Rock Hill Herald: Reaction mixed to new SC phone greeting
by Gina Smith
Gov. Nikki Haley's requirement that state workers answer the phones with a cheery "It's a great day in South Carolina" is getting mixed reviews.
On Tuesday, Haley announced to her Cabinet directors that the greeting should be used whenever state workers at Cabinet agencies answer the phone. The Republican said the greeting would help her market the state and boost state worker morale while reminding them they work for the caller.
Jeff Ranta, a University of South Carolina public relations professor, said the greeting requirement will meet some of Haley's expectations, but not all of them.
"Are businesses going to move to South Carolina because people who answer the phones are friendly? No," Ranta said. "But are the people who live here going to feel better about their state government if they call and speak to a cheerful person? Yes."
Democrats were quick to criticize the new policy. SC Forward Progress, a Democratic group, released a web video Wednesday on YouTube, pointing to the state's 11.1 percent unemployment rate, recent political scandals including ethics violations by Lt. Gov. Ken Ard and more as proof of the state's lack of greatness.
"There's a jobs crisis in South Carolina," said Lachlan McIntosh, director of the organization. "We need action, and we need it now, and it's an insult for Gov. Haley to sit on her hands and make up ridiculous greetings that state employees have to say."
Reaction from agency directors has been positive so far. Several agency heads expressed approval of the new policy Tuesday.
"It seems fine to me," Bob Toomey, director of the Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services said Wednesday. He said he has heard no complaints about the new policy.
But some state workers think the greeting could be inappropriate - particularly for state workers at agencies that deal with health issues.
For example, at the Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services works to prevent and reduce addictions. The Cabinet also includes the Department of Corrections, which oversees the state's prisons.
"For some of those callers, it's not a great day," said Carlton Washington, director of the South Carolina State Employees Association.
Washington said calls from upset state workers were steady all day Wednesday. He said he wishes Haley would focus more on the needs of state workers.
State employees have not received cost-of-living pay increases in four years and no merit-based raises since 2001. Layoffs and furloughs have been commonplace in the last few years. The General Assembly is talking now about making cuts to state pension plans.
Haley's office defended the practice Wednesday.
"While the press focuses on the negative, the governor is changing the culture of our state," said Rob Godfrey, Haley's spokesman. "She is proud of South Carolina, and while we have challenges, we are making great progress every day. The focus of this greeting is to have state employees pass along a positive attitude and ask the caller, 'How can I help you?' so that they remember - and the people know - that they work for the taxpayers. The governor has always said that it's time for government to work for the people, and this is the first step."
Not the first
Haley is far from the first to require a greeting. Businesses and organizations around the state do it, too.
When Hal Johnson became director of the Orangeburg County Economic Development Commission more than 10 years ago, he asked staffers to answer the phone with, "It's a great day in Orangeburg County."
Now, as CEO of the Upstate S.C. Alliance, he has continued the tradition. Phones are answered, "It's a great day in the Upstate."
"It's catchy. It's not hard to say and, wow, what a tone it sets," said Johnson, who applauds Haley's new policy. "You can affect anyone by the way you respond; by the way you answer the phone."