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Vt. newspaper gets texts after Montpelier councilors text each other during meeting

By Steven Pappas, editor, The Times Argus, Barre and Montpelier, Vt.

Times are a-changing and, once again, we need to be ahead of the curve as journalists

Recently, when one of my reporters observed what appeared to be a digital conversation taking place between city councilors in the capital city of Montpelier, he returned to the newsroom and told me about how blatant the digital note-passing had been, replete with smirks and across-the-room snickering.

I instructed the young reporter to go ahead and file a freedom of information request for all text messages and emails exchanged by members of the city council or shared during the duration of the meeting.

While none of the topics on the agenda were particularly titillating, the shared content was both juvenile and suggestive of a layer of discussion that left out the public.

Many members of the board were mortified their note-passing would be sought by the press but they also acknowledged their actions were not on the up and up. Supposedly, a policy is now being written prohibiting the use of mobile devices during meetings. Indeed, according to state law, text and email messages are subject to the state’s FOIA.

You might be surprised what you find, and you will certainly be calling elected officials out of their “middle school” behavior and demanding a more transparent government.

10/05/12 Update: Read The Times Argus editorial on the digital note-passing in Montpelier.

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