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Those City Council iPads

Oak Ridge wasn’t the first city to distribute agendas electronically, but somehow the New York Times got the impression that Cornelius, North Carolina, invented the idea of issuing iPads to City Council members instead of sending out paper agendas. They didn’t invent the idea… Oak Ridge City Council members were issued iPads last year, and City Manager Mark Watson says he used electronic agendas for years in the cities he served earlier.

At any rate, the NY Times article tells the “right story” on why Cornelius expects to save money. A similar story could be told about Oak Ridge: those iPads save a lot of paper and a lot of staff time. Another benefit is less wear and tear on the city’s photocopiers — and fewer emergency calls to technicians when a copier breaks down in the middle of agenda production. One difference between Oak Ridge and Cornelius has to do with the delivery of agendas: Cornelius was using police officers to deliver agenda packages to Council members, but Oak Ridge hasn’t done that sort of thing for some years now. (Before the iPads arrived, Council members had to go to city hall to pick up our paper agenda packages.) The iPad isn’t perfect for reading documents (in particular, it is inconvenient to navigate back and forth between documents, or to move quickly to different pages or sections within a document), but it works fine as a reader — and it is far more portable than those paper agenda packages used to be.

The Times article touches on a question that some Oak Ridgers have asked: Are the iPads playthings for Council members? The answer is “no”, in both Oak Ridge and Cornelius. Our Oak Ridge iPads are set up to download and read documents, read email, access the Internet (over a WiFi connection), and access an calendar. We don’t have access to the iTunes app store, so we can’t install other applications that aren’t related to City business. If you see me fooling with my iPad during a meeting, I’m not playing “Angry Birds.” Chances are good that I’m trying to navigate to a particular page of a city document.

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