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Public officials should be wary of their text messaging

Work-related Blackberry Personal Identification Number (PIN) and text messages sent by public officials are quickly becoming public record. The transition has caught some looking foolish, or worse, committing unethical or illegal actions.

Public officials must learn to accept the expanding trend that falls under public record. Hopefully, they will also learn to think twice before doing anything illicit.

Nancy Argenziano of the Public Service Commission (PSC) is under fire for more than 2,400 Blackberry PIN messages she sent on the job. PIN messages are phone-to-phone e-mails that bypass state servers.

Argenziano sent the messages while she listened to utility hearings over the phone from her home, according to the St. Petersburg Times. Argenziano criticized her fellow commissioners and data from Florida Power & Light (FPL).

The PSC regulates utility companies like FPL, which is currently seeking to raise its base rate by $1.3 billion. Supporters of FPL are using Argenziano’s PIN messages to condemn her.

Associated Industries of Florida (AIF), a business lobbying group, has put the commissioner’s messages on its Web site. The group is questioning her impartiality in the rate case and is calling for an investigation by the PSC’s inspector general.

AIF President Barney Bishop said to the Times the phone records “show that she is violating her code of conduct, her oath of office, and she’s had ex parte communications with people that she’s not supposed to have had.”

State Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera also called for an inspector general’s investigation of Argenziano, as well as Commissioner Lisa Edgar, who exchanged three PIN messages with a utilities lobbyist, according to the Times.

Three PSC staff members had previously been punished for sharing their Blackberry PINs with FPL lobbyists. The PSC has since disabled instant messaging on state-issued Blackberrys and banned their use in hearing rooms.

Politicians across the country have been caught in ethical and legal violations when their text messages have been made public record. Increased transparency means they will not be able to get away with much.

The Detroit Free Press, among other media outlets, sued Detroit for denying access to text messages sent by Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

The Free Press has obtained thousands of text messages, which they claim may show that the mayor and an aide were having an affair and that the mayor planned to fire a police chief investigating the mayor.

Herschel Fink, a lawyer for the Free Press, said to USA Today that text messages should be public record.

“The lesson to public officials is don’t do anything crooked because there are myriad ways you can be found out,” he said. “And this is one of them.”

Florida officials should listen to Fink’s advice.