NIKKI HALEY’S NEW POLICY JUST DOESN’T CUT IT
Three months after a major scandal forced her to revise her administration’s controversial email deletion policy, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley says she has reached an agreement with the S.C. Department of Archives and History (SCDAH) to preserve important public records.
But has she actually done that? Or are we dealing with yet another example of “reform in name only” (a specialty of this administration).
Haley’s new policy promises to preserve “all records, including the governor’s and staff e-mail, which are of long-term and enduring value as required by law and defined by DAH.”
What does that mean though?
“It’s something that’s going to be of historical value or historical importance – something we know that researchers are going to look at in the future,” says Eric Emerson, SCDAH director.
Which is … what?
“That would be defined by the type of document it is,” Emerson said.
State law leaves it up to SCDAH to enforce the state’s public records act – which is clearly in need of an upgrade.
“It’s much easier to destroy documents now than it’s ever been,” Emerson acknowledges.
Of course it’s also easier to set up systems which automatically save – and preserve – all emails sent or received on taxpayer-funded accounts.
“All it takes is hard drive space,” he says.
Whatever the “long-term and enduring value” definition winds up being, it’s clear that Haley’s new policy includes all sorts of wiggle room … and if there’s one governor who has proven that she doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt when it comes to these matters, it’s Haley.
Seriously … why isn’t “Miss Transparency” simply agreeing to preserve “all records,” without qualification?
Haley’s open records scandals – in which she and her staff deleted emails and refused to provide information required by the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) law – earned her near-universal rebuke.
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.”
It wasn’t the only media outlet to raise hell.
“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 (Myrtle Beach, S.C.) Sun News 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.”
Given her positively atrocious record on the issue of transparency, Haley’s ambiguous new policy is disturbing.
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 (SCSEC) 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 SCSEC.
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.
These are simple, cost-effective reforms that any true “transparency” champion would rush to endorse. Instead, Haley is choosing to continue letting government determine which public records the public gets to see.