Textgate fizzles to a close with gentle slaps on the wrist
State Attorney Jeff Ashton bumbled his way through a press conference that showed just how little officials care about county commission’s brazen acts
Published: September 4, 2013
COST OF THE ORANGE COUNTY COMMISSION’s ATTEMPT TO UNDERCUT DEMOCRACY. THIS IS EXACTLY EQUAL TO THE TOTAL OF THE FINES ASSESSED BY STATE ATTORNEY JEFF ASHTON ON FOUR COMMISSIONERS AND THE MAYOR FOR DELETING PUBLIC RECORDS FROM ELECTRONIC DEVICES
AMOUNT ORANGE COUNTY TAXPAYERS SPENT IN JUNE ON A NEW SYSTEM CALLED TEXTGUARD WHICH ARCHIVES TEXT AND DIGITAL COMMUNICATIONS OF THE COUNTY’S 2,000 EMPLOYEES WITH COUNTY-ISSUED DEVICES FOR FUTURE PUBLIC RECORDS CONCERNS
NUMBER OF VERIFIED PETITIONS SUBMITTED BY CITIZENS FOR A GREATER ORANGE COUNTY IN FAVOR OF EARNED SICK TIME IN AUGUST 2012
“MY CONCLUSION, THEREFORE, IS THAT THESE TEXT MESSAGES WERE PUBLIC RECORDS AND COULD ONLY LAWFULLY BE DISPOSED OF PURSUANT TO STATUTE. THE STATUTORY PROCEDURES IN THIS CASE WERE NOT FOLLOWED AND, THEREFORE, ALL OF THE OFFICIALS WHO DELETED TEXT MESSAGES RELATED TO THIS ISSUE VIOLATED FLORIDA LAW.”
– ORANGE-OSCEOLA COUNTY STATE ATTORNEY JEFF ASHTON
Sources: State Attorney’s Office, orangecountyfl.net
In a week that saw insult virtually copulating with injury – just throw the entire county commission, the region’s business and political interests and a slightly underwhelming state attorney into a waterbed set to heavy vibrate and you’ll get the picture – we shouldn’t be surprised that the vaunted outcome of a nearly eight-month investigation into textgate left us with more questions than answers (or, more “sent” than “received”).
We did not, after all, expect too much from the joint investigation between lumpy State Attorney Jeff Ashton and the bumbling Florida Department of Law Enforcement, even though the staging of the Aug. 27 announcement hinted at something bordering on accountability for a delete-happy county commission hell-bent on erasing last year’s earned sick-time initiative from existence. So we played along, hoping that maybe Ashton would take Mayor Teresa Jacobs and her band of commissioners to task.
And – at least at first – it seemed like he was going to. In a statement released Wednesday morning, Ashton sounded almost tough, referring to the commissioners and mayor as people who “violated Florida law.” Ah, sweet justice! But then everything pixilated into tiny details that eventually revealed that the five officials would not face criminal penalties for their actions. Rather, they got off on the cheap with a mere $500 civil fine apiece. Ashton, in a brief overview of the case email-blasted to the media, found that there was no proof that commissioners had violated public-meetings laws; they had only run afoul of public-records statutes by accidentally erasing messages about public business. Poor things.
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