Tallahassee Democrat by Jeff Burlew
December 7, 2017
A week after the Tallahassee Democrat sued the city of Tallahassee over its failure to collect and produce text messages of its employees and elected officials, city commissioners voted to proceed with a policy to do exactly that.
Commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to direct Treasurer-Clerk Jim Cooke to draft a text messaging policy that would retain text messages in the same fashion as emails, something the city had not been doing.
City Attorney Lew Shelley pledged the city would do better and work to become a state leader in complying with public records laws as they relate to text messages. Mayor Andrew Gillum even issued a rare apology.
“I do think it’s necessary,” Gillum said of the new policy. “And I want to apologize along with the city attorney to everyone that we hadn’t frankly prior to this point been able to grapple with capturing the text messages, particularly on personal devices. That, however, is not an issue unique to the city of Tallahassee. This is an issue all over the state of Florida.”
The Democrat filed the lawsuit in Leon Circuit Court after the city failed to produce texts from the cell phone of City Manager Rick Fernandez in which he solicited and accepted expensive Florida State University football tickets from a city-registered lobbyist. Fernandez, who deleted the messages, was placed on paid leave several days after the Democrat published the text exchange, which it obtained elsewhere.
Florida statutes prohibit public officials from knowingly accepting a gift over $100 from a lobbyist. City ordinances also bar employees from soliciting or accepting a favor or thing of value if it was given to influence a vote.
As part of the policy, the city is doing an about-face in its handling of communications deemed personal in nature. [READ MORE]