t get even the most basic details about Burgum’s current level of security, nor can I get that information about previous gubernatorial administrations.

We know more about the cost of providing security to President Donald Trump and his family than we do about the security provided to Governor Burgum.

Shutting down public inquiries to these costs make it seem like Burgum and his administration are hiding something. While I can understand a need for a certain level of operational security when it comes to the specific details, the taxpayers deserve some information so that they can evaluate the cost of security provided to Burgum and compare it to what was provided to previous occupants of his office.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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