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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Dec. 5, 201212:00 PM EST

City-used Blackberrys on the way out

by: Joe Wilhelm Jr.

Questions by the City's Ethics Commission about how to recall and retain text messages as public records could have a partial answer: eliminate BlackBerrys and shift responsibility for saving messages to the employees.

The City plans to develop a policy to hold employees responsible for saving the messages, which would save on the cost of maintaining dedicated Blackberry servers, City Ethics Commission member Joe Jacquot said Monday at a commission meeting.

Jacquot told members the policy was to "essentially make employees take personal responsibility for those phones as personal property." He said he was unsure how it would work.

Electronic devices used by City staff fall into three categories developed by Jacquot and Carla Miller, City Office of Ethics, Compliance and Oversight director.

The first category is City-owned BlackBerrys.

"Those devices send their messages through a City server and this notion of 'flipping the switch' is applicable," he said, referring to the ability to flip a server switch to retain text messages.

Continuing to use BlackBerrys would be a costly move, according to the mayor's staff.

"It is an expensive option. The proprietary server adds substantial expense," said Alexis Lambert, manager of the City's Office of Public Accountability.

The second category is any other City-owned device.

"We are uncertain how many of those are out there," Jacquot said.

Those phones are maintained by outside service providers and messages are saved for 72 hours, Jacquot said.

The City has contracts with three cellphone providers.

"They were contracts left over from previous administrations," said Lambert when asked why there were three separate contracts.

The third category is personal devices.

The City needs to develop a policy to require employees to store messages, said Jacquot.

"The dialogue between the City and the Ethics Commission is ongoing regarding the City's text message policy. I believe that dialogue has been healthy and productive," said Lambert.

The commission also discussed the election of its next chair and vice chair.

Tatiana Salvador had been selected as the commission's next chair, but she was appointed Friday to the 4th Circuit bench by Gov. Rick Scott.

The commission's bylaws do not allow a sitting judge to serve on the commission.

Commission member James Young had been selected as vice chair, but with Salvador's departure the commission voted to approve him as the chair.

The commission will wait until its next meeting to nominate and vote on a vice chair.

The commission also was recognized in a November ethics report published by the Leroy Collins Institute at Florida State University and Integrity Florida.

"While the bad news is that Florida's state-level ethics laws and enforcement are essentially frozen in time, outdated and ineffective, the good news is that local governments in the state are not waiting for the Legislature to address the state's public corruption problems," the report states.

The report mentions Duval County among several Florida counties that have "exemplary" policies.

Outgoing commission Chair Braxton Gillam attributed the recognition to the commission's work.

"We have been a busy commission with the Charter Review, developing legislation to return the ethics code to the charter, creating the structure for an independent ethics commission. It has been a lot of work. Now we can focus on being a commission," said Gillam.

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