Legislator seeks governor’s security costs
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A North Dakota legislator asked the state Highway Patrol on Tuesday to disclose the costs of providing security for the governor, lieutenant governor and their families, a move he says is needed for budget reasons and legislative lawyers argue are not protected by state law.
The North Dakota Legislative Council asked for the information on behalf of a request by Democratic House Minority Leader Corey Mock of Grand Forks, said John Bjornson, the non-partisan research agency’s top attorney. Bjornson said lawmakers from both parties had inquired about the costs but Mock was the first to formally request them.
“Questions have been asked about the level of security and the costs,” Bjornson said. “We don’t know the extent of anything until we have the information.”
The Associated Press obtained the inquiry through an open records request.
Security at the North Dakota Capitol was beefed up in 2016 due to protests involving the Dakota Access pipeline, the four-state, $3.8 billion pipeline in southern North Dakota that lawmakers said put a burden on law enforcement and the state Highway Patrol, which provides security for the governor and the Capitol.
More than a year after the protests ended and the pipeline began operating, increased security measures remain in place, including metal detectors and more troopers patrolling in and around the building. Troopers, both in uniform and plainclothes, also routinely can be seen with Burgum at events across the state, something that was rare or non-existent in previous administrations.
The governor’s office referred questions about the legislative inquiry to the Highway Patrol.
“We don’t discuss the governor’s security,” Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki said.
Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Brandon Solberg said the agency would seek a legal opinion on whether it can disclose the security costs.
“The increased security is beyond noticeable,” Mock said. “I’m not saying that’s wrong. I just don’t think the Highway Patrol is being given the resources to serve both the governor and the public.”
The inquiry by the Legislative Council, which is the Legislature’s research arm, asked that the costs be tallied from January 1, 2016 to present. The request would cover the last 11 months of former-Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s administration and all of Gov. Doug Burgum’s administration to date. Both are Republicans.
The first-term governor has promised to control what he has called “runaway spending” by state lawmakers. Despite an uptick in oil production and prices that contribute heavily to the state budget, Burgum has promised to stick to his April directive that agencies slash budgets 5 percent or 10 percent, with the larger ones responsible for the bigger cuts. He also called for agencies to identify an additional 3 percent reduction as a cushion. Additionally, Burgum called for a 5 percent reduction in agency staffing.
Lawmakers don’t know “the impact the cuts will have” on the security because they don’t know how much is being spent on it at present, Mock said.
The inquiry from the Legislature’s lawyers follows an audit report in June that concluded, among other things, that Burgum, Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, office staff and first lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum used state airplanes for questionable purposes including commuting to homes outside the state capital.
Burgum has refuted the audit’s findings, saying all of the trips were related to state business.
Auditors of the report found no issues with security provided to the governor but did they not disclose the costs, claiming records are protected by state laws that were put on the books following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The Legislative Council, in its letter to the Highway Patrol, said the records are not protected from disclosure. Legislative lawyers, citing an attorney general’s opinion, said the laws are intended only “to exempt information regarding plans and details about infrastructure from getting into the hands of people who would intentionally want to use that information to do harm.”