Deleting text messages may be a crime for public officials

Watch a county commission or city council meeting and you will see some of the board members scanning their cell phones every few minutes. Then the council member or commissioner types something in reply.

The public and media don’t know if the message is from a loved one reminding him to pick milk before he comes home or somebody telling him what to do on the next vote. We don’t know if the commissioners and council members are communicating with each other.

The Orlando Sentinel believes text messages by city and county officials are public records. Several Orange County leaders deleted text messages from their personal cell phones during a Sept. 11 hearing on a sick-time ballot measurement. The group behind the sick time measure sued, alleging that commissioners violated state public-record and open-meeting laws by exchanging text messages with lobbyists and other opponents of the measure.

City of Orlando Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Commissioner Scott Boyd say they recovered and released their texts, but some officials say they have lost personal-phone messages that could be public records if they involved official business.

On Sunday, the Orlando Sentinel reported that members of other agencies have deleted texts, both at the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority and School Board.

Orange-Osceola State Attorney Jeff Ashton said yesterday he has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate possible criminal violations in what the paper has labeled “textgate.”