Orange County texting, lobbying regulations cracked down
Mayor Teresa Jacobs proposes strict regulation change
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs is proposing new changes to county regulations on texting and lobbying that will make the county's regulations the highest in Florida.
According to a release from the county, Jacobs will ask the Board of County Commissioners to prohibit lobbying by text messaging and voicemail. Jacobs will also recommended that board members, including the mayor and appointed staff, ban the use of personal mobile devices for county business.
“I want to ensure that our government operates as openly and transparently as possible,” said Jacobs. “The recent furor over text messages from lobbyists during public hearings brought to light the need to update our policies to keep pace with the latest communications tools and customs.”
Jacobs will also recommend all lobbyists to log all contacts with the mayor or commissioners, including phone calls, within seven days of the conversation.
The changes come as a response to an uproar 4 months ago during a meeting over a sick-time initiative. The commission voted to delay putting it on the ballot after being coached by special interests texting the mayor and commissioners during the meeting.
In a controversy dubbed "Textgate," despite several records requests, many commissioners haven't turned over their text messages, some saying they were either deleted or too tough to retrieve.
"It's asking the fox to guard the hen house and it's too little too late," said Maria McCluskey, with Citizens for a Greater Organization which supported the sick-time initiative.
The mayor's proposal would also only limit lobbyists from texting top officials and would not prevent their acquaintances or other business leaders from doing so.
"The county commission, when they texted with big business lobbyists, violated that public trust and the onus is on them to gain that back," said McCluskey.
50,000 citizens signed the petition supporting sick-time but county leaders voting it down.
"I think it has temporarily tarnished our image, what we do with this will determine what the public thinks of us," Jacobs said.
Jacobs will propose the changes at the Jan. 15 meeting. A final vote won't be made at the meeting, but Jacobs says she believes she'll have a lot of support among commissioners.
No investigation has been launched over the text messages, but sick-time supporters have filed a lawsuit over the text messages.