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Do Lawmakers' Texts During Public Meetings Become Public Documents?

BY Nick Judd | Monday, June 27 2011

The New Hampshire Union Leader's Beth LaMontagne Hall reports on some navel-gazing in Manchester, N.H., over texting during public meetings:

During the June 12 Board of School Committee meeting, [Mayor Ted] Gatsas ordered board member Joe Briggs to stop texting moments after Briggs had won board approval to cover his legal fees in a school district lawsuit. Gatsas argued that texts sent from the bench on issues pertaining to public business are considered a public document.

"That's unreasonable," said Briggs. "I'm not capitulating to that. Is that part of our rules? You can't enforce that."

This is a question that cities and towns are struggling with nationwide. In Austin, Texas, one aspect of a scandal arising from the release of City Council members' emails (see the bottom of the article) was investigating whether lawmakers were skirting public records laws by reaching consensus on public business, by email and SMS, during or between public meetings. If their conversations on public business are not entirely public, after all, then they have defeated the purpose of public meetings. In May, the Boston Globe's Kathy McKay had a very smart exploration of the same topic in towns in Massachusetts.

(This post has been updated to fix a broken link.)