The Orlando firefighters labor union has accused a deputy chief of falsely reporting his department-issue phone missing to avoid turning over potentially incriminating text messages.
Union president Steve Clelland said he has contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement about the city's failure to turn over Deputy Chief Chad Williamson's text messages, which the union thinks is a violation of state public records law.
"It doesn't pass the smell test," union president Steve Clelland said. "They're preventing us from getting the texts."
But Williamson said no one wants to find the phone — and its text messages — more than he does.
"There's nothing for me to hide," Williamson said Thursday. "I fully wish to and intend to comply with the public records law."
Union leaders said Williamson was frequently texting during an arbitration hearing last month. They suspected he might have been communicating with witnesses who were to testify at the hearing later — which isn't allowed — so they filed a request with City Hall for copies of his texts.
Orlando officials initially said the city doesn't have access to text messages. When Clelland asked to inspect Williamson's mobile phone, he was told that the deputy chief's phone had gone missing when he was upgrading to a new one.
The city filed a police report indicating Williamson said he'd sent his old phone to City Hall through interoffice mail, but it never arrived. According to city officials, the phone was sent the same day the union requested the texts.
"The city mail room, the van which transports the mail, OFD and [Technology Management] have all been double-checked but the phone has not been located," City Clerk Alana Brenner wrote in a March 31 email.
Brenner also told union leaders that Sprint, the city's carrier, is unable to provide the content of the messages.
Williamson, 42, is one of its highest-ranking employees. He said he wasn't texting about the arbitration, and any messages he sent were probably about lunch plans. He said he's personally visited other departments where the phone might have ended up. "I've been trying to find the thing," he said. "I think that would make this whole thing go away."
The union contacted the FDLE on Thursday, and also plans to file a complaint with the State Attorney's Office.
City spokeswoman Cassandra Lafser provided the following statement: "The city is committed to open government and takes adhering to public records laws very seriously, which is why we have taken every step possible to provide the information for this request."
The city's legal department is also investigating, including interviewing firefighters.
©2014 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)