The Anaheim City Council unanimously approved new rules Tuesday night banning council members from texting or emailing during council meetings, except in cases of family emergencies.
The policy, proposed by Mayor Tom Tait, arose from concerns about lobbyists wielding influence over elected officials during the very moments they are deliberating public policy.
Tait said it’s unfair for members of the public to only have three minutes to speak to the council about an issue on a meeting agenda while a select few have secret access to council members during the entire meeting.
“For a special interest or a lobbyist to have access to any of us during the meeting, I don’t know if it’s a violation of the Brown Act, but it doesn’t seem right,” Tait said.
However, there is no enforcement mechanism for the new policy. Council members still can use iPads to follow the agenda and there is nothing to prevent lobbyists from sending them texts or emails.
A staff report from the city attorney says texting or emailing during meetings isn’t “per se” a violation of the state’s open meetings law, known as the Ralph M. Brown Act. However, the law does require any written communication to a majority of council members to be made immediately available to the public upon request.
But unlike email, text messages can be tough to get under the public records law. In 2013, Voice of OC requested Anaheim council members’ text messages about public policy.
City officials responded at the time that the city held no such records.