When did S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley’s administration implement its decidedly non-transparentg policy regarding the destruction of public records?
More importantly, why was this policy implemented? Was there a specific incident that prompted Haley and her staff to start deleting virtually all of their emails?
Given that these emails are being deleted … we may never know.
Most importantly, though, is there any way of holding the governor and her staff accountable moving forward? Specifically, is there any action that state lawmakers can take that would require Haley’s office to follow the law governing the preservation and storage of public records?
Or does our “Republican-controlled” General Assembly think that Haley is above the law?
Frankly, we never would have imagined that such lengths would be necessary to compel our so-called “Transparency Governor” to live up to her mantra, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Haley over the last 11 months it’s that hers is perhaps the most secretive administration in South Carolina history.
And yet for some reason state lawmakers – whom Haley lectured for years about their secrecy – are letting her get away with it.
After rising to statewide prominence in 2010 on a transparency platform, Haley responded to her first major transparency test as a gubernatorial candidate by invoking a legislative exemption that kept her taxpayer-funded emails, computer records and public phone records private. 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.
While many excused this failing because it was in response to allegations of a personal nature, was the revelation that she failed to disclose receiving $42,500 in consulting fees from a company with business before the state . In fact, the vast majority of this income ($40,000) was reported by Haley two weeks after the GOP primary election – and mere hours before Republicans voted in a runoff election between her and former U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett.
On November 21, in an effort to uncover the “lost” Haley emails, FITS filed an expansive Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the S.C. Budget and Control Board (SCBCB) – which oversees the state’s information technology systems. Our FOIA contained several specific requests designed to not only uncover the missing emails, but to collect any communication between the governor’s office and the division responsible for maintaining them.
A response to that FOIA – which was copied to the governor’s office – is due on December 12.
While we await that response, FITS has been conducting an investigation into several serious allegations involving Haley’s chief of staff Tim Pearson and her chief legal counselor Swati Patel – allegations that involve the use of taxpayer-funded emails for unauthorized purposes.
In fact, we’re told that several of these emails have been obtained by a former employee of one of the governor’s cabinet agencies – and that Pearson and Patel are rushing to settle a potential lawsuit with this individual in the hopes of preventing the story from ever coming out.
Stay tuned … we hope to have a report on the Pearson-Patel drama ready for the early part of next week, depending on how quickly we can obtain the records we’ve been promised and give the appropriate individuals a chance to respond.
In the meantime, the ability of taxpayers to uncover the truth about how their tax dollars are being spent remains severely compromised by Haley’s email deletion policy.
As we noted in our coverage of this ongoing saga (which broke thanks to reporter Gina Smith’s exclusive report regarding the deleted emails), Haley is required by law 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 governor’s office.
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.”
Has Haley’s administration followed those requirements?
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.
Like the late Jim Garrison said in his famous speech, “all these documents are yours – the people’s property – you pay for it.”