In light of Gang of Five case, city informs employees of new texting policy

In light of Gang of Five case, city informs employees of new texting policy
FILE PHOTO (Source: WAFF)

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - There is a new city texting policy for employees in light of a recent Ohio Court of Claims decision.

According to the decision, any government official who texts about public business on any device -- personal or government owned -- has to turn those messages over upon public records request because they are now public record. The decision comes a few weeks after city taxpayers forked over funds to settle a lawsuit regarding messages between City Council’s self-proclaimed “Gang of Five.”

According to the following message sent city employees Friday, the city plans to appeal:

"Dear Colleague, I want to inform you of a recent court finding that impacts the handling of text messages related to City business conducted on personal cell phones and City-issued cell phones. Recently, the Court of Claims of Ohio found that text messages contained on personal, privately-paid for cell phones are public records under Ohio law if the text messages document the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the City.

While the City will appeal this finding, it is imperative that the City makes sure that all public records related to City business are always preserved based on the City’s record retention policies. The City Administration is working on drafting a revised policy specifically addressing the use of text messages to conduct City business.

Until then, please do the following: Take immediate steps to preserve public records currently on your personal devices. Options include taking screen shots of text messages discussing City business and emailing them to your City email account. No City business-related text messages can be deleted from City or personal devices even if they pre-date the Court’s decision. Take immediate steps to ensure that the default settings on your personal devices will not result in the deletion of public record before the applicable retention period has lapsed. The Law Department is working to clarify and update the City’s retention policy to specify the applicable retention period for text messages related to City business. Until such time, please do not delete any of your texts related to City business. Attached is additional information on how to change settings on cell phones. Use only City devices and City accounts to conduct City-related business, rather than personal devices and accounts. I understand the value and efficiency of texting, and I do not want to discourage text messaging for appropriate work purposes. However, you need to be mindful of the content of any work-related text messages as the messages are public information and can be reviewed by anyone who submits a related request under the Ohio Public Records Act. When in doubt, use City-issued devices such as City email accounts and City phones to minimize the operational burden imposed by the requirement to preserve City-business-related texts on your personal devices. Updated policies will be distributed to all City employees when they are finalized, but until then, please adhere to the guidelines set in this memo.

If you have any questions regarding these procedures, please contact 352-HELP (4357), or by email at etscontactcenter@cincinnati-oh.gov. Thank you."

The gang’s secret text messages were recently released by the city. The dump came after a judge ordered P.G. Sittenfeld, Tamaya Dennard, Chris Seelbach, Greg Landsman and Wendell Young all into court and told them they violated the public trust and should resign.

These messages are more candid than ones connected to the case that already were released last year. Those texts were on a group string among the five that undermined Mayor John Cranley on several issues, especially his attempt to oust City Manager Harry Black.

The latest ones are between smaller groups, and one-on-one.

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