Days after members of an ethics panel recommended a written reprimand for a Forsyth County commissioner, she said she intends to seek a new policy for how commissioners store text messages.
Last week, a panel of out-of-county attorneys found that District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills violated the Georgia Records Act based on a complaint from county resident Jay Guidry that Mills had improperly deleted text messages from a personal cell phone she used for county business.
Now, Mills said she is pushing for a new county policy on such messages, which will be looked at during a work session this week.
“While the county does have general data retention policies, the county has never adopted a text message-specific policy concerning the storage of text messages on official county phones, much less personal ones, and the county has never installed the digital tools required to compile and maintain all text communications involving county personnel,” Mills said in an email to the Forsyth County News. “I will be asking that the county’s lack of a formal text-specific policy be addressed immediately.”
In the hearings held before the decision, Mills had admitted to deleting texts to free up space on her personal device but said she did not delete anything substantive and said county business, such as zonings, was too complex to be done through that medium.
“While I am grateful that the hearing officers stated that there was no evidence I had deleted any messages that were substantive, which was alleged by the complainant, I am saddened to have gone through this process at all,” she said. “I am aware that I deleted messages from my personal cell phone, and I have never denied that. In fact, the general records retention policy of the county allows immediate deletion of electronic messages that are not substantive.”
Mills said she will now only conduct county business on her county-issued phone.
Following the hearing, Guidry raised issues with the process from the standpoint of resident access but said he felt “vindication” from the decision.
“Ever since this started, there have been tons of rumors flying around that I’m doing this at the behest of someone else, I didn’t pay for my lawyer, I didn’t pay for my open record requests,” Guidry said. “It’s all purely necessary, and I was vindicated with the verdict that I figured we would get.”
The hearing originated with an open records request submitted by Guidry to see previous texts by Mills to Chairman Todd Levent, five zoning attorneys and a land developer. The office of County Attorney Ken Jarrard responded saying no such messages exist.
A written decision from the panel will be given at a later time.
Per a county ordinance, the ethics panel is made up of three randomly selected attorneys from a list maintained by the county who do not live or have an office in Forsyth or have any other conflicts of interest.
The committee was made up of Heather Stevenson, Mike O’Hagan and Charles Pollock.