Mayor issues new policy making text messages private

Virgie Townsend | Freedom of Information | Feature | May 20, 2008

Embattled Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick revealed to city employees last week a policy, which he implemented last month, making private all text messages from publicly-funded devices. The policy, which took effect on April 15, will prevent the public from accessing messages and pages under the Freedom of Information Act.

In March, Kilpatrick was charged with perjury and other counts after sexually explicit text messages contradicted what he said under oath regarding an affair with former Chief of Staff Christine Beatty.

Kilpatrick was also charged with obstruction of justice and misconduct in office. The explicit text messages were included in documents that The Detroit Free Press received under the state’s public records law throughout its ongoing investigations of the mayor.

Dawn Hertz, general counsel for the Michigan Press Association, questioned the legality of the new policy.

"The real bottom line problem is that, under Michigan law, public bodies can't seal documents unless there's a statute," she said, adding: "Under Michigan's FOIA, you cannot say that certain documents will always be non-disclosable, absent a specific grant of confidentiality...It's evaluated on a case-by-case basis."

Lisa McGraw, a spokeswoman for the MPA, said the organization is still deciding whether it will challenge the edict.

"This is part of a long and huge issue we've had with our mayor.  We're still having our attorneys look at it," she said. "The City Council is not supportive of it, so this is purely the mayor."