Commissioners say they don’t text public business in meetings

By Robin Fornoff
CMI projects editor
rfornoff@cnjonline.com

Clovis city commissioners say they sent no text messages relating to public business during recent meetings and received only one.

But a Clovis woman who has raised questions about commissioners’ texting practices says she doubts the claims. And a commissioner on Friday confirmed he received a text during a meeting that he did not disclose when asked by City Attorney Dave Richards.

On June 13, the Clovis News Journal filed an Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) request for all texts sent or received by city commissioners and Mayor David Lansford during public meetings held May and June 6.

City Manager Joe Thomas responded to the request Tuesday, saying “Only Commissioner (Juan) Garza received a text message relating to public business during either meeting. None of the named public officials sent any text messages relating to public business during those meetings.”

But Spence said on Friday that she sent a text to Garza and Commissioner Chris Bryant during a June 6 meeting asking each whether Mayor David Lansford should be thanked for efforts to bring new business to Clovis.

Bryant said Friday he didn’t check his cell phone for any texts sent or received during commission meetings because he didn’t remember receiving any texts and doesn’t text during public meetings. When asked by CNJ to check for texts, he acknowledged receiving two from Spence.

“So what does that tell you?” Spence said, noting the discrepancy, while questioning the city’s compliance with the IPRA request.

Bryant said he didn’t check his phone because he didn’t remember receiving a text from Spence.

“I just don’t text during public meetings,” Bryant said.

“You have to understand, I’m not real phone savvy when it comes to texting. I do not ever carry on a (text) conversation during city meetings. … I don’t text at all. I do not text.”

Commissioners’ texting practices were brought to a public spotlight during the June 6 meeting by Spence. She questioned whether commissioners are making decisions in a public meeting based on private messages they don’t disclose to taxpayers.

The commission subsequently approved a resolution on June 20 instructing city officials to “refrain from the use of cellular telephones and other electronic equipment in an inappropriate manner during a meeting of the City Commission.”

Thomas said he was surprised at Bryant’s failure to disclose the June 6 text he received from Spence. He said Richards had contacted all city commissioners and Lansford after receiving the IPRA request from CNJ. He said all except Garza had assured Richards they hadn’t received any texts and Garza disclosed one text and its substance.

Thomas said Richards’ email to commissioners and Lansford instructed them to check all “electronic devices” for texts, which he assumed included city-provided iPads as well as their private cell phones.

Richards’ instructions were to check for texts during meetings concerning public business, not private or personal texts, Thomas said, noting “As I understand it, private communications are not covered by IPRA anyway. Only the stuff having to do with public business.”

Spence said she told commissioners debating the texting policy on June 20, “the reason this came to mind is I had personally sent a text and got to thinking about it and it probably wasn’t the right thing to do.”