A government official—let’s say someone on the city council, or a county commissioner—takes out their cellphone and begins diligently tapping out a text during a public meeting. What are they doing? No one really knows.
Maybe they’re replying to a spouse who’s asked them to swing by the store for a few items on the way home. Maybe they’re exchanging harmless “lol”-laden banter with their “BFF.”
Or, maybe they’ve just stepped into the virtual, smoke-filled backroom of the 21st century.
“The public records law has not kept up with technology,” said Barry Brooks, an investigator with the State Attorney’s Office.
In 2010, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum assembled a Sunshine Technology Team to “explore and understand technology in government communications and their implications on Florida’s open government laws.” The team concluded that newer forms of communications—such as texts—should be held to the same standards as more traditional forms.
“The Department of State currently maintains administrative rules defining the retention schedule for government agency email,” McCollum wrote in a March 2010 advisory, informal legal opinion. “There are no required retention guidelines, however, for other types of electronic communication because the administrative rules describe them as transitory. This is no longer accurate in today’s world where business is conducted on a variety of communications platforms.”
The University of Florida’s Brechner Center for Freedom of Information conducted a survey in 2011. A public information request was made, asking each of Florida’s 67 counties what their policies were regarding text messages. Only 10 of the 53 respondents reported retention of text messages.
Locally, neither Escambia County, nor the city of Pensacola currently retain text messages from employees or public officials.
“We do not currently retain texts,” said Kathleen Dough-Castro, “but are watching the laws and will adjust as necessary.”
Pensacola Public Information Officer Derek Cosson said the city did not retain texts because the messages “do not go through any city server” and the city does not currently having the ability to retain the messages. He said he was not aware of any efforts being made to develop a way to retain text messages, and was also unaware if city employees or officials made use of texts to conduct city-related business.
“I do not know whether or not any city officials tend to city business via text messages,” Cosson said. “You would have to ask those individuals.”
Until the law and retention methods catch-up with society, Brooks said public servants are left to govern themselves—“being honest”—when it comes to making pertinent text messages part of the public record.
“I can clearly see where you could use this to circumvent public records law,” the investigator said.
Buzzing on the Blog
Dogs’ Day at the Beach
Areas will now be available on Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key for dog owners to play with their pets. Pensacola Beach will have two stretches of beach—one on the east end, the other on the west—while Perdido Key will have five areas for dogs. The Escambia County Commission recently established a six-month trial period with associated guidelines.
Santa Rosa Educators See Pay Increase
The Santa Rosa County School Board recently agreed to a step pay increase. The Santa Rosa Professional Educators had filed a grievance with the district, asking that the step pay be given retroactively. The agreement avoided arbitration.
Is That a Gun in Your Pocket?
Telling his fellow commissioners that he usually kept a gun in his pocket, Escambia County Commissioner Wilson Robertson led the charge to pass a local resolution in support of the Second Amendment. Later, he spoke at a gun-rights rally in Pensacola on Martin Luther King, Jr. Plaza and took to Ricksblog.biz to personally defend his position: “If you are not aware that the current administration would love to take our guns away I’m not going to waste my time giving you any information. That will take some changes in the constitution, unless they just ignore it. Get your head out of the sand.”
The city of Pensacola’s marketing contract with the Zimmerman Agency was recently severed, with officials citing the firm’s inadequacy in fulfilling its duties. Shortly after the city released a statement on the matter, the Tallahassee-based marketing firm won eight ADDY Awards for its work on behalf of Pensacola.
Cold in the Out
Northwest Florida Cold Storage is no longer a Port of Pensacola tenant. The company has ceased operation, owing the city of Pensacola $219,681 in lease fees; $166,854 is 120 days past due. NWFCS requested to be released from its lease in November. When the lease was originally granted—to then-named Pate Cold Storage in 2004—the city council waived a $155,600 deposit requirement.