Newspaper asks: Are public officials’ texts public records?

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Are public officials’ texts public records?

The Omaha World-Herald has posed that question to the Nebraska attorney general’s office, seeking to clarify the status - and public access to - the officials’ texts involving government business.

The newspaper reported Thursday that it filed a petition with the state after the city of Omaha denied a request for texts Mayor Jean Stothert sent to City Council members and department heads.

An April 20 story by the newspaper raised questions about the exchanges between the mayor and other city officials.

City Attorney Paul Kratz issued an opinion April 21 that said the texts don’t meet the legal standard established by the Nebraska Supreme Court in a case involving the city of Kimball. The mayor said after Kratz released the opinion that she wouldn’t stop texting.

“I’ll still do it because it’s more convenient,” Stothert said.

World-Herald Executive Editor Mike Reilly said the newspaper’s request for an opinion from the state attorney general’s office doesn’t reflect “a fight between the paper and the mayor.” Rather, he said, he wants to “get the law caught up to the technology.”

“I think there’s an important legal issue here that needs to be clarified, not just with the city of Omaha but with political jurisdictions across the state,” he said.

Said Stothert: “I would welcome an opinion from the attorney general that applies to every elected official - city, county and state.”

Stothert and most of council members showed the World-Herald their text messages at one point, but Stothert said she regularly deletes her messages.

The city clerk has recommended officials instead use emails, which are all retained by the city.

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