In the wake of several comments from residents on the topic of Brick Township council members looking down toward their mobile devices and potentially sending text messages back and forth during public meetings, Council President Andrea Zapcic declared that her colleagues on the dais will have a choice to make at the next council meeting.
“A basket will be put on the table next to the clerk,” Zapcic said, and council members can leave their phones in the basket until the end of the meeting if they so choose.
Three members of the public criticized council members at the governing body’s last meeting in June, claiming they were not paying sufficient attention to speakers during public comment, and were occasionally seen chuckling or making faces.
For elected officials, text messages sent during meetings could mean trouble if they include something untoward. In a 2015 case involving a North Jersey fire district, the state Government Records Council ruled that text messages are subject to public scrutiny under the Open Public Records Act as long as they are”made, maintained or kept on file … or received in the course of official business.”
The state does not, however, require that public officials keep records of their text messaging conversations, so in theory, council members or any other public employee could simply delete messages before an OPRA request could be filed.
Brick council members will next meet on July 11 at 7 p.m. at the township municipal complex.