Stateline Story

New Policy Means It's Always 'a Great Day in South Carolina'

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley wants to remind state employees that they work for the taxpayers. To get the message across, she is asking state workers to answer their phones with a new greeting: "It's a great day in South Carolina. How can I help you?"

Haley made the announcement during a meeting with her agency directors last week, The State newspaper reported . "It's part of who I am," Haley, a Republican, told the paper. "As hokey as some people may think it is, I'm selling South Carolina as this great, new, positive state that everybody needs to look at."

It didn't take long for South Carolina Democrats to ridicule the directive, calling it inaccurate in a state with 11.1 percent unemployment and inappropriate for some state agencies, particularly those that deal with less-than-cheery tasks such as incarceration or the issuance of death certificates. Many state workers complained to union officials, according to the director of the South Carolina State Employees Association .

It is unclear when the new policy will formally go into effect, whether it will apply to every state worker and whether there is a penalty for not complying with it. Calls to Haley's press secretary were not returned — though operators in the governor's office were already following the new rules.   (In other state agencies contacted by Stateline , calls were answered cordially, but without the new greeting.)

Governors usually don't get involved in the way state workers answer their phones, experts say. Eva Santos, the former president of the National Association of State Personnel Executives and the state personnel director in Washington State, says she cannot recall hearing of a policy similar to Haley's. In Washington, she says, "most agencies have some customer service requirements, (but) I don't know that they go as far as to write a policy."

But it is not unprecedented for a governor to tweak his workforce operations. When he took office in 2005, former West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin — now a U.S. senator — asked state workers to answer phones with "May I help you?" instead of "Can I help you?" Manchin also asked employees to dress more professionally, The Daily Mail of Charleston reported at the time.

More recently, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley also got involved with state workers' dress code, but only as a way of honoring the Baltimore Ravens. With the NFL team preparing for a playoff game against the New England Patriots last year, O'Malley relaxed the state dress code to allow employees to wear purple Ravens gear to work.