In response to extensive criticism, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley’s office says it is revisiting a decidedly anti-transparent email deletion policy that violates the state’s open records laws and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
According to the Associated Press, Haley’s office is working with the S.C. Department of Archives and History “to create a new record retention policy for the state’s chief executive.” This policy will be released in January.
That’s an interesting announcement … particularly seeing how Haley is already 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 agency or subdivision.”
Not only that … there are stiff penalties for those who destroy public records.
It’s amazing, isn’t it? A woman who campaigned on a platform of transparency in government basically spent her entire first year in office flagrantly violating the state’s open records law.
Also worth considering? The last time we checked the governor appoints six of the eleven members of this particular department’s governing board – meaning we suspect its deliberations with the governor’s office will be a one-way street.
Earlier this week, The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier – a paper which was denied public records under Haley’s email policy – decried the governor’s actions as a “slap in the face to transparency.”
“Gov. Haley must immediately reverse the ill-considered decision on email for the sake of public scrutiny, historical accuracy and, not the least, compliance with the law,” the paper’s editorial board noted.
Meanwhile The (Myrtle Beach, S.C.) Sun News blasted Haley’s “mulish stubbornness, self-importance and arrogance” in refusing to respond to questions from the Post and Courier’s reporter about her policy.
“For a governor elected on a platform of greater transparency, who has already gone through a number of high-profile problems involving emails and public records, not even knowing the rules is simply baffling and hard to believe,” the paper’s editorial board wrote. “With one year down, this sort of haughty, above-the-rules, manipulative attitude has been on display far too often from our state’s chief executive.”
As a self-proclaimed transparency champion, Haley needs to do much more than just follow the law regarding the preservation – and production – of taxpayer-funded documents. She needs to apologize for her prior duplicity, accept the consequences for her actions and aggressively embrace additional reforms aimed at making state government more transparent (as opposed to merely paying lip service to that goal).
“South Carolina clearly needs to establish tougher standards for the preservation and production of public records – and state lawmakers need to start living by the same rules as the rest of state government when it comes to releasing their emails,” we wrote recently.
In fact, we proposed the creation of an online government email database that permits the public to access any individual taxpayer-funded correspondence at the click of a mouse. In fact, this is precisely the sort of transparency we’ve been pushing as it relates to itemized government expenditures.
Beyond that, though, our state needs to establish stiff penalties for employees who conduct public business on private accounts – otherwise we will continue to see elected officials and government bureaucrats make critical decisions involving our tax dollars using their Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo accounts.
UPDATE: According to a story in the Post and Courier, Haley’s office now says it will preserve all emails sent to or from the governor. With all due respect, that isn’t enough. Staff emails – whether to or from the governor herself – are where the real decisions are made in state government. These records must also be preserved – and provided when media outlets or private citizens demand them.