Pasco weighs iPads for council, staff

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldMarch 10, 2014 

Pasco council members agree it's time to embrace technology when handling city business and do away with thick, paper agenda packets.

Nine months after plans were scrapped, Mayor Matt Watkins asked his fellow five councilmen present Monday if there was a consensus about buying new 16GB iPads to electronically review weekly documents and produce city emails.

All of the councilmen indicated they would vote yes -- though some "reluctantly" or "qualified" -- at a regular meeting next week. Councilwoman Rebecca Francik was absent Monday.

"I think we're probably going to go that way if I say yes or no, but I think that the paper is probably still good as any," said Councilman Al Yenney, adding that he's not enthused about using the device but has learned how to operate one through his job.

He later joked, "What's a used iPad going for if we find out it doesn't work?"

The city would buy seven iPads for council members and nine to be used by staff, including the clerk. Each device would be equipped with a keyboard, cover, carrying case, screen protector, stylus and agenda software that would automatically deliver the packet to the iPad once it's connected to a wireless internet source.

Staff recommends that all 16 iPads be cellular equipped at a cost of $576 each, but only council members will have a 10GB shared data plan. Then, if in the future the city wants to provide subscription services to the staff devices, they wouldn't need to purchase new iPads. Staff currently has Wi-Fi access at City Hall.

Under that option, the total first-year cost is about $25,724 -- $20,168 for startup and $5,556 annually. That comes with $117 a month for the data plan, a one-month startup of $135 for the staff devices which then would be suspended, and fees for mobile device management and the agenda software maintenance. The $9,000 software fee could change.

The council last considered upgrading to an all-electronic format in June, but then it was at a cost of $848 per member for each iPad and that was for Wi-Fi only.

Deputy City Manager Stan Strebel said then the cost of paper, printing and delivery of the packets was basically similar, but thought the issue should be revisited considering the change in prices.

Once the council gives the go-ahead, the city would buy the devices and phase them in over a few weeks with paper packets as a backup.

The iPad would come with an eight-point policy for each user, reminding them that they should have no expectation of privacy because it is a city device, that it is not to be used by anyone else, they should limit personal use, they may be asked to turn it over at any time so documents and notes can be downloaded per public records requests and not to destroy any records until given approval.

However, staff pointed out that the portable device has less risk of viral issues, and it allows council members to keep their home computer separate from city business. Even though some packets can be quite large, the 16GB iPad should be able to hold up to five years worth of packets, staff said.

Yenney said his "major, major concern" is that people won't be paying attention during meetings because they'll be preoccupied with their iPads.

"I realize technology changes ... but I think people still have a tendency of looking at their electronic device instead of what's happening in council chambers," he said.

Watkins agreed that people have "a tendency to be nose down" in their devices. He said the council should put forth their best effort and noted that the iPad should be more manageable in searching a packet.

"I think we are ready and we should go to it," Watkins said.

Councilman Saul Martinez said he sees the benefit in eliminating all of the paperwork and keeping personal and council business separate, but also said he wouldn't be "terribly upset" if the council didn't go for the iPads.

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer

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