Iowa City to buy iPads for city councilors, following state trend

BY KRISTEN EAST | APRIL 05, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Iowa City City Council will soon be paperless, and several local and state officials say the sustainability initiative is a trend among Iowa cities statewide.

Iowa City city councilors unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday adopting a new policy for distributing electronic packets for their meetings. The city will provide councilors with an Apple iPad to access weekly council packets, and view city emails and correspondence. The city will reimburse councilors for roughly $600 worth of purchasing expenses.

One official from the Iowa League of Cities said cities statewide have been moving in the same direction for a number of years now.

"A paperless council meeting has been the goal for lots of cities for a very long time," said Heather Roberts, the league's director of information services. "Prior to the invention of the iPad, [cities] were trying to use laptops for that. The iPad just kind of takes all the extra bulk out of that scenario. It allows for the city to pretty much provide a viewable, interactive packet in less time than a paper packet takes to go together."

Roberts — who wrote about North Liberty's sustainability efforts — said many city officials prefer not to have paper copies.

"The city is required to archive information, but individuals are not," Roberts said. "They don't need a paper copy to live in prosperity. [With the iPad] the council member has access to these things over a longer space of time and in a smaller physical space."

City Clerk Marian Karr said more than $8,000 was spent during the 2011 calendar year printing council packets. In-house copies for fiscal 2011 cost roughly $970 to print.

Councilors may choose to use hard and electronic copies until the resolution is effective June 1, Karr said. Council packets will continue to be printed during this transition phase.

Councilor Susan Mims said it's easier for her to access documents electronically anyway.

"The packets are frequently 80 pages or a couple hundred," she said. "I think to go electronic is definitely a better way rather than having to print all of that when a bulk of it probably ends up in the trash or recycled not too long after the meeting."

Several surrounding cities have implemented similar sustainability efforts — some requiring entire city staffs to go completely paperless.

Tracey Mulcahey, North Liberty's assistant city administrator, said the staff there is ahead of all other localities in terms of sustainability.

"Every now and then with planning and zoning … we may print out a copy, but we do not print packets," she said. "We are completely paperless."

Council packets were costing the city roughly $9,000 to print each year — the same the city later spent on iPads. North Liberty started requiring all councilors, boards, and commissions to access city documents through city iPads as of Aug. 1, 2011. The move, Mulcahey said, has saved the city time, paper, and money.

Coralville and Cedar Rapids officials may use laptops and iPads for accessing city documents, but paper copies aren't completely eliminated.

And a majority of Johnson County supervisors have changed to electronic access of government documents.

"We've encouraged supervisors and staff to consider using iPads," Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said. "Over the long run, we figured that an investment like this could very well save us thousands of dollars in paper and printing."

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