The Charlotte Observer by Anna Douglas and Caroline Metzler
August 5, 2017
“Loud mouths that don’t even live in Mooresville pitching a fit.”
That’s how one elected official described, in a text message to the mayor, some homeowners who were lobbying the town of Mooresville earlier this summer to keep development off 137 acres near Lake Davidson.
Mooresville Commissioner David Coble thought it was a private text. But it ended up projected like a slideshow on a wall during a public town commission meeting.
North Carolina law says texts sent or received by government officials are part of the public domain – but a Charlotte Observer survey found many local governments across the state aren’t following the law. Few places even have policies that would make sure employees and elected officials are saving texts.
In Coble’s case, his texts were released after neighbors sent public record requests to get information about the controversial development plan. Faced with angry homeowners, Coble apologized.
By that point, though, the texts had spread “like wildfire,” says Arielle Emmett, one of the neighbors who was concerned about the proposed development’s impact on traffic and the environment. She felt the text showed residents who live outside Mooresville were being left out of decision-making.
Getting these kinds of text message records from government officials elsewhere in the state, however, could prove difficult for the public.
State officials have been warning public officials for nearly five years about the need to archive text messages as public records. North Carolina law requires government correspondence – including emails, memos and texts – to be saved and subject to public disclosure if the content pertains to public business. It applies to both government-issued phones and personal cell phones and devices.
“It’s not like this is a new issue – people have been using text messages for more than a decade,” says Jonathan Jones, former assistant district attorney for Durham County and current director of the N.C. Open Government Coalition, advocates for government transparency. [READ MORE]