The Mt. Juliet City Commission approved an ordinance making it illegal for city business in email or text messages to be conducted via private email accounts or private texts from personal phones.
Vice Mayor James Maness proposed the ordinance with advice and recommendations from IT Director Travis Taylor, who often operates the public access television feed from city hall. The original proposal, however, applied only to email and not texts. Commissioners each have city email accounts with the address ending in @mtjuliet-tn.org.
"It's just something that I think should be addressed," Maness said. "I also looked at it as protection. That was my one thing was just try to keep a procedure in place so it's clear which email
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account is used for the city, and then it comes back and offers some protection for elected officials, staff and stuff when it comes to pulling records requests."
Commissioner Art Giles proposed an amendment to the ordinance during deliberation that, if transparency is the objective, the ordinance should include text messages as well.
"Everybody texts," Giles said. "I hate to text, but everybody texts."
This would require texts to be routed through an app to the city server, which Taylor explained would be expensive, and Maness added the expense would likely be great enough to merit a budget amendment.
According to Taylor, this would make Mt. Juliet the first municipality in Tennessee to archive city officials' text messages.
"Three or four years ago I contacted MTAS (Municipal Technical Advisory Service at the University of Tennessee) to ask them if any other cities had been archiving texts because it was a question that came up in my mind as well, and they said to their knowledge, no other municipality was archiving texts in the state of Tennessee, and I would be the first," Taylor said. "And I didn't want to be the first."
In preparation for Maness bringing the ordinance before the board, though, Taylor inquired again more recently to see if that had changed. He said MTAS is currently surveying municipalities statewide to determine if any have begun archiving texts, but to Taylor's knowledge, there are still none in the state doing so.
Mayor Ed Hagerty referred to the proposal as "the Hillary Clinton ordinance," and Maness referenced a 2012 Supreme Court decision for Alaska employees who once used private email accounts to conduct business after hours and evade sunshine laws -- legislation that requires public business to be open and transparents. Clinton conducted business through a private email server while she was secretary of State.
The city already provides work phones for city commissioners but not for appointees of other boards, such as the Planning Commission. Maness told the Democrat the ordinance pertains to all city employees and elected officials, but phones are only provided for certain city employees; in certain circumstances, others might have to archive texts from personal phones. Planning commissioners have only had public emails since 2015, in fact, due to another of Maness's ordinances.
Maness intends to inquire at second reading about the cost and burden for routing text messages toward the public server. Having passed first reading, the ordinance will be heard at the next meeting with new input from Taylor on the most cost-effective methods for archiving text messages.