In yet another flagrant betrayal of everything she says she stands for, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley – who was elected in 2010 on a platform of government transparency – is destroying public records in what appears to be a deliberate attempt to evade the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws.
According to reporter Gina Smith of The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper, Haley’s administration is deleting virtually all of the emails sent or received by the governor’ office – including all of its inter-office email correspondence.
“Only emails between the governor and the public are being saved and archived permanently,” Smith reports. “Other emails that Haley sends or receives – including exchanges with her staff members – are being deleted.”
According to Smith, Haley’s office says that these emails were not deemed “worthy of retention.”
Amazing, isn’t it? The former Tea Party favorite – who lectured state government on its spending and secrecy during her tenure as a lawmaker – is now presiding over the most expensive, most opaque gubernatorial administration in the history of the state.
“This behavior makes me ashamed to be a public official and a South Carolina Republican,” a statewide GOP elected official told FITS.
As a result of Haley’s email deletion policy, efforts by reporters and citizens to uncover the truth about her administration’s various taxpayer-funded activities are bearing little fruit. In fact, The State newspaper says a recent FOIA request seeking information dating back to January contained no emails dated prior to October 3, 2011.
In a statement sent to Smith, Haley’s spokesman Rob Godfrey claims that the governor’s office is operating within the letter of the law – although it’s not entirely clear if that’s the case.
According to the state’s FOIA law, the term public record refers to “all books, papers, maps, photographs, cards, tapes, recordings, or other documentary materials regardless of physical form or characteristics prepared, owned, used, in the possession of, or retained by a public body.”
Also, under the state’s public records law Haley is required to “cooperate with the (S.C. Department of Archives and History) … to establish and maintain an active, continuing program for the economical and efficient management of the records of the agency or subdivision.”
Not only that, Haley is required to “deliver to (her) successor, or if there is none, to the Archives, all public records in (her) custody.”
State law also prescribes penalties for the destruction of individual public records.
“A person who unlawfully removes a public record from the office where it usually is kept or alters, defaces, mutilates, secretes, or destroys it is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must be fined not less than five hundred dollars nor more than five thousand dollars or imprisoned not more than thirty day,” the law states.
Obviously, this is by no means the first time that Haley has failed to live up to the transparency mantle that catapulted her onto the statewide stage less than two years ago.
During her 2010 campaign, Haley invoked a legislative exemption to keep her taxpayer-funded emails, computer records and public phone records private after she was accused of having two extramarital affairs. Months later, she conducted a positively Nixonian release of mostly spam emails – refusing to let the press have access to the vast majority of her taxpayer-funded correspondence or her government-funded computer hard drives.
She still hasn’t released any of that information, by the way …
Haley also failed to disclose more than $40,000 in income that she received from a company with business before the state of South Carolina. This information – released just hours before the GOP runoff election last summer – was also left off of a controversial Lexington Medical Center job application that Haley (or a mysterious “phantom”) filled out in August of 2008.
Once in office, Haley’s transparency troubles continued. She convened a secret meeting of S.C Budget and Control Board leaders that was widely-rebuked as a flagrant violation of the state’s open meetings law – and her own budget panel has also met in secret.
Additionally, Haley has conducted virtually no official business on her taxpayer-funded cell phone and email address, prompting speculation that she is using private emails and cell phones to evade the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) – a practice she previously criticized former Gov. Mark Sanford for employing.
Want more? In both her pre- and post-election campaign finance reports, Haley has failed to provide the S.C. State Ethics Commission (SEC) with required occupational data for more than two-thirds of her itemized campaign contributions. By contrast, her Democratic opponent in 2010 provided occupational data for 99 percent of his itemized contributions.
More recently, Haley’s travel practices have been materially less than transparent – prompting a rebuke from the SEC.
Haley’s latest “anti-transparency” offense is by far the most egregious, however.
By deleting records that the people of South Carolina have paid for, Haley is pulling a shroud of secrecy over the people’s business. She’s also inviting the very sort of corruption of which she stands accused in the Rainey lawsuit and, more recently, the Port of Savannah debacle.
Such a policy is inexcusable for any public official- but for a so-called champion of transparency, it’s downright unconscionable.
What do you think of Haley’s destruction of public records? Vote in our poll and post your thoughts in our comments section below …
Killing emails, cheating history? (By Gina Smith, The State Newspaper)