Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Council OK New Rules for Texting at Meetings; Members Had to Turn off Phones during Meetings since October Conflict

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Council OK New Rules for Texting at Meetings; Members Had to Turn off Phones during Meetings since October Conflict

Article excerpt

Byline: Christopher Hong

The Jacksonville City Council agreed Tuesday on new rules for using cellphones during meetings that scales back a complete ban imposed after council members were found last year exchanging legally questionable text messages with a lobbyist making a real-time push to sway their votes.

The new council rule, put into place by Council President Greg Anderson, discourages council members from exchanging text messages related to government business with registered lobbyists, union representatives or union members during meetings and prohibits them from replying to those messages. If they receive those types of text messages, they are required to disclose them within two days.

Since October, council members had been required to turn their phones off during council meetings.

Anderson imposed that rule after the Times-Union found that several council members exchanged text messages with Randy Wyse, president of the firefighters' union, during a meeting when they approved $300,000 to prevent demotions in the fire department. Wyse texted several council members, pushing them to save the money as it came under fire and asking them whether they'd support an alternative plan after it was rejected - and then informed other council members about their colleagues' responses.

Florida's Government-in-the-Sunshine Law strictly prohibits public officials from using a third party to communicate and discuss government business with each other.

After the Times-Union reported on the text message exchanges, a local watchdog group filed a lawsuit against nine council members, alleging they violated the Sunshine Law. Council members Joyce Morgan, Scott Wilson, Aaron Bowman and Tommy Hazouri settled with the group, the Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County. The lawsuit is ongoing with council members Reginald Brown, Katrina Brown, Reginald Gaffney, Garrett Dennis and Doyle Carter. …

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