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Santa Rosa City Council members get iPads to cut down on paper reports

By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The goal of a paperless office is not realistic for most businesses. But the Santa Rosa City Council may soon take a big step toward paperless decision-making.

Santa Rosa City Council chambers at city hall.

Santa Rosa City Council chambers at city hall.

The seven members of the City Council recently received new Apple iPads to help them do their jobs, such as scheduling meetings and emailing constituents.

Soon they may begin using the popular tablet computers during council meetings to review staff reports and other documents, scrapping the need for paper packets that can run to hundreds of pages.

On Tuesday, the council will consider revising its policy governing the use of taxpayer-funded electronic devices, including whether it wants to take the next step and go paperless.

Mayor Scott Bartley said software installed on their iPads should make it easier for council members to review reports and other information relevant to their deliberations.

“I was a little bit of a skeptic, but this is a slick little program,” Bartley said. “I’m real impressed with it. It’s going to make life a lot easier.”

Currently, employees in the city manager’s office compile about 20 complete copies of the council agenda for each meeting, usually about three a month. The packets typically includes minutes of prior meetings, staff reports, proposed contracts, environmental reports, letters from the public and correspondence between the council and other legislative bodies.

Bartley said that since he’s been mayor, he’s gotten an up-close view of the work the City Hall staff puts into assembling the packets. “I said, ‘Holy cow, we’re killing a lot of trees,’” he said.

The cost of assembling the paper packets is $10,000 per year. The seven iPads cost $4,800, plus $3,200 for maintenance and data plans, according to city staff.

In addition to being more environmentally friendly, the iPads are city property and can be used for years. When their terms are up, council members will turn in the devices for use by new council members, just as they do with city-issued cell phones and laptops.

Numerous federal, state and local agencies are switching to electronic delivery of legislative agenda packets, city officials said. The software the city will use, called iLegislate, will allow council members to download the packet before the meeting for their review.

The city already makes much, but not all, of the information related to decisions at upcoming meetings available to the public on the city website several days before most council meetings. Paper copies of the reports will continue to be available for publics review at the meetings, the mayor said.

The idea of council members fiddling with their iPads during public hearings raises several concerns that the city hopes to address through its new policy.

Because the tablets are wireless devices, council members can receive emails during meetings from members of the public, fellow council members, or others interested in the outcome of council decisions.

Councilman Gary Wysocky said he agrees that “paperless is the way to go,” but said, “We want to make sure that the public sees that there is no communication during the meeting from the dais.”

The policy contains prohibitions against such practices. It requires that iPads and similar devices not be used in such a way as to violate the state’s open public meeting laws. For example, the policy reminds council members not to hit the “reply all” button on emails to avoid all seven council members communicating with each other in violation of the law.

Council members will be allowed to send or receive only those emails “regarding emergencies, such as family emergencies” on the devices during meetings. Wysocky said wants to hear more about how such a prohibition will be enforced.

Council members also cannot use iPads to consider information not part of the hearing record, or to use them “so as to result in inattention to the record and/or proceedings before the legislative body.”

Bartley said it is important that council members not “interact with this little machine” instead of engaging with the public or the staff members making presentations. But he also notes the risk of distraction and inattention is there with or without the devices.

“I’ve sat up there when my council colleagues are balancing their checkbooks,” Bartley said.

There are several other general restrictions on the use of the iPads. They cannot be used for campaign-related activities or for “financial gain or advantage to the user or a loss to the city.”

They can be used for personal use, but only if that use is “lawful, incidental and minimal.”

Council members also are required to retain all communications on the iPads that might be public records, such as emails received from the public or responses to them, according to the proposed policy.

(You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @citybeater.)





6 Responses to “Santa Rosa City Council members get iPads to cut down on paper reports”

  1. Snarky says:

    James & Grapevines:

    You neglect the benefit that those new I-Pads provide to the government.

    Those I-Pads make them look as if they are cutting edge in this world (even though they probably can’t do anything other than use the email function and play checkers).

    You see. Its all about “appearance” in government. Anything to pretend importance and anything to pretend competence.

    Actual job skills and actual expertise do not matter.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  2. Steveguy says:

    OK, if ya want to go all digital- then post every budget and where the money comes from and who the money goes to. With comparisons to contributors to campaigns.

    Yes, EVERY expenditure down to a receipt for gas ! With a normal spreadsheet or ‘profit/loss’ statement ! Heck, as a contractor that did work for the City of Santa Rosa, the County of Sonoma, many School districts and the Coast Guard, I can tell you that an easy check on finances and bank records are easy to come by in the private enterprise sector.

    By the way, some or most all of my bids for ‘govmint work’ were for ‘prevailing wages’. Made some bank sometimes, but felt kinda dirty, so I always upped my game to make my expertise pay off. For other jobs I could charge the private sector more than prevailing wage, and was OK with that ( investments in equipment, tools, expertise, etc ).

    I wouldn’t care that a Parks Dept expenditure was published to my company in an expense report, as that would be further advertising.

    Use this occasion to publish EVERY electronic instance ! We pay them ! The records are OURS !

    Yet the PD has to sue ( kudos for the Press Democrat for that ) for meager records and are fought. Thank the Courts for the wins.

    Last note- The Coasties are the most awesome place for local skilled workers. They pay a bit less and the security is a pain, but after that the Coast Guard procurement guys have it down for small local contractors and treat them very well. They pay fast and everyone is happy for not gouging them. They pay fair, even when a problem comes. Just smart management and a cafeteria for cheap ! I have had the privilege of my son working there tearing out my old work from when he was a mere child. Yes sir !

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  3. Steveguy says:

    While I would hope that they can see documents on a tablet of sorts, there is nothing like the hard copies to be able to understand many things.

    Example- Referring back to some subsection or ahead to an addendum is far easier with paper than clicking around and waiting for it. Far easier in my opinion. Just because you can put it on a computer doesn’t make it better. I have experienced that MANY times.

    A bought and paid for political system without a paper trail is far worse than our bought and paid for political system as it operates now.

    Let them have a gizmo, but only for reading. If e-mails allowed, make them publish EVERY e-mail ( besides private family ones). Even those received !

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  4. James Bennett says:

    These public servants (a novel term coined from days gone by) should never be able to circumvent one of the most important instruments of transparency we have; THE PAPER TRAIL.

    The City is already more than cagey regarding our FOIA requests.

    This, along with the empowerment of unelected boards, commissions and NGOs. These groups set directive and changing policy before the people even know about it.

    Now this.

    Forgive me, but employing a policy that requires trust to retain correspondence that should be public record under our current treasonous circumstances doesn’t strike me as a good idea.

    NO. We want paper trails of correspondence. This is a major component of representative government.

    Thumb up 23 Thumb down 8

  5. Grapevines says:

    They better turn off the wifi in the council chambers because the first time anything comes up regarding either the west side of town or (horrors) Roseland, most of the jerks on the council will be playing “Words With Friends” on those iPads.

    Thumb up 9 Thumb down 4

  6. Whine Country Romance says:

    The article could have also been titled… “SR City Council chooses iPads for more efficient mismanagement.”

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

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