Tweets and texts and emails, oh my!

Electronic communications — specifically tweets, text and e-mail messages — between city officials discussing public business are subject to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, even if they were sent from personal cellphones and accounts, a state circuit judge ruled.

Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Schmidt issued an oral ruling Monday ordering the Champaign City Council to turn over all such electronic messages to a local newspaper, The News-Gazette, affirming an earlier opinionissued by the Illinois attorney general’s office.

City Attorney Fred Stavins said officials are deliberating whether to appeal.

“We didn’t think the Freedom of Information Act covered that kind of stuff,” he said. “There is not that much law in that area.”

Last July, News-Gazette reporter Patrick Wade filed a request for all electronic communications, “including cellphone text messages, sent and received by members of the city council and the mayor during city council meetings and study sessions since (and including) May 3.” Wade’s request included messages on city-issued cellphones, e-mail addresses and Twitter accounts, as well as personal ones.

The city disclosed 24 pages of documents — with personal e-mail addresses and phone numbers redacted — and withheld the rest, claiming they were not public records because they were from officials’ personal e-mail accounts and phones.

Wade asked the attorney general’s office to review the city’s decision not to disclose the requested materials in full. The office issued its opinion in November 2011, declaring the city’s actions to be “clearly inconsistent with” the state’s FOIA.

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