Texas Legislature recently updated laws around public information and retention. These changes, known as SB 944, allow the public to request business-related texts, emails, and social media activity. Texas organizations will need to modernize their record management processes to include these digital communication types.
In this podcast-style webinar, Smarsh will be joined by special guest Bruce Erratt from the Brazos County Attorney's Office to provide an overview of SB 944 and how Brazos County solved this same problem.
Watch this webinar to learn:
1. Why your organization should care.
2. Why you need to do to prepare for SB 944.
3. How to modernize your public records process.
Transcription of Webinar Audio
Heather: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us for today's How SB 944 Affects Your Government Organization (And What You Can Do About It) webinar. Please be aware that all participants will be muted for the duration of the call. Please submit any questions you may have via the GoToMeeting messaging app. We will attempt to answer as many of them as possible. Joining us today are presenters Bruce Erratt, Carrie Breedlove and Alli Walter. With that, I'll hand it over to you, Carrie.
Carrie: Thanks, Heather. Thank you everyone for joining us. We just want to give you a little background on who we're speaking with today. We have Bruce Erratt, he's from Brazos County, Texas. So a few fun facts about them. They are the 24th largest county in Texas by population, with just over 226,000. Then fun fact that's interesting to me anyways, is along with Rosario County, it's named after the Brazos River, which is on the western border. So just so you kind of know who you're talking to and where we're going. And another fun fact is they're both current clients.
Carrie: So I guess we're just going to jump right into this and ask Bruce to unmute. And Bruce, if you could just start by telling us how you heard about Senate Bill 944 and what your interpretation of that bill was.
Bruce: Okay. Basically, I think I first heard about it when the public information officer came in and asked me what a temporary custodian was. I at first wondered why she was interested in our janitorial services, and she said, "No, they've changed the duties of my office, and I have to be able to obtain public information from a temporary custodian." And I said, "Let's look into this." And when we did, we found Senate Bill 944 and realized that, at least in our interpretation, we were going to have to be responsible for text messages in the same way that we're currently responsible for emails. They were going to have to be archived. They're going to have to be searchable. We're going to have to be able to provide them in response to a public information request if one comes in.
Carrie: Right. And when did the Senate bill come into effect, Bruce?
Bruce: September 1.
Carrie: Okay, perfect.
Alli: Just really recently.
Carrie: Yeah. So I am going to get the audience involved with this poll question. You should have something popping up on your screen here soon. This is to make sure you guys are all awake and chasing gears. Which open records requests would you guys say is the most difficult to fulfill for your agency today? Email, text, social media posts, or maybe all of the above. Maybe they're all hard.
Carrie: Gathering the data right now. Drum roll.
Carrie: Yeah. All right, so it looks like it was 85% of you said text messages with social media at 39% and emails at 12%.
Alli: Yeah. Not a shocker there.
Carrie: Not at all. Yeah, that's kind of what we expected.
Alli: But that's good to know. So Bruce, with this information, why was the text message archiving initiative a priority for your county?
Bruce: Well, there weren't really any other good alternatives. I mean, one of them is to let your employees respond individually to individual requests, which would mean the public information officer would be potentially tracking down a huge number of people trying to get certain text messages on certain days about certain subjects. There's deadlines involved and employees aren't necessarily going to respond immediately.
Bruce: And so it was that basically at that point we went to IT and said, "Hey, how do we archive text messages?" And they said, "We don't have any way of doing that currently." At that time, most or almost all of our phones were an allowance system. We didn't have very many county-owned phones. And at that point IT and the purchasing department started looking into things, and we eventually ended up with a system where Smarsh was the software that's going to be responsible for archiving and producing our text messages when we need them.
Alli: That's great. Thank you for sharing that information. So moving on, after learning of Senate Bill 944, what were the first steps that your county took after learning about it and how did Senate Bill 944 change your organization's mobile environment at that point?
Bruce: So the first step was, like I said earlier, we contacted IT to see if they could help in this. I mean, they do archive and store our email messages in forms that are searchable. But they did not have a good alternative for text messages. Part of that was because we had an allowance system, we had a bunch of private phones that got a county allowance for using their phones to do government business on. At that point we decided that it really made more sense for us as a county to switch to county-owned phones to do county business on. And this combination puts us in control of those phones along with some other software, lets us manage what apps go on those phones and what apps do not go on those phones. And the Smarsh lets us capture all those text messages and search them when we need to.
Bruce: So the big change for us was going from an allowance system to a county-owned phone. The thing that we found unusual was it actually proved to be cost effective, because the phones apparently, and I'm not a tax lawyer, but apparently if we have somebody use a county-owned phone for county-owned business, there's no tax consequences to that. But when we gave somebody a 50 or $80 allowance for their personal phone, not only do we pay that to them, we then had to pay federal taxes as if that was an income payment to them. So it's actually costing us more than 50 or $80 a month to give a 50 or $80 allowance.
Alli: Now moving onto our next question, it's something that comes up a lot in conversation for both Carrie and I in the government space. So in your opinion, Bruce, what is a transitory message?
Bruce: It's going to be a message that doesn't have any aspect of government business or government duties associated with it. For me, one example would be if I send you an email with an attachment and I said, "Hey, here's the Baker contract." That's a transitory message. The contract that I've attached to that message is not, but the actual message itself. If I text you, "I'm running 15 minutes late for the meeting," or I, or something like that, that's a transitory message. I'm going to be late today. I'm going to be sick today. I've got a doctor's appointment. Those kinds of things are all transitory messages.
Alli: That helps me get a better understanding.
Alli: Now is there a potential scenario where a transitory message could become non-transitory?
Bruce: We actually talked about that during this process internally, and normally you have an employee that texts their boss, I'm going to be five minutes late today. That would normally be considered a transitory message. But subsequently, at the end of the year, you have another employee that gets employment consequences for being tardy regularly, and then they file a request to have all of the text messages that their cubicle may send in saying that they were going to be late to show to HR that actually they have fewer late days than this other person. The other person's not getting any consequences, and I'm being mistreated. A transitory message then becomes potentially something that's very searchable.
Alli: It makes it more important for sure. Bruce: It's just like the emails, we're still, we're saving them. So if they become important, they're there. If they don't become important, then it never matters.
Alli: It's a great way to do it. So moving on, I guess what we'd like you to share would be what led you ultimately to purchasing a Smarsh solution for Brazos County?
Bruce: Ultimately, I think it was how well it tied in with the phone systems that we were buying and how integrated that process was, where our text messages were going to be automatically archived in Smarsh without us having to do anything, without ... it's just going to be a seamless process for us and then they were going to immediately be searchable to our public information officer.
Alli: So integration was a big part.
Bruce: The integration worked very, very well and we haven't had our first requests yet, but we've obviously run some test messages through it and it seems to be working quite well.
Alli: Great. Wonderful. I'm happy to hear that.
Carrie: Text message, public records requests is something we hope you don't receive too often, but we like to think of ourselves as like insurance just in case you guys ever get those requests. We have that for you.
Heather: All right, getting everyone back involved. Another poll question for you guys. So work phones at my agency are owned by A, the employees. So we like to refer to this as BYOD, which is your personal device. Or your agency, which will be like a corporate device. Or a mixture of both.
Heather: So we have 18% employee owned. Is that 16% that agency and 66 a mixture of both. So Bruce, originally you guys did have a mixture of both, right?
Bruce: We were probably 90% allowances and a few specific practices, departments had county-issued phones.
Heather: And now did you move all of those stipends employees over to corporate or just some of them?
Bruce: We no longer have allowances.
Alli: All right. So Bruce, we want to thank you for your time. At this point we just want to let everyone know about some of the solutions that we do have available. So as we mentioned before, we have the BYOD option where you can allow everyone to use their personal phone, but you're putting a business line onto that, that we're able to capture and place into the archive for you. Or if you guys like what Bruce did, we do have that direct capture capability with the major carriers, where there's no application installed onto the phone. All you have to do is have a business account with one of them and we can capture, with the couple caveats of course. And all of this goes in. So if you keep a mixed environment, it all gets automated and captured into one platform for you, making it very streamlined for you to do your searches and bring everything in.
Alli: So I want to reiterate the fact that we are one of the only vendors who our knowledge that has that partnership with AT&T, Verizon, and US cellular to be able to capture all that data directly from the source. But yes, we do have that, like Carrie just mentioned, that business or BYOD solution as well, which will be an app that can go on the employee's device if you do choose to go the allowance and employee-owned route. But either way we have you captured.
Alli: I don't want to get too salesy on you guys. That's not why we're here. But I want to at least inform you that Smarsh can also capture over 80 different communication channels and add this to your archive as well. So just know whatever electronic communication that you may need to retrieve for public records request, open records requests, that we can have you covered there in the archive.
Heather: Great. So it looks like we have a few questions. The first one is, does Smarsh allow you to capture messages from private phones for city business?
Carrie: So Smarsh is able to capture from private phones with the BYOD solution that we have, where you put the application onto the phone. We're only able to capture from a business account, and we do not have the ability to capture a personal account. And that's all verified through the carrier. So you can rest assured that we're only capturing business communications on business lines.
Alli: And I want to also mention that the BYOD app that Carrie is talking about, assigns the employee a new business phone number, and only those communications via that new business phone number will be archived. All of their personal information or personal text messages will be their main phone number they have today and won't be attached, won't be archived. So that's the big, big difference between the two solutions.
Carrie: It separates it out really well.
Heather: Next question. Do you work with T-Mobile?
Carrie: It's on the roadmap right now to work with T-Mobile. We definitely can put the BYOD solution onto those phones currently, but hopefully coming down the pipeline pretty soon we'll be able to have a partnership with T-Mobile.
Heather: Great. And then it looks like the last question we have is what did Brazos County do for County commissioners? And I guess we'll ask Bruce, if you're able to answer it to that.
Bruce: Sure. Our County commissioners, as far as I know, all four of them have a county phone.
Heather: So you switched them from personal phones to county phones?
Bruce: Correct. As does the county judge. Heather: Great. Well, thank you everyone for participating in our webinar. Please note that the webinar has been recorded and a link to the recording will be sent out via email by next week. You are welcome to send any additional questions to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again and have a great rest of your day.
Carrie: Thanks everyone.