By JIM DAVENPORT
COLUMBIA, SC (AP) - An aide to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley repeatedly asked the governor's executive chef to make cakes to recognize staffers' birthdays, a use of state resources that the state ethics chief said raises questions, although it is likely legal.
The requests to chef Geoffrey Sandifer from Haley aide Blanche Price were among nearly 2,000 pages of emails The Associated Press reviewed as part of a Freedom of Information Act request.
The emails and documents were part of the response to inquiries about a sideline catering business Sandifer runs that prompted an internal investigation at the governor's office. Sandifer was ordered to stop sideline catering at the Governor's Mansion complex and told to repay the state for using linens, cookware and a computer. The governor's office also informed the state Ethics Commission about the situation. They have not determined how much Sandifer needs to repay.
The documents show that Price sometimes asked Sandifer to make cakes for staff members, a practice not explicitly covered in any state rules on ethics.
"We have two staff birthdays that we are going to celebrate tomorrow," Price wrote on Aug. 10. "The governor would like to have 2 different cakes for them."
On July 29, she had a special request for Tim Pearson, Haley's chief of staff and former campaign manager. He "doesn't like desert except for pumpkin pie. Any ideas on what to make?" On Aug. 1, she tells Sandifer: "Let's do a pumpkin pie for Tuesday!"
Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said not everything that showed up in emails was done, including Pearson's pie. Still, Godfrey said, "the birthday treats - usually something like cookies, cupcakes, or ice cream - are a low key, low cost token of appreciation from the governor, the first gentleman and the employees at the Mansion for the cooperative work that goes on between the two staffs."
State Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian said that's an extravagance in the midst of budget cuts. "While she cuts funding for health care, she can find money for cakes and pastries? Lately she's taken the Marie Antoinette line of 'Let them eat cake' and converted it to reality," Harpootlian said.
State Ethics Commission Executive Director Herb Hayden said the cake-making raises questions about misuse of state resources and may have to be reported by staff members as a gift tied to the positions they hold.
"If you're doing it on state time, it may be a misuse of state resources," Hayden said. "If he's doing it on his own time, it wouldn't' be."
And if it falls into his official duties, it wouldn't be a violation, Hayden said.
The emails also show routine requests for the chef: leave off onions on the governor's lunches; prepare boxed lunches while she and staff travel; bring over bottled water or coffee and tea refills for the fancy coffee maker she uses. She favored hazelnut, Donut Shop and Earl Grey tea in the Keurig, single-serve coffee machine.
Godfrey said the Governor's Mansion provide the governor and her husband "with coffee and tea, which are fairly regular beverages."
But Harpootlian said that's another sign of Haley living the high life on the taxpayer's dime. "When we're paying for it, there is nothing too good for Nikki Haley," he said.
Inquiries about Sandifer's use of email for a sideline catering business prompted an internal investigation at the governor's office. Sandifer was ordered to stop sideline catering at the Governor's Mansion complex and told to repay the state for using linens, cookware and a computer. The governor's office also informed the state Ethics Commission about the situation. They have not determined how much Sandifer needs to repay.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.