By Kevin Kelley
Add Fairview Park City Council member to airline pilot and physician on the list of occupations now using tablet computers instead of paper documents.
Earlier this month, the city purchased eight Apple iPads and wireless keyboards at a cost of $5,800 in an effort to reduce costs and increase efficiency.
“I think it’s going to be great in the long run,” council President Mike Kilbane told West Life. Members utilized online maps to better visualize various city locations when discussing them during a recent committee meeting, he reported.
Money for the technology purchase came from the city’s general fund. But the investment is expected to save money over time.
“I think it will save ink, paper and, most importantly, time,” Ward 4 Councilman John Hinkel said. Hinkel, who works on information technology matters in his job as a business analyst at KeyBank, said the investment will likely pay for itself in one to two years.
Councilwoman at Large Peggy Cleary, who currently serves as president of the Northeast Ohio City Council Association, said a handful of councils
in the region have purchased tablets to reduce the use of paper. Cities don’t provide council members with office space, so many have set up home offices, she noted. A few years on the legislative body can generate several cabinets full of council-related documents, added Cleary, who suggested Fairview Park City Council make an effort to reduce its paper use.
Both Kilbane and Cleary credited Council Clerk Liz Westbrooks with successfully implementing the iPad program.
Through the Ohio Municipal Clerks Association website, Westbrooks queried colleagues whose councils are using tablets.
“The feedback was pretty much positive,” she said.
She heard of a few cases in which council members resisted the new technology. But that is not the case in Fairview Park.
“Everybody was on board because of the massive amounts of paper they get (every other week) in their binders,” the council clerk said.
While most proposed legislation is only a page or two, a few include corresponding documents, such as union contracts, that are dozens of pages long. Now, instead of printing all those pages out seven times for each member, ordinances and related documents will be uploaded to Dropbox, a free Web-based file hosting service. During council meetings, members will access the documents on their iPads.
Westbrooks, who describes herself as a longtime “techie,” acknowledges no office can be completely paperless. But the implementation of the iPads will greatly reduce the amount of paper used by the council office, she said.
Since becoming clerk in November, Westbrooks has reduced the number of printed copies of ordinances supplied to the sparsely attended council meetings. She regularly includes a scannable QR code on the meeting agenda that will quickly send a person to the city Web page, from which the corresponding legislation can be downloaded.
The tablets will make it possible for heads of council committees to file their committee reports electronically, Westbrooks said.
Council is also working with the city’s building department on setting up a system by which members can file property maintenance complaints electronically and track follow-ups online. Currently, such complaints are filled out and submitted in triplicate, Westbrooks said. New software recently purchased by the building department will assist in this process, she said.
While researching the tablet issue, Westbrooks asked her fellow clerks if any legislative bodies had written policies on members’ use of the devices. The response she received, and the advice she has given to Fairview Park council members, is to use their best judgment when using the iPads, which will remain property of the city.
“Use common sense, basically,” Westbrooks said.
Westbrooks noted that while she worked in the publications office of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, several legislators, including the former speaker of the House, were convicted of using government-purchased voter databases for partisan purposes in an election.
Inappropriate use of public technology, Westbrooks said, “is very much at the front of my mind because I saw it happen.”
Although Fairview Park City Council has not established a written policy on the use of the newly purchased iPads, Hinkel said his will be used only for council work.
“This breaks my son’s heart,” the Ward 4 councilman joked as he set up accounts on his iPad. “It’s not a toy for him.”