By Brian M. Rosenthal
Originally published April 1, 2016
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s office withheld public records that suggest he obtained a medical procedure known as “The Jesus Shot” on a taxpayer-funded trip to Oklahoma, the Houston Chronicle has learned.
In response to a February public records request, Miller’s office had said that no email messages about the trip existed, even though it had more than a dozen of them, a spokeswoman acknowledged Friday.
The emails disprove Miller’s initial account of the trip and show that he tried to set up work meetings for that day only after scheduling an unspecified “appointment” in Kingfisher – a small town in north central Oklahoma that is the only place where it is possible to obtain “The Jesus Shot,” which is billed as able to take away all pain for life.
Friday’s disclosure marked the second time Miller’s office has withheld public records about the Oklahoma trip. Last November, it did not include any information about the trip in its response to a request for documents on all of Miller’s travel. A subsequent request specifically about the Oklahoma trip led the office to produce budget records, but they did not include those released Friday.
Texas Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Lucy Nashed called both omissions inadvertent, noting the agency only has two public records staffers and received nearly 1,000 requests for documents last year.
“TDA thoroughly reviews each public information request that is received and works to provide a timely and complete response of any records we maintain,” Nashed said in a statement. “Transparency is our highest priority, and we are constantly reviewing our processes to ensure we continue to provide public information as required by law and expected by the taxpayers we serve.”
The state lawmaker charged with overseeing the department’s budget called the withheld emails “very troubling.”
“Inadvertent? At this point, what should we believe?” said Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, who serves on the House Government Transparency & Operation Committee in addition to chairing the appropriations subcommittee that deals with agriculture issues. “The Open Records Act exists for a reason. We are the stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars, and we should all, as elected officials, be accountable, transparent and honest in dealing with an open government.”
Government watchdog Tom “Smitty” Smith, the longtime director of Public Citizen Texas, said it is common for politicians trying to hide information to not fully disclose records and then, if caught, claim it was an accident.
Smith called for a separate investigation into the violations of the Texas Public Information Act.
“There should be discipline for someone,” Smith said. “We don’t yet know who.”
Nashed declined to say whether the agency would discipline anyone in its records division. Miller already has agreed to reimburse the agriculture department for the trip.
The Texas Department of Public Safety also has been asked by a liberal advocacy group to investigate the February 2015 trip. On Friday, a department spokesman said the group’s complaint was “still under review.”
The emails shed new light on the trip, which the Chronicle revealed last month.
Miller’s office had said at the time of the trip that he had been invited to tour the Oklahoma National Stockyards and meet with Oklahoma lawmakers, as well as the state’s top agriculture official. Interviews with the stockyards, lawmakers and the agriculture official’s office showed that Miller had not been invited, had not toured the stockyards, had not met the agriculture official and had only an impromptu conversation with lawmakers.
Instead, two sources said that Miller had told them that he had undergone a medical procedure on the trip. Miller acknowledged that he was a patient of the Kingfisher doctor and convicted felon who administers “The Jesus Shot,” but he would not say whether he had gotten the injection on that trip.
The newly released correspondence show that Miller’s aides emailed the office of Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture Jim Reese to request a meeting for the day of the trip, saying he “just wanted to meet Reese and get acquainted.”
When Reese’s office suggested they meet at 1 p.m., one Miller aide wrote to another: “No, 1pm can’t work. … He has a appt in Kingfisher at 1.”
On Friday, Nashed said she “did not have any information” about the appointment.
Eventually, Reese’s office agreed to a morning meeting. It never took place, however. Miller never showed up.