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Politics

Jax City Council Tackling Text Message Policy, Archiving After Lawsuit

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Lindsey Kilbride
/
WJCT News

 

As several Jacksonville City Council members face a lawsuit over text messages during a meeting,  the Council is forming a committee to review texting policies.

Councilman Sam Newby is heading the group.

 

“I just want to bring back public trust,” he says, “to let the constituents know that they’re entrusting in us that we are going to do the right thing when it comes to texting. And we’re not going to be texting and having the lobbyists talk to us while we’re actually doing business.”

The lawsuit alleges members broke Florida’s open-government law by texting with a lobbyist about other members’ votes during a meeting, which arguably amounted to secretly discussing votes with each other. Using a third party to communicate about business is prohibited under Sunshine laws.

Council President Greg Anderson recently revised the text-communications policy to prohibit members from texting with lobbyists about bills in front of them during meetings. If a lobbyist or union representative does text a Council member, the member has to disclose it.

Anderson says he thinks the policy can be further tweaked by the text committee.

On Tuesday, Newby and Anderson met to discuss the logistics of the committee. Newby says in addition to Council members, he’s planning to include representatives from many city organizations on the committee.

“This is going to kind of be the example because we all are governed by the same laws, so it doesn’t make sense to reinvent the wheel,” he says. “So hopefully the independent agencies, the mayor’s office, the sheriff’s office will all adopt these policies.”

Newby says he’ll also have a representative from the ethics commission sitting in.

At the same time, Council members are looking to better track texts they receive.

Later on Tuesday, Council members Anderson, Danny Becton, Joyce Morgan and Lori Boyer looked at an cloud-based archiving platform.

Boyer says she can’t remember a single text-related public records request during her first term, “but now that we’re receiving records request for text messages, it becomes more complicated to try to find them."

The platform they looked at Tuesday is by a company called Smarsh. It would archive all members’ text messages, but members could ask for certain contacts to be left out, like their family members. And the public would still have to request texts to see them.

But not every Council member is keen on that idea. Becton says texts with his business clients are sensitive, and opting them all out would be time-consuming.

Council members use their personal cell phones. Boyer says maybe the answer is a city-issued phone, "and if you choose to use that model phone, it will automatically do this, and you won’t have to worry about it. Otherwise you’re more than welcome to use your own device, and it’s all on you.”

Becton said he’d rather not carry two phones.

Council members asked to look at other archiving options before making a decision.

City Ethics Director Carla Miller says she’ll reach out to Panama City, also using Smarsh for text archiving, and ask its ethics director about the platform.