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Jax Committee Holds Formal Meeting To Address Texting Policy

Adam Fagen

The Jacksonville City Council is still wrestling with creating a policy for texting among its members and lobbyists.  A special committee was formed after a lawsuit accused several council members with texting with a lobbyist about votes, which could amount to communicating with each other in secret.

Council Member and Chair of the texting committee Sam Newbysaid Wednesday morning he plans to make recommendations to the council president after two more meetings.

“To get everybody’s viewpoint and just get the best policy for the city of Jacksonville, not only for council, so maybe other entities can follow our policy,” he said.

Ethics Director Carla Miller said her advice is to construct a policy that is simple for members to follow.

Ethics Office Deputy Director Kirby Oberdorfer presented research about what other local governments have done.

Osceola County disabled texting on government phones, Deltona County banned texting at meetings, Orange County and Orlando automatically save texts in a database, while Miami-Dade County has no texting policy, she said.

Jacksonville Council members use their personal cell phones. At other texting-related city meetings, there has been talk of issuing city phones or saving text messages in a database.

Oberdorfer says any policy must be flexible, and also transparent to gain public trust. She said it’s a difficult balance to achieve.

“Because you could define it for certain technologies that exist at the time of the policy, and then a week or month or a year later, new technologies could pop up that have different interactive capability that you couldn’t perceive and your policy doesn’t apply to it,” she said.

Oberdorfer said social media platforms l— like Facebook and Twitter — have revolutionized the way people communicate.

Council’s existing policy, created by Council President Greg Anderson, discourages members from receiving or replying to texts from registered lobbyists and union members about official public business during meetings. It also requires members to disclose during meetings if they receive texts from registered lobbyists and union members.

The committee can choose to tweak Anderson’s policy or create a legislative ordinance. An ordinance is more formal but requires a council vote.

The committee is considering a city ordinance that would require the council president to set a cell phone policy that could easily change and be revisited annually.

Photo used under Creative Commons license.

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.