By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa City Council members are so enamored of their sleek new iPads that they decided Tuesday to begin conducting most
of their business electronically.
The council voted unanimously to stop printing paper versions of their weekly agenda packets and to begin using their Apple mobile devices to review reports, ordinances and other documents during public meetings.
City staff estimates the change will save 91,000 pages of paper and $5,200 per year.
Councilwoman Julie Combs said she was enthusiastically in favor of going digital after trying out her iPad while she was out of the country recently.
The legislative software application on the device allowed her to download Tuesday’s agenda, review it, write notes to herself on it, email questions to staff and have them respond.
“I think that the legislative software package really does the job,” Combs said.
Other cities in the region have already made the switch. Council member Ernesto Olivares called the decision “a long time in coming.”
Vice Mayor Erin Carlstrom said the savings will be even greater than staff estimated because the council’s decision allows other boards and commissions to follow suit, such as the Planning Commission and Board of Public Utilities.
“I think it’s a great direction that we’re heading,” she said.
City Clerk Terri Griffin stressed the change will not reduce public access to paper versions of the agenda. A printed copy will remain at the front counter of the city manager’s office, and one will be available at the Sonoma County library downtown, she said.
Electronic versions of the agendas have long been available to the public on the city’s website.
Paper copies will still need to be made for some documents, such as large format maps and thick financial documents like budgets, Griffin said.
To address concerns about council members receiving emails or being distracted during public meetings, the updated electronic device policy adopted Tuesday calls for no email communication during public meetings.
Council members will be asked to turn their devices to “airplane mode” during meetings, which disables the devices’ ability to send or receive email or text messages.
Councilman Jake Ours said his iPad recently stopped working for no apparent reason. He wondered what would happen if council members dropped their device on a Friday before a meeting.
“You get so connected to these things and then if it doesn’t work, you say, ‘My God, what am I going to do now?’ ” Ours said.
Griffin said a backup iPad would be kept on hand for such situations. Olivares noted that in such emergencies, the agendas will still be available online for review.