Readers Weigh in on Orange County Textgate Scandal

The Orange-Osceola State Attorney continues to look into the Florida “textgate” scandal that surrounds Orange County authorities. The incident involves the removal of text messages from cell phones on Sept. 11, 2012 during a meeting and the subsequent vote. Council members opposed the sick-time measure initiative although about 50,000 voters wanted the measure placed on the ballot. The council members and other opponents texted each other about the vote during the meeting. While the texts were on personal cell phones, the messages that concern government business can be considered public records. The text messages allegedly violate the open-information requirements of the meetings.

The case has made its way to civil court. While the mayor initially felt it was too soon to conduct an investigation, she has since changed her mind. She expressed her desire for transparency in the government and believes that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) will provide that for the people.

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A local teacher filed both a complaint and lawsuit, and within hours, the State Attorney formally announced the investigation. The State Attorney will review any evidence to determine if charges should be filed. The intentional destruction of public records in Florida is a first-degree misdemeanor with possible consequences including $1,000 in fines and 365 days in jail. Unintentional destruction of public records might mean a $500 maximum fine.

Some of the major businesses in the state oppose the referendum because of the possible job loss to businesses. However, the textgate scandal controversy surrounds lobbyists and government authorities against the initiative.

A poll of readers of the Orlando Sentinel indicated that 68 percent believed that the FDLE should look into the textgate scandal while 32 percent of readers did not believe it was necessary. Readers expressed a variety of opinions about the scandal. One reader feels that the cover-up is worse than the crime. Another reader thinks that officials should use government cell phones. Still other readers blame the state attorney for not doing his job.