Text messages could become public records for city officials

Councilwoman Sherri Myers sent out a press release this morning regarding amendments that she is proposing to the city’s code of ethics. She wants to require that Pensacola city officials and employees to retain their text messages as public records.

“Today, I submitted for inclusion on the City Council’s agenda conference for August 25, 2014, changes to the City of Pensacola Ethics Ordinance,” said Myers. “The amendments define “public records” to include cell phones, text messages, and all other forms of records regardless of the physical form. The amendments require that officials and employees retain public records in keeping with Florida law.”

She also to make it clear in the code of ethics city officials, including city council members, cannot harass or intimidate persons making public record requests.

“The amendments prohibit conduct that has a chilling impact on a person’s constitutional and statutory right to inspect and copy records,” she said. “Conduct by council members such as bullying, intimidating, harassing, making inquiries into why a person is requesting records is prohibited and can lead to expulsion from the City Council. All persons aggrieved herein shall have a cause of action for injunctive relief including the award of attorney fees.”

Here are the amendments that Myers has proposed:

Public Records shall means all records as set forth in Florida Statute 119, including, but not limited to documents, papers, letters, e-mails, cell phone records, text messages, maps, books, tapes, photographs, films, sound recordings, data processing software, or other material, regardless of the physical form, characteristics, or means of transmission, made or received pursuant to law, ordinance, resolution or in connection with the transaction of official business by any official or employee of the city. Such records shall be preserved in keeping with Florida law.

(M) No official or employee of the city shall destroy or otherwise dispose of public records in their custody whether generated on city owned, or privately owned devices, equipment, programs or any other means except in accordance with Florida law.

(N) The Florida Constitution, Article I s. 24, provides that all persons shall have the right to inspect public records. Florida courts have declared that the right of citizens to inspect public records is a “fundamental” constitutional right. No public official, city employee, agent of the city, vendor, or any other custodian of pubic records shall interfere with, threaten, intimidate, ridicule, bully, retaliate against, inquire as to a persons motivate for requesting public records or engage in any conduct the purpose, intent or effect of which is to infringe upon or having a chilling effect upon a person’s right to request and inspect records. Persons engaged in conduct prohibited herein shall be deemed to have violated this ordinance and shall be subject to the penalties set forth herein, including those set forth in Florida Statute 119. Council members engaged in conduct prohibited by this ordinance shall be subject to removal from office by the City Council. All persons aggrieved herein shall have a cause of action for injunctive relief including the award of attorney fees.