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Council Eyes iPads For ‘Green’ Meetings

POSTED March 2, 2011 2:27 a.m.

In a proposed cost-saving measure and an attempt to “go green,” saving the city the massive amounts of paper per member that is generated for meetings, the five-member Oakdale City Council discussed a proposed switch from printed agendas to the Apple iPad as a substitute for the agenda binders.

Apple iPads are portable tablet devices similar to laptop computers, but with a touch screen that an individual can use to execute various tasks such as viewing documents, searching the Internet and e-mailing.

Councilman Michael Brennan made the proposal after becoming aware that the cities of Modesto and Sacramento in recent months had made the change. Brennan said he believed that the city would be saving money in paper and staff preparation time costs for the volumes of information that are included in the agenda binders used by the council and certain staff members for the twice a month regular council meetings.

Like many cities, agenda packets in the binders — weighed down by the multitude of paper documents for city council meeting matters — take several hours to prepare. Some items confidential in nature have to be copied and assembled by select city personnel in higher paying positions. Printing and delivering the packets has become an increased burden on an already short-staffed city clerk’s office.

Councilman Jason Howard stated he did a rough estimate of the current costs and estimated the use of the iPads would save the city approximately $4800 per year, mostly in the staff time of copying the documents and assembling the individual binders. He felt the iPads would pay for themselves in a year’s time.

Brennan agreed, noting the paper itself would be a savings, but said the real cost saving would be the staff time.

Howard has a concern that if the council started using the iPads — or a similar electronic device — if individual council members messaging each other during meetings could circumvent the Brown Act.

“Integrity would be needed,” interjected Mayor Pat Paul.

Councilwoman Katherine Morgan, who is preparing a “Code of Conduct” for the council members, said she has taken care of electronic device usage during meetings in the manual. Allowing the use of iPads would be a simple addition since prohibiting messaging was already addressed, she said.

Electronic copies of agenda materials already are available on the city’s website and are also emailed in PDF form to the council members and city staff. Having the agenda documents in electronic form on iPads would be less burdensome than lugging around binders. The iPad tablets would also be easier to use and store than regular laptop computers.

“I’m still voting for my paper binder,” said Councilman Tom Dunlop thumping his hand on the binder in front of him. “I’m old fashioned.”

The iPad format would not replace all of the paper packets that are needed, especially ones for public viewing.

Since the electronic copies currently available are just scanned documents, Howard requested that if and when the move is made, that it be in a different form so members could conduct searches by word or topic. He said it would be more efficient also in researching information from past meetings.

Former Mayor Farrell Jackson commented that during a time of budget cuts and lay offs, there must be a definite cost savings to the plan of the city purchasing iPads for the council and staff, rather than an estimated one.

“As a taxpayer, it looks odd,” Jackson said.

Apple iPads list between $499 and $829 depending on the features.

Brennan and Howard are going to continue to look into the possibility of using iPads including their performance with the City of Modesto and the option of members purchasing them individu
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