Politics & Government

New Charlotte manager, other Norfolk leaders sent 23,000 texts. They said all were private.

New Charlotte City Manager Marcus Jones and six other Norfolk, Virginia, officials sent 23,000 text messages in a year. They refused to release them because they said they were private.
New Charlotte City Manager Marcus Jones and six other Norfolk, Virginia, officials sent 23,000 text messages in a year. They refused to release them because they said they were private. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

In the last six months, the city of Charlotte has been under worldwide scrutiny – first because of House Bill 2 and then because of the Keith Lamont Scott shooting.

Numerous media outlets – including TV stations, the Charlotte Business Journal and the Observer – have made public records requests for emails, documents and text messages to and from city officials.

Charlotte’s incoming city manager, Marcus Jones, appears to have a different view toward releasing text messages.

As Norfolk, Va., city manager, he was unwilling to release texts, according to a March story in the Virginian-Pilot.

That newspaper made a public records request for a year’s worth of text messages from Jones and five other high-ranking city officials.

The paper found the six officials had 23,000 text messages on their city-owned phones over a year. But the city said none of the messages were about city business, and the officials declined to release any text messages.

The newspaper story, however, found that many of the text messages were between other Norfolk city officials, and those officials told the newspaper that they were messaging about city business with Jones.

Norfolk’s policy was that city-related text messages would be saved and available for public inspection.

It was created after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sued the city two years ago when the organization was unable to get text messages to and from Norfolk City Council members. The lawsuit was settled a year later.

Charlotte’s director of corporate communications, Sandy D’Elosua, said Jones and the city would “absolutely” comply with the state’s Public Records Law, which covers text messages about city business.

When responding to public records requests, Charlotte’s policy is that each city employee is responsible for his or her communications. So if a news organization or citizen makes a request, a third party in the city does not access an official’s email or phone.

The individual city employee is responsible for deciding what is and what isn’t a public record.

In the future, if the media makes a request for Jones’ emails or text messages, he will decide what is and isn’t a public record.

Jones couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.

Charlotte’s director of corporate communications, Sandy D’Elosua, said Jones and the city would “absolutely” comply with the state’s Public Records Law, which covers text messages about city business.

Earlier this year, the city complied with an Observer records request and released text messages from Mayor Jennifer Roberts and former City Manager Ron Kimble about HB2.

Earlier this week, WSOC-TV reported on text messages it received by a public records request from interim city manager Ron Kimble and other officials. Those messages were about a possible City Council compromise to repeal its nondiscrimination ordinance in hopes the legislature would repeal HB2.

Jones was hired Wednesday by the City Council and Mayor Jennifer Roberts in a unanimous vote.

He will start Dec. 1, and succeeds interim city manager Ron Kimble, who has ran the city since July.

Jones has been Norfolk’s city manager since early 2011 and had worked in the city from 2004 to 2009 as budget director and assistant city manager.

Staff researcher Maria David contributed.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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