Jeff Ashton asks for inquiry into county commission texting controversy

State Attorney Ashton receives complaint from resident over 'textgate' scandal

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ORLANDO, Fla. - State Attorney Jeffrey Ashton has requested the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigate a criminal allegation into a controversial Orange County Commission meeting over sick-time initiatives.

According to a statement from the State Attorney Ninth Judicial Circuit of Florida released on Tuesday, Ashton met with the FDLE on Jan. 17 to request the "inquiry into the Sept. 11, 2012 meeting of the Orange County Commission," which has since been dubbed by residents as "Textgate."

Ashton received a complaint from an Orange County resident requesting the criminal investigation into whether the commission violated Florida State Statues by receiving "public input during a properly scheduled meeting, and such input not being placed within the official meeting minutes."

At that meeting, the commission voted to delay putting it on the ballot after allegedly being coached by special interests texting the mayor and commissioners during the meeting. Some commissioners haven't turned over their text messages, some saying they were either deleted or too tough to retrieve.

The complaint also asks for investigation into if the commission violated another statue by accepting public input via electronic devices and "purposely discarded messages and prohibited inspection of such public records within a reasonable time."

The messages may have shed light on who they were communicating with during the meeting over a ballot measure that would have mandated some businesses to offer sick leave to workers. The text messages are considered a public record if they involved discussions on county business.

Critics say commissioners were texting lobbyists opposed to the measure during the meeting. Commissioners voted not to put the sick-leave measure on November's ballot.

The controversy caused Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs earlier this month to propose new, stricter changes to regulations on texting and lobbying.

Jacobs released a statement on Tuesday after Ashton's announcement of the investigation, saying, "the public deserves and expects a transparent Orange County government. The FDLE inquiry requested by the State Attorney should provide an independent review of the facts and I will do whatever I can to help expedite this process."

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