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Should Salem Govern with iPads? [POLL]

Council subcommittee starts to discuss, question the benefits of using iPads to cut costs and increase efficiencies; vendor does not show up.

The irony of the situation was not lost on the eight city councilors who showed up Wednesday night to learn more about iPads and how they might help them govern the city more efficiently.

The council's committee on finance and administration had scheduled a hearing at 6:30 p.m. on “Governing with iPads” and asked a Boston representative of a company that supplies the technology to meet with it to answer questions.

But after she promised to attend the hearing, the technology salesperson did not show. And Ward 4 Councilor Jerry Ryan, who called her cell phone several times, couldn't get in touch with her.

The councilors waited on her for about 20 minutes. Then Ward 1 Councilor Robert McCarthy announced the meeting would be one of “the shortest we've had.”

But not so fast. The councilors wanted to discuss the issue of using iPads anyway. Or at least they wanted to raise questions.

The idea of governing with iPads came from a Web-based seminar on how local governments are using the Apple technology to cut down on the costs of printing all the documents like those clerk Cheryl LaPointe prints every week for the 11 councilors. Ryan introduced a measure to consider having the city purchase the iPads.

“It is a great idea. We should pursue it,” said Ward 7 Councilor Joe O'Keefe, Sr., the oldest and longest serving member of the council.

Ward 2 Councilor Michael Sosnowski agreed. “This is a good direction to go.”

Ward 5 Councilor Josh Turiel, who already owns an iPad, said it might be as simple as adding an app to their existing iPads. Of course, not every councilor, like Turiel and Ward 3 Councilor Todd Siegel, owns an iPad.

Councilor-at-Large Tom Furey proudly announced he does not even own a computer, nor have an email address.

Councilor-at-Large Kevin Carr said he wanted someone to tell the council how much the iPads would cost, what the benefits would be and what the return on the investment would be.

Ryan said the city could buy the iPads for each council member, and the council members would declare the gift of the iPad on their tax returns.

As far as Salem's future in the technology, McCarthy, who thanked his colleagues for raising the questions, said the use of the iPads in council meetings would be presented to city solicitor Elizabeth Rennard to make sure it conforms with legalities the city is bound to.

In the interim, the councilors, who adjourned after another 30 minutes of discussion, would like to hear from companies that sell iPads and the supporting software.

Some other communities already using iPads

Several towns and cities in Massachusetts already use the iPad technology to increase efficiencies and reduce printing costs.

Ipswich bought iPads for each for its five Selectmen and a sixth for the town manager two years ago. It has expanded the use of iPads to city departments like the building inspector and other boards and commissions. The town now owns more than one dozen.

The iPads the town bought cost $574 each when purchased, and software that makes the iPads easy to navigate cost $299. The price of the machines and software can vary depending on the model.

What do you think about adding the technology?

Take our poll and let us know what you think in the comments.

Jared Robinson February 23, 2012 at 03:38 PM
"Councilor-at-Large Tom Furey proudly announced he does not even own a computer, nor have an email address." This is not something to be proud of in 2012...
Jared Robinson February 23, 2012 at 03:41 PM
Also, considering the amount of communication I do with the councilors on email, it always surprises me to constantly be leaving Furey out of the communications simply because of this fact. I've heard he's very good at returning phone calls, but when I'm writing to the city and the state and trying to get EVERYONE'S input, it makes it impossible to include Councilor Furey.
KlassySalem February 23, 2012 at 04:15 PM
I like this concept, but mostly for what it could offer the citizen. If you've ever seen the packets that city councilors are flipping through during meetings, they're long, with lots of backup info. Once those records are electronic, there is no reason they shouldn't be published on the city website. In fact, the governing with iPad vendor has a "Government Transparancy Suite" designed to enable exactly that. Sounds like good, open government to me.
Jared Robinson February 23, 2012 at 04:21 PM
not to mention the ability to do real-time searching and electronic bookmarking and page location. Though there's going to need to be a solid push to make our Councilors trained in the arts of technology. In the past year, I've certainly seen a heavy disconnect between some of the councilors and technology.
Diane Wolf February 23, 2012 at 04:23 PM
I agree, Klassy. It would be nice to attend these meetings and at least have some access to the data that the Council is referencing. Also, I think it would save a lot of time in the 'group-flipping' and free up Cheryl LaPointe to do other, less menial tasks.
Chris February 23, 2012 at 07:03 PM
They need to separate the digitizing of the information and the Councilors getting ipads, all the information should already be on the City website for anyone to view or download, regardless of tablet choice. Along these lines, my hope is that the school district implements a School Information System that provides parents and students real-time access to grades, assignments, assessments, notes from teachers, etc. If the school committee really wanted more parent involvement, they'd make all this information easily accessible. Google infinite campus, it even has an iOS app.
Josh Turiel February 23, 2012 at 09:49 PM
I'll chime in here in non-officialness (I'm really just speaking for myself, not the city, obviously). I think "governing with iPads" is just the tip of the iceberg. It would be great for the city to be able to share transcripts, documents, and recordings more easily with people that are interested in the goings-on of city government. I think the iPad is a great tool in that - and I use mine to look things up all the time as I work, not to mention I keep a copy of the city budget, maps, and other documents on it. I own an IT company doing mainly Apple work in my day job, which is why I was an early adopter. There are a few companies that are pushing into this "e-government" space. Hopefully one of them has a system that is a good fit for Salem, and we can wind up saving money overall and sharing more information with people. There's of course a lot of things that are on the "to-do" list for the city to make the city better, and this is just one of them, but it has the potential to be a good one. And one thing I'll say somewhat officially - there are quite a few Councillors who are comfortable with technology nowadays, and pretty much all the rest are willing to get there as well at this point. I'll really enjoy helping people out who need it - after all, it's what I do all day!
gene February 24, 2012 at 01:39 PM
Councillors should be made to pay it themselves or have the cost deducted from their expense account. Each Councillor recieves $2000 a year in expenses. The taxpayers can't afford to be paying for a Councillor's web surfing. As for Furey, how is he still on the Council? He is pathetic!
KlassySalem February 24, 2012 at 05:54 PM
The councilors haven't had expense accounts in several years. That $2,000 expense figure went away at least as long ago as when the pay of city councilors was tied to the mayor's pay. I'm sure that if they move to this sort of document sharing, that the iPad purchased, for those who don't already own their own, will be city property, and will be turned in at the end of their service, just as their council handbook is. The vendor claims that cities actually save money by not printing all of that backup material for every meeting, with estimates of 2-10k per year. Additionally, the copying expense is the number one reason that all of that backup info isn't available to the public. Making it all electronic removes that excuse.
Don Nadeau February 24, 2012 at 10:36 PM
Technology properly used is great. As long as they go out to bid for at least three bids and don't only consider Apple brands and only Pads or tablets. Please be a little more comprehensive. They would be property of the City, of course.
john February 24, 2012 at 11:10 PM
The company rep did not show? Sounds a little strange. We are often reminded of the historcal significance of our council chamber and the way the council has been doing the city's business for many years. I don't see where the council is being overwhelmed with paperwork. In fact I find it funny at every meeting when they get to the mayors informationl page,there is nothing submitted. They are use to what they are doing and should continue that way till taxes GO DOWN.
Feral Ginger February 25, 2012 at 12:12 AM
This is so beside the point, but I can't help but wonder why iPads, specifically? Does the rest of the city run Mac also?
john February 25, 2012 at 12:20 AM
I think the schools do so they would probably get a discount. Maybe we should give them web cams and they can all stay home and have web meetings.
gene February 25, 2012 at 12:25 AM
I stand corrected the council has not had an expense account for the last 2 years. However, they still should be paying for this out of their own pocket. What is to say they wouldn't be using these devices for personal use. Get rid of the paper and make them get their own tablets. an d if you can't handle the technology - get out of office beacuse in 2012 that means you aren't doing your job!
pk February 25, 2012 at 04:59 PM
There is nothing you can do on a Mac that you can't do on a PC for way less money. The Mac cultists will now start ranting, but they are demonstrably wrong. I use both PC's and Macs at work. I bought a Dell laptop for home use for $600. A Mac with the same specs is $1100.
KlassySalem February 25, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Doc management.
Jared Robinson February 25, 2012 at 06:32 PM
right, but think of the iPad as a laptop in this case. You can get an iPad1 16GB for under $300. It's no different to me than the city buying laptops or desktops for their employees. I think people look at the iPad as a toy or luxury still, but they're a lot more powerful and easy to use than a laptop (mac or PC) We're a WIndows 7 household, but I do have an iPad.

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