- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 2, 2015

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The Omaha mayor has issued an executive order that says city-related text messages on city employees’ personal cellphones won’t be considered a public record, despite the Nebraska attorney general’s office saying otherwise.

The state’s top legal office concluded in an opinion issued last month that government-related tests are public record even if they’re on a private cellphone. It weighed in on the issue after the Omaha World-Herald (http://bit.ly/1GT0w9D ) asked the office to clarify the status and public’s access to officials’ texts involving government business.

The newspaper’s executive editor, Mike Reilly, said the mayor “openly defies” the attorney general’s opinion on the matter. Her order, which was announced Monday, takes “one step forward and another step or two backward on the road to transparent government,” Reilly said.

Mayor Jean Stothert’s order discourages city staff from conducting business through texts and advises them to instead communicate through email.

It makes a distinction between personal cellphones and city-provided and city-funded phones. Employees with the city phones should assume that their work-related texts could be considered public records. Texting on those devices should be used only for routine matters, such as scheduling.

“She discourages the use of text messaging from personal phones but doesn’t ban the practice outright,” Reilly said. “Nor does she provide a way to preserve all text messages of city business, which is clearly her responsibility under the public records statute.”

But, he said, to the mayor’s credit, she’s making email the preferred way of conducting city business and requiring that they be preserved.

Stothert said that city employees had been asking about texts as a public record since the newspaper raised questions about the matter. She said the order is an attempt to be transparent and to be in compliance with the Nebraska Public Records Act.

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, http://www.omaha.com

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