Making texts public records aids openness

Published 12:06 am Friday, April 18, 2014

The Mississippi Ethics Commission struck a blow for government transparency last week by ruling text messages of public officials are public records.

The commission delivered its opinion last week following a dispute between a Tupelo newspaper and the City of Tupelo.

The ethics commission ruled the city’s refusal to provide the newspaper with text messages sent by the mayor violated the state’s public records law.

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Open meetings laws and public records requirements are essential in allowing Mississippi residents to monitor how elected leaders are ethically and effectively handling public office.

Extending that law’s umbrella to include text messages is  logical and follows the intended spirit of the law — giving the public insight into the actions of the select officials entrusted with the public’s welfare.

Although opinions of the Mississippi Ethics Commission are non-binding, Senate Bill 2507, which Gov. Phil Bryant signed this month, gives the commission power to hold hearings and impose fines for public records violations, beginning July 1.

That change provides a small, but sorely needed mechanism for enforcing violations of the public records act.

The ethics commission’s stance and additional powers given it by the new law are excellent steps in the right direction, but for true transparency in government more such work is needed.