City text policy focuses on employees
The process of retaining text messages from City-issued cellphones was initially described as “flipping the switch” on a server, but City staff has discovered it to be more difficult than first expected.
“Logistically, it’s not as simple as the flip of one switch. City employees have multiple generations of BlackBerrys, some have iPhones. The administration is looking in to the logistics of retaining the messages,” said Alexis Lambert, manager of public accountability for Mayor Alvin Brown.
While there currently is not a mechanism to retain text messages from all City-issued cellphones, public records requests for text messages can be handled on a case-by-case basis, Lambert said.
City Chief Administrative Officer Karen Bowling issued a Sept. 6 memo regarding the City’s text message policy. It places the responsibility on the employee to avoid using text messages unless the information is of a transitory nature, such as one City employee asking another to meet for lunch.
“When conducting City business, emailed communication is preferred. It is a routine and cost-effective way to preserve public records,” the memo stated.
The policy requires City employees to preserve communications if they do decide to conduct official business through text messaging.
“They should be instructed to maintain a copy of such text either through the copying or forwarding of same to email or some other recognizable format, or employ a retention mechanism,” according to City policy.
Though there are times or situations that may occur that need immediate attention and texting is necessary, employees are being encouraged not to conduct City business through texting, said Lambert.
“Policy decisions will be have to be made down the road addressing technology and we will continue to review and adjust policy as we study the issue further,” said Lambert.
The City’s Ethics Commission presented its concerns with City Council members’ text messaging during public meetings through a resolution it submitted to Council Nov. 1, 2011. The resolution suggested that Council members refrain from texting during public meetings and that texting be discouraged by all Council members, other elected officials and employees for the discussion of City business.
The Ethics Commission’s Transparency and Open Government Subcommittee has been studying the City’s text message retention processes and policies, and plans to continue the discussion with City staff.
“We will continue to pursue the issue to ensure that City communications are open and transparent,” said James Young, commission member and chair of the subcommittee.