City to consider text messaging, public records policy

By: Mariel Carbone
November 29, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) — The City of Tallahassee will consider a new public records policy regarding text messages to and from city employees at its December meeting.

In an item outlined in the meeting agenda, the City states, “As text messaging has become more prevalent, the City must develop a uniform system for retaining text messages as it does e-mails.”

"What the city commission wants to do is make sure that we have a comprehensive system to capture all of our public records so that we can be responsive and provide them as requested and as needed," said Jim Cooke, City Treasurer-Clerk.

The proposed policy calls for all text messages sent or received by a city phone to be archived by the company Smarsh Inc., which currently
archives emails for the City. The estimated cost is $98,000, which would cover a onetime start up fee and a fee of $69 per phone, per year. Currently, the City has issued about 940 cell phones to employees across a variety of departments. Several other Florida municipalities currently use Smarsh for text message archiving including Tampa, Orlando and Orange County, among others.

Based on the item, the proposed policy would treat text messages to and from City-issued phones to be retained in the same manner as emails are; it would prohibit the use of personal devices for work-related communications; and require “unsolicited” communication sent to a personal account to be forwarded to a City device.

Some residents are wary of the the cost.

"I think it's a good idea to preserve the text messages, but I think it's an unnecessary expense because I could think of a lot of other ways they could preserve those records," said Randie Denker, a resident in Tallahassee. "For starters they could ban employees using cell phones for public business."

Denker is an attorney and noted the importance of complying with the public records law.

"Even if you try and delete them, there's a way to recover them. So it's not clear to me why $100,000 has to be spent," said another resident.

Barbara Petersen, with the First Amendment Foundation commended the City for taking steps to possibly implement this policy, noting that they should be retaining text messages under state law.

"It's hard to manage text messaging, and everyone is doing it," said Petersen. "Public record, under law is defined as anything that's intended to perpetuate, communicate or formalize knowledge having to due with public business."

That includes text messages.

She said the cost of paying for the technology outweighs the alternative- not complying with the law.

"If they were to be sued, the cost of litigating could be ten times that." she said.

Petersen recently criticized the City of Tallahassee after it failed to produce text messages requested in a public records request by the Tallahassee Democrat. The request asked for text messages from City Manager Rick Fernandez over a specific period of time. The City said it found no records; however it later came to light that text messages did exist.

Cooke said the new policy will help avoid this, as currently there is no uniform way to retrieve text messages within the city.

"Without the comprehensive retention of records we were relying on individual carriers or individual users of cell phones and other devices. So we want to make sure we can capture everything and this will allow us to do that," said Cooke.

The proposed policy would also require disciplinary action to be taken for violations; and that employees be reminded of the requirements annually.

If approved by the commission, text messages would begin to be archived January 1, 2018. Any messages archived from work cell phones, regardless of content, would be subject to public disclosure.

The proposed item comes weeks after the City of Tallahassee made a decision to release all documents related to an FBI investigation into downtown development deals. 90,000 documents have been posted online, with an additional 150,000 still on the way.

The commission will consider the item on December 6. The meeting begins at 4 p.m. at City Hall.


By: Mariel Carbone | WCTV Eyewitness News
November 28, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) — The City of Tallahassee will consider a new public records policy regarding text messages to and from city employees at its December meeting.

In an item outlined in the meeting agenda, the City states, “As text messaging has become more prevalent, the City must develop a uniform system for retaining text messages as it does e-mails.”

The policy calls for all text messages sent or received by a city phone to be archived by the company Smarsh Inc., which currently archives emails for the City. The estimated cost is $98,000, which would cover a onetime start up fee and a fee of $69 per phone, per year. Currently, the City has issued about 940 cell phones to employees across a variety of departments.

Based on the item, the proposed policy would treat text messages to and from City-issued phones to be retained in the same manner as emails are; it would prohibit the use of personal devices for work-related communications; and require “unsolicited” communication sent to a personal account to be forwarded to a City device.

It also reads that disciplinary action should be taken for violations and that employees be reminded of the requirements annually.

If approved by the commission, text messages would begin to be archived January 1, 2018. Any messages archived from work cell phones, regardless of content, would be subject to public disclosure.

The proposed item comes weeks after the City of Tallahassee made a decision to release all documents related to an FBI investigation into downtown development deals. 90,000 documents have been posted online, with an additional 150,000 still on the way.

It also comes following criticism from the First Amendment Foundation, which wrote a letter to the City Attorney after failure to produce public records to the Tallahassee Democrat. Those requests included text messages linking City Manager Rick Fernandez to the acceptance of $2,000 worth of football tickets.

The commission will consider the item on December 6. The meeting begins at 4 p.m. at City Hall.



 
Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station. powered by Disqus