COT moves forward with text messaging policy

By: Mariel Carbone | WCTV Eyewitness News
December 6, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- The Tallahassee City Commission voted unanimously to approve an archiving system for text messages.

The vote comes as a way to comply with public records law, which considers text messages public records. Currently, the city does not have a uniform way to retain and archive text messages. City staff will now begin to draft the new policy.

Under what’s been proposed, all text messages sent or received by a city phone will 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 startup 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 will treat text messages to and from City-issued phones to be retained in the same manner as emails are; it will prohibit the use of personal devices for work-related communications; and will require “unsolicited” communication sent to a personal account to be forwarded to a City device.

"It's clear that the technology has moved faster than the law has with this. But, nevertheless, I think we can all agree that the law is a law. And we're going to have to, if necessary, recommend to you to spend additional dollars to comply,” said City Attorney Lew Shelley.

Shelley said the city has been working to create a policy for months. However, a recent law suit filed by the Tallahassee Democrat is speeding things up.

The lawsuit was filed on November 29 and accuses the city of failing to comply with public records law and turn over text messages sent by City Manager Rick Fernandez.

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