AUGUSTA — State employees are no longer allowed to send texts or instant messages about official state business.

The Governor’s Office this week added a clause to the state’s public communications policy requiring all electronic communication about official business to go through the state’s email system rather than an unofficial email, text-messaging or instant-message system.

Emails sent through the state’s system are saved and archived. Texts and instant messages may not be. 

The policy was a direct response to statements made to the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee two weeks ago by Sharon Leahy-Lind, former division director for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. She told the committee her superiors instructed her to communicate with them via instant-messaging on her state-issued BlackBerry because the messages could not be retrieved under the state’s Freedom of Access Act.

Leahy-Lind has filed a complaint of harassment with the Maine Human Rights Commission as well as a federal whistle-blower lawsuit related to her allegations that CDC supervisors destroyed public documents and falsified new documents.

Leahy-Lind’s former supervisors denied saying such a thing about instant messaging, but the accusation concerned lawmakers and has gained media attention.

As many as 4,500 state workers may have access to smartphone text-messaging technology. About 2,000 of the phones in state employees’ hands are state-issued, while the remaining 2,500 are owned by employees but are authorized for use on the state’s contract with U.S. Cellular, using BlackBerry technology and servers not managed or owned by the state.

Peter Steele, spokesman for the Governor’s Office, called the alleged CDC incident “extremely isolated,” but said the office decided to take the opportunity to make the communications policy explicit.

“We don’t condone this and we don’t use whatever it is, BlackBerry messenger or text messages, to communicate officially, but (the policy) didn’t expressly say that,” Steele said. “So we wanted to stick that in there. It’s never been a problem with us, but we thought if it’s coming up, we may as well address it and be specific about it.”

The policy was changed earlier this week and was brought to the attention of the state’s communication directors during a meeting Thursday. 

“I just wanted to be completely clear,” Steele said. “We follow FOAA and we insist on it. We wanted to make sure all of our employees were aware of that new change.”

Members of the Government Oversight Committee were told about the new policy during their meeting Friday.

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