9 Investigates: County embroiled in texting scandal despite Sunshine Law training

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - 9 Investigates learned that the Orange County mayor and commission became embroiled in a texting scandal despite training in preserving public records.

Channel 9 Eyewitness News reporter Nancy Alvarez learned that the county attorney gives a lesson on Sunshine Laws.

It is presented as part of a PowerPoint presentation given by the county attorney to all incoming commissioners and the mayor.

There are more than 40 parts to presentation, and some people are wondering if maybe some elected officials were paying attention during the portion dealing with public records.

Not long after a controversial meeting over a paid sick time initiative in Orange County WFTV asked mayor Teresa Jacobs about text messages sent during that meeting that were later deleted.

"It didn't occur to me to be an issue at all, and suddenly it became a huge issue," said the mayor in the September 2012 interview.

Commissioner Jennifer Thompson has told reporters she didn't know she was required to keep texts involving public business.

Some critics said they don't buy that excuse.

"This is another example of the county's flagrant disregard for the law and the people that voted them into office," said Maria McCluskey of Citizens for a Greater Orange County.

McCluskey is with the group that is suing the county over the texts. She said she is outraged after Alvarez showed her the presentation the mayor and all commissioners received just after taking office.

That presentation includes a lesson on public records that must be kept, and defines them as "All documents regardless of physical form ... and is not limited to traditional written documents."

"Although some have opined that text messages are implied in that description, the fact is they were not specifically mentioned until the presentation was updated in November 2012," said Orange County spokesman Steve Triggs.

McCluskey said that's no excuse.

"If they're smart enough to be an elected official, they're smart enough to know texts with lobbyists are public record," said McCluskey.

She said the recent addition of the word "text" to the orientation is too little too late.

"The damage has been done," said McCluskey.