Wauwatosa hopes iPads will cut its government paper trail and costs

Oct. 24, 2012

The city of Wauwatosa has purchased Apple iPads for aldermen to use while they serve, in the hope on cutting down on the amount of paper the city uses in the course of conducting meetings.

Common Council members had a training session in the use of iPads last week.

"Eventually, it should be a great help," said City Clerk Carla Ledesma. "We should be getting away from having to create the paper packets each week, and we'll be able to do it more electronically and saving some staff time."

To help offset the dependence on printed pieces, the city purchased the year-old iPad 2 model, at $390 each, Ledesma said, and they will continue to be owned by the city and passed on to elected officials as they come and go.

Ledesma said the city is still providing paper packets right now and, at the same time, implementing the online-based system, but eventually city meetings will be, in large part, paperless.

Right now, "it's double work," Ledesma said, "but down the road it should be helpful."

How much paper and labor?

For almost every meeting, an agenda, minutes from a previous meeting or two, and back-up materials are produced and copied for each of the 16 aldermen, the mayor, appropriate departments heads and others.

The hefty city budget, issued by the comptroller's office, alone which weighs in at almost 250 pages. Printing one for each alderman amounts to nearly 4,000 pieces of paper, plus staff time to make the copies, and ink, toner and wear and tear on a machine.

The city budget may or may not still be printed, but over the course of a year, thousands of pages are printed, used at a meeting or two, and most of it is thrown into recycling.

The stacks of paper council members receive "can range anywhere from five-page to 100-or-more-page packets, and they have to get one for every committee every week, so that's five for every council member from every committee," noted City Attorney Alan Kesner.

Electronic benefits

City Finance Director John Ruggini said that, including the purchase and a hosting fee tied to iPad use, the city projects a payback time of about four years, counting the 17 hours a week clerks spend in agenda creation and printing, but not including the savings in paper.

The city was also able to purchase a black and white printer, as opposed to a more expensive color version, which would be used for maps, for example, Ruggini said.

Virtually all city documents are already online on the city's website, www.wauwatosa.net, and in any given committee meeting, at least few council members and members of the public already bring laptop computers or iPads with them, and employees of the city clerk's office use iPads or other devices to take minutes.

But the new system will provide a streamlined method of producing agendas and minutes, will allow note-taking on the iPad screen, and will sync a videotaped meeting to the published agenda, so a viewer can find and watch the item that interests him or her, Kesner said.

"You'll be able to click on an agenda item on the website and it will go to that part of the video," he said.

The system will also provide a search function, so that, for example, a user could enter a key word, such as, for example, "Meijer," and find all meeting references to the Meijer project. Under the current system, you can only search one document at a time.

Also, the devices will provide city email, and allow research.

But they will remain centrally controlled by the city, so users will have "not as much ability to go off and use them for personal employment," Kesner said.

The iPads will be fully functional in a wireless environment, but won't have a cell-based service.

Official support

"I love this," Alderwoman Cheryl Berdan said. "I think we need to reduce the paper."

Berdan said she typically studies the packet online in advance, and picks up the city-provided packet at the meeting.

"So now it's nice because I'll be able to bring it along, and have the information on the iPad right there at the meetings and be able to pull up anything I want. I really do appreciate that, and I think they can save themselves some money. That was a lot of work, putting together all those packets."

Alderman Joel Tilleson agreed.

"This is a (benefit) to everyone," Tilleson said, adding that "they're easy to use."

He especially liked the fact that the software that the city has implemented makes it possible for aldermen to quickly reference pertinent information on the spot.

"As a constituent is talking to you about somewhere or something, you can literally just touch on the iPad … and it will (bring up) an aerial map of the area," Tilleson said. "So if someone's referencing, 'Well I've got this problem on so-and-so street,' you can use your iPad and zoom in on an aerial map and you can say, 'I know exactly what you're talking about, I know what street that is,' or whatever."

Other cities are moving in the same direction.

The city of Milwaukee moved to digital agenda packets and provided council members with laptops years ago, and is now replacing its 7-year-old laptops with iPads, which cost half the price of a new laptop, according to Milwaukee City Clerk's office.


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