The Kenney administration is implementing a policy that prohibits city employees from using texts or other instant messaging services for official city business.
The policy, which began Monday, also discourages the use of personal devices and accounts for official business.
The policy comes after a Right-to-Know request by The Inquirer revealed that Mayor Jim Kenney had been using his personal cell phone for city business and deleting all messages. It is an attempt to update the city’s 1992 records retention policy for a digital world. City employees, like many in the private sector, often communicate via text messaging or using Skype Business, Slack, and other instant messaging programs.
“We realized there was a gap in making sure that the city had the ability to get its hands around records that should be retained, while also recognizing the realities of this new mode of communication,” Jo Rosenberger Altman, deputy city solicitor, said.
Kenney has since been issued a taxpayer-funded cell phone and is said to be saving text messages.
The new policy states that “transitory records,” messages that are of little administrative value and are not otherwise required to be saved, may be deleted by the individual receiving or crafting them.
“City employees should dispose of transitory records once their value has expired and they are no longer needed,” the policy states.
The policy is similar to the state’s, which has criticism from open records advocates. A recent request for Gov. Tom Wolf’s business-related text messages turned up nothing. The governor’s spokesperson said Wolf had deleted his text messages because they were all transitory.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily the individuals themselves who have the best viewpoint to determine whether something has historical or other interest in it such that it should be retained instead of being disposed,” Adam Marshall, an attorney with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Washington, said. He suggested independent oversight.
Wolf’s spokesperson said that the governor and state employees are trained in the record retention and Right-to-Know laws. The Kenney administration also said it will begin training on the new rules.
Altman, the city lawyer, said it’s not possible to prohibit the use of personal phones for city business because not everyone has a city-issued device or account, and might need to notify a colleague that they are, for instance, running late to a meeting.
“People should avoid using personal accounts in general in respect to city business, but if they are going to use them or they need to use them, it should only be for transitory messages and it should never have confidential information," she said.
Should official city policy or business be discussed via text, that city employee is expected to screenshot the text or somehow save the exchange.
Altman said she and other city officials who worked on the policy recognize that some people may delete records that should be saved.
“No matter what our policy is, that can happen,” she said.
The goal is that employees use city accounts for city business so that there is a “centralized" place to organize and retrieve records, Altman said.
City employees are required to archive records based on their department’s retention schedule. Once archived, the city’s Office of Innovation and Technology can pull them when a request for records comes in. Emails that are not archived are automatically deleted after 50 days unless the employee is in the mayor’s office or in a policy-making role.
The city took a few months to craft the policy, which went into effect July 1. James P. Leonard, the city’s records commissioner, said that the policy is based on best practices.
Leonard pushed back on the idea that all electronic records should be saved given that they wouldn’t take up much space — a concern when records regulations were drafted for paper documents.