Florida Times-Union by Christopher Hong
November 14, 2017
Jacksonville’s City Council president wants to restrict council members from having private conversations through text messages with officials from Mayor Lenny Curry’s office during public meetings, which she says will improve the transparency of their decision making.
Council President Anna Lopez Brosche created a new rule this week that says council members “shall not” reply to any text messages they receive during a meeting from members of Curry’s administration that is related to official business. It would also require council members to disclose any text messages they receive from Curry’s administration during meetings.
The same restrictions already apply to text messages from registered lobbyists and labor union members or representatives.
“It’s really about transparency, open government and equal access,” said Brosche. “There’s no reason why, if questions are being asked and answered, they shouldn’t be done in a very public way.”
The council first cracked down on text message communications in 2015 after the Times-Union revealed the president of the Firefighters’ union, Randy Wyse, successfully lobbied council members through text messages as they debated a measure to divert $320,000 from the city’s stormwater budget to prevent 17 fire chiefs from being bumped down to a lower pay rank.
Brosche said she has seen her colleagues receive text messages from members of the administration during meetings — made possible by especially enlarged font sizes — but doesn’t know what they were discussing.
She said she also doesn’t know if the Curry administration has a practice of text messaging council members about legislation as they discuss it during meetings, but she’s created the rule to prevent anyone who is trying to influence the council from privately communicating with them as they prepare to cast a vote.
The mayor’s office employs several people who act as in-house lobbyists to the council, developing personal relationships with council members and briefing them, both in public and private meetings, about Curry’s priorities.
The council has been a strong supporter of Curry since he took office in 2015. [READ MORE]