In early 2016, the Jacksonville City Council adopted a policy of official “discouragement” of in-meeting texts between Council members and lobbyists and union representatives.
Councilors were discouraged from sending or receiving text messages with lobbyists or union reps during committee and council meetings when it’s related to public business on the agenda.
That change happened after an unexpected change on budget night 2015, when money was moved from public works to public safety, to pay for promotions that had already been given to safety officers.
After a second vote, the money went the unions’ way — and the texting imbroglio, which some wags called “Textghazi” — had just begun.
Legal action was launched against some Councilors, though settlements were reached in the cases. And — after a period in which cellphones were outright banned among Councilors on the dais — a more understanding policy was reached, in which “discouragement”, rather than a ban, became the watchword.
Through it all, no such discouragement of texts between Councilors and representatives of the Mayor’s Office was discussed.
On Monday, the policy was revised by Council President Anna Brosche — and representatives of the executive branch are now lumped in with special interest lobbyists and union bosses as “discouraged” communication.
“Guided by the principles of equal access and transparency, I have revised the policy originally issued on March 1, 2016 to be as follows,” Brosche wrote.
“Sending or receiving text messages with a registered lobbyist, union member or union representative, or a member of the administration of the City of Jacksonville during any Committee or any City Council meeting related to official public business on the agenda is discouraged,” the memo starts.
“During a Committee or City Council meeting, Council Members shall not reply to any text message from a registered lobbyist, union member or union representative, or a member of the administration of the City of Jacksonville related to official public business on the agenda,” the memo continues.
“In the event a Council Member receives a text message during any Committee or any City Council meeting from a registered lobbyist, union member or union representative, or a member of the administration of the City of Jacksonville related to official public business on the agenda, the Council Member must disclose the receipt of such communication by filing it with the Legislative Services Division within 48 hours of receipt. The communications will be placed in the permanent bill file,” the memo concludes.
On a number of issues, the Council President has been out of step with some of the rest of the Council, especially when the rest of the Council takes the Lenny Curry Administration’s position. This was notable especially during the 18-1 vote to move Kids Hope Alliance legislation to the floor for a vote one Council night; Brosche was the solitary no.
In that context, it will be interesting to see if this “discouragement” results in material changes to how business is done on the Council floor.
We asked Brosche the impetus for the change.
“The impetus for change is transparency, open government, and equal access. During our meetings, all Council members and, more importantly, the public should be part of the conversations taking place regarding legislation actively being debated,” Brosche said.
Brosche also noted that administration members have been texting Council members during meetings.
“While I have observed colleagues receiving texts from the administration during meetings, I am going to give everyone the benefit of the doubt that such communications were not about active legislation. My revision of the policy is a proactive measure to uphold the principles of transparency and open government and allow all Council Members and the public to know they are participating in all communications happening during Council meetings.”
The Mayor’s Office is fine with this, meanwhile.
“The mayor has always said he respects the Council and Council President’s roles in conducting themselves and setting policies as they see fit. The mayor has also been a proponent for transparency and accountability, and is always encouraged to see practices that support that,” asserted a statement from Marsha Oliver, Director of Public Affairs.