TUPELO — The city of Tupelo could become the first Mississippi city to set a policy about public access to text messages and email involving elected officials or municipal employees conducting city business.
City attorney Ben Logan released a draft of a proposed policy Tuesday and told the Tupelo City Council that a final version could be ready for consideration by mid-October, The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported.
“We will establish an e-message policy, whether that be text messages or emails,” Logan said. “And we will update the personnel handbook dealing with what we expect our public officials and our employees to abide by.”
The proposal says Tupelo would keep archives of municipal officials’ and employees’ electronic messages and make the records available to the public.
This action comes largely in response to the Mississippi Ethics Commission ruling against Tupelo in April. The city denied public records request from the Daily Journal for text messages sent and received between Mayor Jason Shelton and a department head who soon left a city job.
Logan said after the commission’s ruling that Tupelo would set the standard throughout the state by creating a city policy to archive and maintain electronic communications. Mississippi requires all local governments to permanently retain and archive all public records, including text messages and emails, that elected officials and department heads make related to public business.
State law identifies all local government records as open to the public unless information qualifies as exempt from access under the state public records law.
Changes could include each City Council member using a Tupelo government email address for city business. Logan, City Clerk Kim Hanna and information technology employees will also find an appropriate method to archive and maintain text messages of city employees and elected officials.
Council members said they’d like to know more about specific instances when their communication turns from private messaging to public record.
“What if I email someone about a street?” asked Councilman Willie Jennings.
“That’s a public conversation,” Logan said.