The Texas Department of Public Safety said Monday it had preserved certain travel records associated with the cost of providing security to Gov. Rick Perry before 2008, contrary to information it provided on Friday when it said that information had been "purged."
The Tribune had asked the agency in late June to provide the raw spending totals for Perry’s security since he took office in December 2000. On Friday, the DPS said it could not distinguish between Perry and other elected officials and foreign dignitaries who receive its police protection services. The agency did reveal that it had cost about $22 million to provide security for all of the covered officials since 2008.
The agency also said Friday that it had “purged” financial records for security provided before 2008 and therefore couldn’t give figures before that. While accounting records are indeed gone, the agency said Monday that it had erroneously described the extent of the records destruction. The department now says that any records that had been the subject of a lawsuit brought by newspapers trying to get more information about the expenses had been preserved.
The cost of providing security to Perry was a controversial topic even before Perry began exploring a run for the White House. Now that he’s inching toward a race, scrutiny has increased.
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DPS spokesman Tom Vinger told the Tribune in an email Monday that the agency needed to “clarify some misinformation that was provided to you last week.”
“You asked the question: 'Do the purged records include records that were subject to open records requests and the recent court case?' We reported that the answer to this was ‘yes,’” Vinger said. “Our account records are subject to the records retention schedule and were purged according to schedule. … However, the travel voucher information, which is separate from accounting records, have in fact been preserved since 2001 due to ongoing litigation.”
The Texas Supreme Court — overturning two previous lower-court decisions — ruled on July 1 that the DPS could keep the records secret for now, but the case has been sent back to a lower court to decide what should and should not be released. In other words, the case is still active.
The records detail what hotels and restaurants the security guards, and presumably the governor, are frequenting and how much they cost.
In 2007, the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express News and Austin American-Statesman sued to get the records. The DPS has fought to keep the vouchers secret, saying that releasing them could jeopardize the governor’s safety. Government transparency advocates argue that the public has a right to see the bills, and that releasing them after trips have been taken would compromise nothing.
In the meantime, the Legislature recently passed a law that attempts to strike a balance between government transparency and the governor’s security. Going forward, the law will require that the agency make the travel vouchers public after 18 months, which would fall after the 2012 presidential election.
The law is not retroactive. So until the legal questions are resolved, the travel records subject to the lawsuit will remain secret until the courts ultimately decide what to do with them.
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