Remember “textgate”? In 2012, an advocacy group discovered that Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and four commissioners were exchanging cellphone text messages with others and then deleting them. Ultimately, the county officials were fined for violating the public-records law.
Now that same advocacy group — Organize Now — has uncovered another potential technology-based public-records scandal, this one related to a cloud-based records repository ordered by Jacobs after she took office in 2011.
The repository, called a Dropbox, enables users to access and edit documents. The county says Jacobs had it set up so that she and her staff could work on documents any time from computers, tablets or cellphones.
But when Organize Now asked to look inside the Dropbox, the county pushed back. Officials have yet to identify everyone who has or had access to it. Then they charged Organize Now hundreds of dollars for activity logs, after first blacking out critical information. That prompted Organize Now to sue.
What the county blacked out — in the name of “security” — was the computer names and addresses of everyone who accessed the Dropbox. Organize Now maintains, with some evidence to support its belief, that this was done to conceal the fact that lobbyists, interest groups and others outside the mayor’s office used the Dropbox as a back-door (and secret) way to communicate with Jacobs.
The mayor denies that. But the redactions mean there’s no way to know if she’s telling the truth.
The logs show that in September, after county Comptroller Martha Haynie asked State Attorney Jeff Ashton to look into Dropbox use, a number of computer names and records were deleted. But the county blacked out information that would reveal who owned those computers.
In addition, despite Jacobs’ and the county’s assertion that only the mayor’s staff has access, other logs show a private employee of county Commissioner Jennifer Thompson apparently accessing the Dropbox, though the county says she was merely emailing a link to another file.
And a log of the mayor’s account shows recent access by a half-dozen outside computers — their names are blacked out — and also creations of files with names partially blacked out.
Good government is open government. And Florida law clearly holds that communications to and from the mayor are public.
One can only wonder why the county is holding back. It’s time that the mayor opens the Dropbox and lets the public look inside.