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Communities vary on expanding tech usage

3/7/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

GREATER AKRON — While some elected officials in larger local governments are moving to use more technology, most of the Akron area’s smaller communities aren’t seeing a need to put iPads in their budgets just yet.

Summit County Council began using iPads during their meeting this week, while Bath Township trustees started using them in February. Akron City Council is also looking to go “paperless” and more fully utilize an existing document management system.

Copley Township may soon be added to the list of communities moving toward the use of more technology. According to network administrator Dave Sattler, trustees were expected during their meeting this week to take a look at the Microsoft Surface Pro, a tablet that would enable them to access all township information.

“We did purchase one we are testing currently,” Sattler said. “That’s the next step for us.”

He added that the trustees have been comfortable using technology, with two of the three already using their own tablets and all using emails to communicate with township staff and constituents.

Sattler said the Microsoft tablet is more expensive than an iPad at around $900, but it works with the applications already being used in the township.

In other communities, city and village council members and township trustees are at varying levels of comfort using electronic devices, although email and websites are up and running in most cases.

“I have some that don’t get into it a whole lot; electronic communications are not their thing,” said Norton City Council Clerk Karla Richards. “Then there are some that are really into it.

“We do not have the funds for iPads or tablets at this point,” she added. “I don’t think we’re going to go down that road.”

Richards said the city reduced its paper use a few years ago when she started emailing Council agendas to the press and Council members. She added that when she does make copies, she uses both sides of paper to save costs there.

Fairlawn City Council members are not currently considering the use of electronic devices during meetings, according to Clerk Tonya Caldwell.

“They all use email but one,” she said. “That’s about it. We still have hard copy packets.”

She added that the amount of paper used to conduct Council business is manageable and not excessive.

In Summit County’s second-largest city, Cuyahoga Falls, the idea of using more technology tends to come up each time new Council members are elected, according to John Konich, director of information technology for the city.

“We’ve talked about that in the past, but I think what the issue has been is budget,” Konich said. “It’s a pretty expensive process. And everyone on City Council is at a different learning curve and place in their technical ability. But mostly it’s been the cost.”

Konich said there are Council members who use their own laptops or iPads to conduct city business. In addition, Council members use email regularly to receive their weekly agendas and attachments, he said.

The city at this time prefers to put its efforts toward making more technology available for residents, such as through e-bill paying on the city’s website, Konich said.

In Richfield Township, Administrator Linda Bowmer said she has noted that other communities have been adopting the use of iPads to conduct meetings.

“It has not been discussed here, but as trustees start reading about it, that might come onto their radar,” Bowmer said.

One of the trustees already uses a personal iPad during meetings, but Bowmer said meetings take place just steps away from the township’s computers should anyone need to retrieve something, and the township does not use an excess of paper.

In neighboring Richfield Village, interim Council Clerk Melinda Swan said the idea of using more electronic devices has been brought up.

“The concept arose in one work session discussion, though the cost of providing such at this time may be prohibitive,” Swan said. “So, the idea is interesting, but I am unaware of any plans to move forward. Presently, Council has work stations in the municipal building for their use.”

She added she has observed several Council members using tablets and smart phones at work sessions. Council members also use email to communicate with each other and constituents, she said.

Boston Township Fiscal Officer Joanne Noragon said trustees there use email to communicate with each other and residents, but no one is bringing a tablet to meetings yet. There’s been no discussion on moving toward using tablets to replace paper legislation, she added.

There’s also no money in the budget to provide them to trustees, she said.

“They would have to be donated iPads,” Noragon said.

Peninsula Village Fiscal Officer John Stiegel said Council members there have their own electronic devices, but none issued by the village. There has not been any discussion about using tablets to conduct village business, but there has been an interest in putting meeting agendas and attachments online to avoid copying, he said.

In Granger Township, Fiscal Officer Barbara Beach said she doesn’t see trustees moving toward using electronic devices in meetings anytime soon.

She noted that all three trustees use computers and email, but she doesn’t know what purpose an iPad would serve during a meeting.

Beach added that she owns an iPad and uses a laptop at meetings to take minutes.

“We get more and more emails from constituents,” she said. “We have a website and the township has an email address and they do utilize that.”

Even though Granger is likely some time away from moving toward adopting the use of more electronic technology, Beach noted that it’s inevitable that smaller governments will move in that direction in the future. 

“It’s just one of those things that is coming,” she said.

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