Elected officials bridging digital divide with iPads
On a technological scale that spans dinosaurs on one end, and astronauts on the other, Palisade Mayor Roger Granat admits that he’s “still back here with the dinosaurs.”
That, however, isn’t dampening his enthusiasm for a new iPad he recently received — as did the six other members of the town’s Board of Trustees and all of the town’s department heads.
“I’ve been playing with it, and I really like it,” the 70-year-old Granat said. “But being able to take advantage of all that it will do, though, I’m not at that level yet.”
Tablet computing and municipal government seem an ideal match, what with the reams of documentation often are included with agenda items elected officials consider week to week. Now all that paperwork can be delivered in a neat, digital format that tablet devices like the iPad were practically designed to organize and display.
In other words, the days of massive binders stacked with hundreds of pages of official documents, lugged from meeting to meeting, appear numbered.
“The paper we use every two weeks is just tremendous,” said Palisade Town Administrator Rich Sales, who pursued the iPads purchase earlier this year. He’s helping the trustees transition to a paperless system, training them on basic operation and getting them used to the new platform. The paper-free system is set to be launched in full after the first of the year.
The Palisade board has a mix of youth and age in its membership, and “as you might expect, there were varying degrees of interest” among trustees, Sales said.
He also said he was following the lead of other Colorado communities, including the city of Fruita, who are turning to tablets like the iPad for their elected members. He said after hearing about others’ experiences, he contacted the corporate office of Best Buy, which was able to offer him $100 off each iPad, so he bought 15 of them. The models he purchased are WiFi only and don’t require a monthly data plan to connect to the Internet, so it’s a one-time purchase of about $4,500 for the town.
As for Fruita, City Manager Clint Kinney said the City Council pursued the idea after being seated in April.
“It was just an opportunity to be more efficient with our time and our resources, and more environmental — and over the next couple of years we will actually save money, based on payback,” Kinney said.
Fruita purchased 10 iPads earlier this year — seven for council members, one for Kinney and two for the clerk’s office. That upfront cost, including basic software, was just north of $6,800.
All of the iPads Fruita purchased do require a monthly $40 data plan, but have the advantage of being able to connect to the Internet from anywhere there is cell service.
The city conducted a thorough analysis of the numbers, comparing initial and ongoing costs versus savings on paper, gas, staff time, and the costs of making countless copies. The analysis showed positive payback in just a few years.
“The numbers crunch fine — but I think one of the best things that comes out of it is, now everything (regarding the council packet documentation) is online, and we didn’t used to have that,” Kinney said. Full council information packets can be downloaded on the city’s website, at http://www.fruita.org.
“Everything the City Council gets, the public gets. They can see how decisions are getting made, and the information that they are being made with,” he said.
With smaller-budget municipalities making the leap, it’s not surprising that the larger local government entities are looking at the idea as well.
Grand Junction city officials said they are currently looking into iPads for their City Council members. The city has had digital meeting packets for several years, and each council member gets that file via thumb drive instead of a big paper packet.
Mesa County is poised to provide its commissioners with access to iPads this year. County spokeswoman Jessica Peterson said the board for 2013 — which includes new members Rose Pugliese and John Justman — expressed an interest in the tablets, mostly for mobile use while out in the community.
Outside of new tablet technology, Peterson said the county has been pursuing paper-saving initiatives across many county departments for the past several years.