July was a busy month for Mayor Jim Kenney.
He navigated two big controversies — the decision to evict, then reinstate the Made in America concert on the Ben Franklin Parkway and the nonrenewal of the city’s data-sharing contract with federal immigration authorities. A massive water-main break in Center City shut down streets for weeks. And Philadelphia’s first-term mayor went on his first international trade mission.
But residents might never get a complete picture of how Kenney managed the city during those testing times. He deleted all text messages on his phone for the month of July. As he had, it turns out, during the months and years that preceded it.
The mayor, who has long eschewed a city-issued cell phone in favor of his personal cell phone, “wasn’t aware that he needed to retain texts on his personal device,” according to his spokesperson, Deana Gamble. “He habitually deletes items on his phone to clear space.”
Habit or not, the move may violate state open records laws. Any communication — electronic or paper — as it relates to city business is subject to the state’s Right-to-Know Law and considered a public record. And those records are intended to be preserved to help citizens see and understand how public officials govern and tax dollars are spent.
Alex Abdo, an open records expert and advocate, called the mayor’s deletion of text messages “extremely troubling.”
“That’s three years’ worth of Philadelphia history gone,” said Abdo, a senior staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute.