By DAMIAN MANN
Apple iPads are becoming commonplace at Medford City Hall as councilors and other staff members increasingly give up their stacks of paper in exchange for technology that helps them manage local government.
“It’s changed my whole world,” Councilor Dick Gordon said. “Everything’s at my fingertips.”
The city has distributed 35 iPads to the nine members of the City Council as well as to the Planning Commission, the Site Plan and Architectural Commission and some staff members.
Fire Department personnel have them, and the Police Department is looking into ordering some.
The city has calculated the 11 iPads for the council, the city manager and the assistant to the city manager save about $2,800 annually in paper and photocopy charges and result in $813 in reduced staff time to prepare the documents.
Over a two-year period, which is roughly the life span of an iPad depending on use, the savings would total about $7,200. The iPads cost from $500 to $600 each, or $5,500 to $6,600. As the city buys new iPads, older devices will be distributed to key city employees.
Before receiving their iPads, the councilors didn’t have a dedicated email address through the city.
“This way we all have an email address,” Gordon said. “Constituents can email directly, and I can email back.”
Gordon was one of the first councilors to get an iPad in 2010 and has become a power user. He’s on his second iPad after wearing out the first one.
Instead of stacks of documents at his house, Gordon can get access to every city file through his iPad with chapters clearly bookmarked.
He also is chairman of the Medford Urban Renewal Agency and conducts public business in Salem related to the city, including with the League of Oregon Cities and an advisory committee of the state Department of Land Conservation and Development.
“I’m probably a power user because I’m involved in a lot of stuff,” he said. “And, I always respond to my constituents.”
Gordon said he helped push members of both the Planning Commission and the Site Plan and Architectural Commission to get iPads because of the voluminous paperwork they pore over related to development and land-use issues. The two commissions are in the process of receiving training on how to operate them.
Before he went digital, city staff had to deliver important or timely documents to his house. Now, everything can be emailed or accessed through the city’s server, Gordon said.
Another problem for councilors was the Freedom of Information Act. When they conducted city business on their own computers, the entire computer, including personal financial information, could theoretically become part of the public record, Gordon said.
Councilors and commission members are instructed to use the iPads only for city business. Downloading applications is a blocked feature on the devices.
Councilor Bob Strosser, who said he has had his share of computers over the years, wasn’t sold on the idea of getting iPads for the council.
“They serve a useful purpose cutting down the labor-intensive process of preparing the agenda documentation,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s almost easier to have the paper documents rather than looking at it on the screen.”
He agreed it’s beneficial having a device that is strictly for government use rather than relying on a personal computer.
As to the cost savings to the city, Strosser said he’s not sure that’s much of a factor.
“Overall, when you consider everything, it’s probably a wash,” he said.
Strosser said he was initially resistant to getting the devices for budgetary reasons but thinks that as city staff members are asked to do more with no additional hiring, the iPads do help.
Adam Mueller, systems administrator at City Hall, said most of the city’s iPads are being used by staff, particularly in the planning department, which has 13 on order to bring its total to 21.
He said the devices make sense for the Planning Department, which handles a significant amount of documentation.
The iPads purchased by the city are Wi-Fi-only and have the minimal amount of internal memory. They cost about $500 each, though cases and keyboards can add to the cost, Mueller said.
Glenda Wilson, assistant to the city manager, said councilors and commission members are citizen volunteers, and they now have a device that provides a clear separation between their public and private business.
“No personal stuff is done on the iPads at all,” she said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.