City Attorney says text, voice and video messages may be subject to public records requests

Oil City File

CASPER, Wyo. — City Attorney John Henley advised the City Council that information sent on their personal devices may be subject to public records requests if it pertains to City business pertinent to the public.

The City Council discussed the issue of cell phones during their Tuesday, April 16 pre-meeting. They were considering whether they should use City-issued cell phones, their personal devices or a City phone-line dedicated to communications with Council.

City of Casper Information Technology Manager Michael Szewczyk briefed the Council about the different options.

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“As public sector employees/officials, business related communications are subject to public records requests (PRR) regardless of the device used,” a memo from Szewczyk and Support Services Directoy Tracey Belser reads. “Similar to emails, text messages can also be considered a record.”

Szewczyk said that he was not providing an opinion as to what type of devices Council should use, but was rather proving information for them to consider.

“I’m just making sure that we’re all aware of how we use those devices,” Szewczyk said.

He said that the advantage of using a City issued cell phone would be to keep a more clear separation between City and personal business. That could help Council members avoid having to provide their personal cell phones should a public records request be issued.

Henley said that Council members using City phones may still run into situations where they would have to provide their personal devices due to a public records request. He said that any information related to City business could be subject to the requests, even if that was contained on a personal device.

“I can think of two instances where we’ve had to surrender a phone for examination,” Henley said. “It doesn’t happen very often, but it sure could.”

Henley said that the public records requests could apply to any type of information, including text, voice or visual messaging.

Szewczyk said that the Council also had the option of setting up a City phone number where citizens could leave voice mail for Council members to check. That would allow them to leave their personal numbers unlisted.

He added that the City archives any emails that the Council sends or receives.

“It sounds like, as much as possible, we should use email,” Casper Mayor Charlie Powell said.

Powell added that one of the reasons the discussion arose is because most Council members don’t use the City issued devices.

“I just want to make sure that we have something that everyone is comfortable with,” Powell added. “It’s really more of an issue of no one is using them.”

After hearing Szewczyk and Henley talk about the issue, Council decided that they would not make any changes to their cell phone policy at this time. Powell emphasized that Council try to rely on email, but Council members will be able to continue using their personal devices or City-issued phones.