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Photo by Joe Wilhelm Jr. - The City Ethics Commission Subcommittee on Transparency and Open Government met Monday at City Hall to discuss how the Sunshine Law applies to text messages and how long they should be stored.
Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Jul. 10, 201212:00 PM EST

City plans to start saving text messages Monday

by: Joe Wilhelm Jr.

City BlackBerry users will find their text messages saved starting next Monday.

The City Ethics Commission Subcommittee on Transparency and Open Government met Monday to discuss how to capture and preserve text messages.

"The first area of concern was whether or not text messages, which are public record if they are discussing City business on either City or personal phones, are being kept," said James Young, a member of the City Ethics Commission.

The subcommittee met at City Hall with Cole Cartledge, director of Intra-Governmental Services for the City, and Adam Mathews of the City Information Technology Division to discuss the procedures for storing text messages sent on City-issued cell phones.

Cartledge asked Mathews if the messages were being held.

"No they are not presently held," said Mathews.

"I've directed our staff to start holding those indefinitely and we are going to coordinate with the Office of General Counsel to see how long we need to hold those," said Cartledge.

Former Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum announced a policy in 2009 regarding open government and transparency. The Attorney General’s Office began treating Blackberry PIN messages and Blackberry text messages as public records by automatically retaining those messages that travel through the agency server.

Subcommittee member Larry Pritchard approved of the transparency but said he worried about the cost.

"What you are talking about sounds great, but it's not recoverable in any kind of economical fashion," said Pritchard, referring to the number of documents that would need to be searched and produced and the labor costs to find the documents.

It was explained that the City is able to control those costs if it has to search its own system, but those costs grow when it has to use outside service providers to retrieve the messages. An example would be City Council, where some members use personal cell phones with different providers to conduct City business.

Cartledge suggested a policy change, such as not allowing text messaging during open meetings, but subcommittee member Joe Jacquot was not comfortable with that idea.

"We shouldn't prohibit the use of new technology. The vehicle is not the issue. The issue is capturing the content," said Jacquot.

The subcommittee voted to bring the issue to the full Ethics Commission at 11 a.m. today at City Hall.

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