Gov. Nikki Haley and her staff will preserve more emails, letters and other documents for future generations.
The Lexington Republican and the S.C. Department of Archives and History have agreed to a new records-retention policy for the governor’s office – the first new records policy by any governor in 40 years.
The change comes after The State newspaper discovered in November that Haley’s office routinely was destroying emails, some of which may be important to historians and future S.C. generations.
The new policy means all records of “long-term and enduring value” will be preserved, according to the governor’s office, including internal communications among the governor, staffers, lawmakers and others.
Some documents still can be destroyed, including preliminary drafts of letters and reports, and “information in a form used for casual communication of a transitory nature.”
Haley said in December her office was working to clarify what records should be kept. The policy that her office was using – inherited from the policies of Gov. John West, who served in the 1970s – predated emails and was subject to interpretation.
The new, 12-page policy requires emails from the governor and executive staff to be preserved when they relate to decisions on programs and policy. It defines executive staff as including the chief of staff, chief attorney, deputy chiefs and communications director.
The list of non-valuable correspondence that can be deleted includes duplicate copies, spam emails, preliminary drafts of letters or reports that don’t record decisions, unsolicited advertisements, general scheduling and “casual communication.”
“When we took office, we adopted the same policy that has been used by previous administrations, but, even as we preserved thousands of records and correspondence, we found room to strengthen the policy,” Haley said in a statement.
The governor said adopting the new policy was “the right thing to do.”
Eric Emerson, director of the state Department of Archives and History, applauded the change.
“We are certain that the creation of these schedules will result in the retention of documents that will be of considerable historic value in the future,” said Emerson, whose agency is a repository of S.C. history, including governors’ records.
The new policy comes during Sunshine Week – a week set aside by journalists to remind the public that a strong open records law is important to keeping government accountable.
Emerson said the previous, hand-me-down policy from the West era was full of contradictions.
State law bars the disposal of public documents “of long-term and enduring value,” including those sent electronically. But that phrase was subject to interpretation.
The policy that Haley’s office had adopted allowed for “routine” correspondence from Haley and her staff to be destroyed, also subject to interpretation.
In December, Haley said the new policy would be released in January.
Haley’s staff says efforts to finalize a new policy took longer than expected. “This was a unique and very significant new policy, and it took time to hammer out the details,” said Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey.
The State newspaper reported in November that it discovered emails were being deleted after a Freedom of Information Act request. The State was told staffers routinely deleted emails because of limited storage space on computer servers and because the correspondence wasn’t considered important.
In December, The (Charleston) Post and Courier reported it received emails written by the governor and aides through a public records request to a panel overseen by the state’s Medicaid agency. However, those same records weren’t turned over during a nearly identical open records request to Haley’s office.
One of Haley’s key campaign issues in running for governor was transparency, a reaction to the secrecy that sometimes surrounded her predecessor, Gov. Mark Sanford, who vanished from the state for almost a week.
Haley releases a weekly schedule of her public events, maintains a flight log updated in real time, and posts her press conferences and media availabilities online.