S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley – who ran on a platform of government transparency – is instructing state agencies under her authority to follow her office’s legally-dubious lead in destroying public records.
Well … public records containing communications between agency officials and the governor or members of her staff, anyway.
FITS spoke on Wednesday with a pair of government public information officers who confirmed that representatives of Haley’s office have asked them to destroy emails in the past. One of the employees specifically acknowledged deleting emails sought by a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request – after the FOIA request was sent.
Haley’s FOIA problem was exposed in a report published this week by Renee Dudley of The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier.
Dudley’s paper filed a FOIA request with Haley’s office back in May seeking specific records. Haley’s office responded to that request – but failed to include incriminating documents that were covered by the inquiry.
“Gov. Nikki Haley’s office did not release emails exposing its influence over a nonpartisan health care committee, instead releasing innocuous materials when The Post and Courier asked in May for documents related to the panel,” Dudley wrote. “Revelatory emails surfaced Friday after a separate state agency responded to a different request for documents under the South Carolina public records law.”
“The two requests are nearly identical,” Dudley wrote, adding that “Haley’s office offered no explanation for the discrepancy.”
In addition to complying with FOIA, Haley is required by law to work 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.”
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.
Lindsey Kremlick, a spokeswoman for the board, waited fifteen business days – the maximum amount of time permitted by law – before responding to our request with a delaying tactic.
“Finding the records responsive to your request would require an employee-by-employee search and a comprehensive electronic search, both involving considerable agency time and resources,” Kremlick wrote.
Kremlick also wrote that the SCBCB “may” have phone records responsive to our request, but that producing those records “would require a comprehensive search of at least 300 individual employee phone records.”
“Stop asking us for information because we’re not going to provide it to you – at least not without making you jump through innumerable hoops while charging you an obscene amount of money.”
And all this for records that may have been deleted already anyway …
Gotta love “transparency,” right? And from an agency that Haley specifically pledged would be “open and transparent for the people to see” upon taking office.
“We must make our government more open, more accountable, and more accessible to the citizens of South Carolina – not less,” Haley said in her 2011 State of the State address. “The key to a strong democracy is when we have openness and true representation.”
Indeed it is. It’s just too bad that a one-time transparency champion is now leading an effort to keep her administration’s taxpayer-funded dealings hidden from public view.