JEFFERSON CITY • The head of Missouri’s embattled Department of Revenue has resigned from his post, following weeks of scrutiny from state lawmakers over the agency’s handling of private information.
In his four-sentence resignation letter to Gov. Jay Nixon, Brian Long wrote that his four months at the helm of the Revenue Department “has taken a toll on me and my family that I could not have anticipated when I accepted the position.”
The resignation, effective immediately, was announced by Nixon’s office Monday.
“I want to thank Brian for his service to the state of Missouri in heading up this department, and wish him well in his future endeavors,” Nixon said in the statement. The governor’s office said Nixon did not ask Long to leave.
Long was named revenue director in December. He previously served as the director of Missouri’s Council on Public Higher Education, a coalition of the state’s public universities.
Nixon named Department of Revenue deputy director John Mollenkamp, who has been with the state agency since 2011, as acting director.
The Department of Revenue has been facing increasing scrutiny from Republican lawmakers this session, mostly stemming from recent changes to Missouri’s drivers licenses.
As an enhanced security feature, the Revenue Department recently started scanning and retaining copies of personal identification documents, including birth certificates, marriage licenses and concealed weapons permits. Both the GOP-controlled House and Senate have passed legislation in recent weeks to block the practice, which some have sought to link to the federal REAL ID Act. The Missouri Legislature passed a law in 2009 requiring the state to opt out of the anti-terrorism initiative.
Then last week, it was revealed that the state Highway Patrol twice released a list of state holders of concealed carry weapons permits to the federal government, sparking further criticism from Republicans in the Legislature.
Mollenkamp, a Rolla native who worked in the state attorney general’s office for several years under then-AG Nixon, has been a key figure in hearings on the new drivers licenses, often taking the lead in testifying to legislative committees.
Last week, House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, called on the state attorney general’s office to appoint an independent panel to investigate the Department of Revenue and its handling of private information.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, has threatened to cut the department’s funding for drivers licenses, unless it halts the scanning policy. During one of last week’s marathon hearings, Schaefer asked Long if he would agree to stop scanning concealed carry permits until the issue is resolved, but Long said he wasn’t prepared to make that commitment.
Meanwhile, the state auditor has launched an audit of the Revenue Department, and House and Senate committees continue to hold hearings into the matter.
Aside from action at the Capitol, the questions surrounding the new license system recently spawned a television commercial and Web campaign targeting Nixon and at least one lawsuit over privacy concerns.
Nixon, for his part, has defended the Revenue Department’s licensing system and sought to focus his message this session on the state budget and expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, which would mean health care coverage for thousands of low-income Missourians.
At the time that Nixon’s office sent the release announcing Long’s resignation, a House committee was in the middle of a hearing on proposed legislation that would give lawmakers the power to remove state department heads.
Rep. Kurt Bahr, R-St. Charles, who is sponsoring the bill, opened the discussion in the House Government Oversight Committee meeting by mentioning the Revenue Department. He said the bill aims to “ensure that the legislative body is provided truthful and accurate information.”
Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, who is sponsoring the House bill that would bar the scanning of drivers license documents, said Long’s resignation shows “clearly, this was an area of great public concern.”
“I hope it signals that the department will continue to take this serious moving forward,” he said.
In investigating the Department of Revenue’s new licensing policy, the Senate Appropriations Committee last week discovered that the state Highway Patrol, with help from the Office of Administration’s information technology arm, released two copies of a list of Missourians with concealed weapons permits to a federal investigator. Despite conflicting accounts in recent days, the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General clarified on Monday that neither list was readable.