iAgenda – Thoughts from Methuen’s Councilor # 5

GRAYTONBy: Dan Grayton – September, 2014

30,000. That number is a conservative estimate of how many sheets of paper the Methuen City Council will use this year alone. A vast majority of those sheets are used in the making of the “packets” that councilors, including myself, receive in preparation of each council meeting. This is a large quantity but not necessarily a surprising one considering the length and number of documents the council must review on a regular basis.

However, it is worth asking – is there a more efficient and cost effective way of disseminating this information? One possible improvement was introduced during the August meeting by Councilor Sean Fountain. Councilor Fountain suggested that the council look into purchasing iPads, following the example of Methuen High School, whose students now have most if not all of their textbooks on the tablets. While the idea of using iPads for council business may seem cutting edge, the truth is Methuen is playing catch up.

A USA Today article from back in 2010 entitled “iPads saving cities paper costs” profiled several councils across the country who had switched from paper documents to electronic. A quick Google search on the topic shows a clear trend away from bulky and inefficient paper “packets” printed out before every meeting. Replacing these packets with iPads or other electronic devices is proving to save time, money and a lot of paper.

The idea is appealing on several levels. First, as someone who is an advocate for efficiency and keeping spending down, I cannot neglect to look at the very department I am a part of. Second, the time has never been better.
With Corporate IT, now the cities’ technology services provider, the city has a IT professional in city hall. This professional is available during business hours to assist with trouble shooting and other day-to-day IT issues. Purchasing the technology can sometimes be the easy part, while using it effectively proves to be the actual challenge. However, having a technologically savvy specialist on-site shrinks the learning curve and minimizes potential growing pains.

Finally, as Methuen continues to encourage residents to take advantage of single stream recycling, which saves the city money, the concept of simply using less cannot be overstated. By adopting an iPad policy, the City Council can move toward leading by example. Utilizing modern resources such as iPads can result in long term savings both by investing in technology and by creating less waste.

iPads aren’t just for High School students anymore. They are utilized by businesses and more and more cities and towns on a regular basis. There will be a learning curve and I am not advocating that the Council switch to iPads and instantly scrap the copy machine- the need for some paper documents still exists. What I am advocating, however, is for us as a Council to look into the feasibility of making such a transition. The September 2nd Council meeting saw Councillors Ciulla, Fountain, Jajuga and myself receive electronic copies of some of the agenda items.

Clearly there is a desire to explore more efficient ways of getting information among the Council and hopefully this is just a first step in adopting a larger measure of change.

Daniel Grayton is currently serving as a Councilor at-Large in the City of Methuen. He can be reached at DanielGrayton@gmail.com