Orange Co. Commission looks at issue of texting and lobbyists



ORLANDO, Fla. - Orange County is trying to keep text messages from influencing commission meetings.

When the Orange County Commission met to discuss a new policy for saving county text messages as public records, Mayor Teresa Jacobs said she left her cell phone in the office.

"It should send out a message that I'm in a public meeting and not taking any message during the public hearing," said Jacobs.

It was the controversy over another public hearing in September that prompted so much concern about texts to county commissioners.

County leaders were criticized over lobbyists' text messages to commissioners considering a vote on a paid sick time proposal.

Those texts are currently the subject of a lawsuit.

"If some people can be communicating with commissioners ... while other people are waiting for their three minutes to speak, that's not right," said Jacobs.

The issue now is how to make sure that won't happen. 

One proposal is a blackout on discussing county business with lobbyists on the day an issue is to be brought before the commission.

The county is also talking about placing text guard software on county issued phones. The software would archive text messages. 

According to the county the initial software cost alone could approach $200,000.

Some critics said they are concerned about commissioners' personal phones and electronic devices.

"They're trying to act like it's change, but it's not a change," said activist Tatiana Torres.

But county leaders said it will be change.

"I pride myself on being a champion for ethics and integrity and open government and transparency. We were behind the eight ball and we won't be behind the eight ball on this again," said Jacobs.

Commissioners plan to revisit the texting issue at their Jan. 15 meeting.