Ham Lake council packets going digital

The Ham Lake City Council from now on will be getting all of its packets electronically.

The city of Ham Lake purchased five iPad notebook computers for the mayor and four councilmembers to use when looking at council packets at home or at city hall. The city now only produces a paper copy of the packet. Photo by Mandy Moran Froemming

The city of Ham Lake purchased five iPad notebook computers for the mayor and four councilmembers to use when looking at council packets at home or at city hall. The city now only produces a paper copy of the packet. Photo by Mandy Moran Froemming

Up until now, the city delivered a three-ring binder full of paper to the mayor’s and councilmembers’ homes every two weeks. The packets include council and planning commission minutes, records of payments the city made in the past two weeks and numerous staff memos and supporting documents for consent agenda and regular agenda items. When there was a quarterly financial report or the review of the budget, the packet became even thicker.

From now on, the council will get the entire packet e-mailed to it. The city purchased five iPads for the mayor and the four councilmembers.

“I’m in favor of it,” said Councilmember Tom Johnson. “It sounds like we can make the process of disseminating information to councilmembers more efficient.”

Councilmember Julie Braastad said she brought up this idea during 2012 budget development work sessions last year, knowing that other cities have been doing this.

Andover, Blaine, Coon Rapids, East Bethel and Ramsey are a few of the local communities that produce electronic packets, although some councilmembers in those cities continue to use paper packets.

The cost of producing a paper packet is the main reason cities have gone electronic. The issue is not only the cost of paper and printer ink, but the staff time to print out all the packets and organize the pages in three-ring binders.

Braastad said there will be other benefits for the council and the public by having the agenda packets available electronically. The packets could be downloaded on the city’s website so residents could easily see the supporting documentation their elected officials read before making decisions rather than just reading the agenda subject headlines.

“It’s being more transparent with the public on what we’re looking at rather than seeing the one line on the agenda,” Braastad said.

City Administrator Doris Nivala said the goal is for the electronic packets to be available for the April 2 council meeting, although it may take some time for staff to figure out how to best index the packet.

Nivala said one paper copy of the packet will be available for the public to view at city hall. City staff will still have to scan the paper copy because not every document is produced in a way that can be sent electronically with the whole packet.

Councilmember Gary Kirkeide said he has boxes full of documents in his house and garage from his 15 years on the council and five to six years before that on the planning and zoning commission. He keeps documents concerning issues that he thinks may come up again and he has kept all council minutes.

Having all future documents available on a computer only will be new to him, but he will give it a try, according to Kirkeide.

“I’m not a real techie person, but I know people with iPads who really love them,” Kirkeide said. “You can get a lot of information stuffed into them, and that can be so helpful if you use them right.”

Braastad said there will be a learning curve, but she said it will be nice to have the documents indexed so it is easier to pull up the information she is looking for. She also heard they will be able to write notes on the electronic documents, although she is not sure how that will work yet.

Nivala said the city has spent about $2,800 in the past five years to produce 15 packets for the council, public and city staff for each meeting. It is difficult to estimate how much staff time is spent copying and collating the packets because it is done intermittently as agenda items are completed, she said.

According to Nivala, the cost of purchasing the five iPads with covers was $2,700. The city also purchased two $175 two-year warranty/maintenance packages so the devices can be replaced if they get broken or stop working. The city also will be purchasing a full version of Adobe Acrobat, which Nivala said will cost $250 to $300. Nivala is getting cost estimates to have wireless Internet access available at city hall.

Eric Hagen is at eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com


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