FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — An ethics complaint filed against Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills charges she improperly deleted texts from her personal phone contrary to county policy.
The county ethics panel has determined there is need for an evidentiary hearing to further review and investigate the complaint.
In March, resident Rene Guidry filed a complaint against Mills claiming the commissioner “violated the Georgia Records Act on multiple occasions by deleting text messages between her, developers with pending zoning issues, other county commissioners and zoning attorneys.”
He said he was investigating an overlay zoning for The Collection and became aware that Mills “does business on her personal phone instead of using the taxpayer provided county phone. In addition to this, she deletes text messages regardless of content.”
“None of these conversations were saved, despite the requirement to do so as stated in the Forsyth County records retention policy,” he wrote in his complaint.
According to the county’s policy from its website, messages documenting the formulation and adoption of policies and procedures and the management of agency programs or functions, for example case file management, constituent correspondence, periodic reports or budget documents, must be retained long term.
“For Commissioner Mills to state those text messages have no evidentiary value, she is either clueless as to what that means, or purposefully hiding information from county residents,” Guidry wrote in his complaint.
Guidry went on to say that Mills publically admitted that her phone automatically deletes all text messages. On current models of Apple’s iPhone, there is an option for the phone to delete text messages after 30 days, one year or never. On Android phones, there is an option to delete old messages when storage is low.
County Attorney Ken Jarrard said in a response to Guidry’s open records request that the retention schedules allows a certain class of documents to be deleted when their useful life is complete. In many instances with text messages, that authorizes immediate deletion, he said.
“I don’t have enough storage on my phone to save the amount of emails and texts that go through it,” Mills wrote on a Facebook post used as evidence in the review. “There’s no way. I don’t pick and choose them. They all delete. And don’t worry. I’m not shy about bringing things forward.”
Mills’ attorney Logan Butler wrote that Mills denies violating the Forsyth County Ethics Ordinance and the Georgia Records Act.
“The alleged ethics violation is completely without merit, is outside the jurisdiction of the Ethics Ordinance, fails to state an ethics violation supported by specific substantiated evidence and is being brought in an attempt to harass Commissioner Mills,” Butler wrote in the response.
Butler also wrote that “electronic messages such as text messages are transitionary in nature and whether any such message must be retained pursuant to the records retention schedule that is controlled by the content of the particular message. Commissioner Mills asserts that she is fully aware of the Forsyth County retention policy and that text messages containing legally substantive information would need to be retained according to their specific content.”
Additionally, Butler wrote that the phone records attached to the complaint fail to indicate to whom the numbers belong and that Guidry doesn’t show why the text messages provided in the complaint should have been retained.
“Rather and to the contrary, the complainant provides an exhibit alleging that Commissioner Mills deletes text messages due to a shortage of storage space on her phone, not that any alleged deletions are done with malice,” Butler wrote in the response. “All of the above allegations are mere conclusory statements that are not supported by any specific substantiated evidence.”