Half of Blaine council goes digital

Half of the Blaine City Council will be using iPads as the city continues its shift from paper to digital.

The decision was left up to individuals and those who chose to hold off on getting an iPad cited discomfort with the technology or that is was more practical for them to have the paper in front of them.

Blaine City Councilmembers Mike Bourke, Dave Clark and Wes Hovland and two Blaine staff members will be receiving new iPads sometime in February. The city has been on a mission to reduce the labor and material costs of putting together council packets since March 2013. Councilmember Kathy Kolb already owns an iPad so the city will not need to purchase one for her. Photo by Eric Hagen

Blaine City Councilmembers Mike Bourke, Dave Clark and Wes Hovland and two Blaine staff members will be receiving new iPads sometime in February. The city has been on a mission to reduce the labor and material costs of putting together council packets since March 2013. Councilmember Kathy Kolb already owns an iPad so the city will not need to purchase one for her. Photo by Eric Hagen

“It’s completely Greek to me,” said Mayor Tom Ryan at the Dec. 5 council workshop. “If everyone wants to try it, I’ll try it.”

Ryan and Councilmembers Russ Herbst and Dick Swanson asked that the city not purchase iPads for them at this time.

The new iPads for Councilmembers Mike Bourke, Dave Clark and Wes Hovland, along with City Engineer Jean Keely and City Clerk Jane Cross will be ordered in February, according to Rebecca Olson, assistant to the city manager.

Councilmember Kathy Kolb already owns an iPad and has found it quite useful. She will not be getting a new one.

“I pull up the agenda on my iPad all the time. It’s really nice and you don’t need paper after awhile once you get used to it,” Kolb said.

Many Anoka County communities such as Andover, Anoka, Blaine, Coon Rapids, East Bethel and Ramsey already have electronic packets.

Ham Lake in the spring of 2012 purchased iPads for all five members of the council.

Ham Lake Finance Director Sharon Kutzke and City Administrator Doris Nivala did not have any cost savings projections when contacted for this story, but said the program has worked well.

Nivala said scanning a paper packet and converting it to a PDF format before forwarding it to all councilmembers and staff is much more efficient than having someone stand in front of a copy machine for an extended period of time.

“It was painful at first and we had upfront costs with the iPads and software for preparing the packets, but it’s been a favorable thing for the city,” Kutzke said.

According to Olson, the upfront costs for Blaine to purchase five iPads, cases, keyboards and an AirPrint wireless printer will be about $4,100. A two-year protection plan is included and free software to download the agendas is available through in the App store.

Newer printers are able to print from iPads, but Olson said Hovland had an older printer that was not compatible so the city will needed to purchase one so he would be able to print off items if he needed to.

Blaine has a better idea of its savings because it has been phasing out its paper packets within the last year.

According to Olson, Blaine staff was printing 18 paper packets for the council, staff and the public.

City Manager Clark Arneson said there would be days when Olson would be at the copy machine a whole day putting the packets together.

Olson said on average it took four-and-a-half hours to print 18 packets. Some of the thicker packets when there were a lot of agenda items or supplemental documents took eight-and-a-half hours to print. The lighter agendas may have only taken a half-hour of her time.

In March 2013, four staff members received iPads to see what type of time and cost savings there would be. Between March and November 2013, the savings were $1,100 in paper, postage, ink, envelopes and binder clips alone. This estimate does not include staff time, but Olson said she went from spending an average of 4.5 hours of printing 18 packets to 3.6 hours of time to print 14.

More Blaine staff received iPads throughout 2013. Arneson said councilmembers could continue to receive paper packets for a little while until they become comfortable with the iPads, but once these four councilmembers go completely electronic, Olson said the city would only be printing six packets, which is a two-thirds reduction over where the city was a year ago.

“It would be an immediate time saver,” Arneson told the council during a Dec. 5 workshop discussion on iPads.

Besides Mayor Ryan and Councilmembers Herbst and Swanson, Olson said the city must print one packet to be available at city hall for public viewing, one packet for the official record book and one packet for the person who records the minutes.

At the Dec. 5 council workshop, Herbst said, “I like the paper. It’s recyclable and it keeps the lumberjacks working.”

Bourke was intrigued that he would be able to use an iPad Stylus pen to make notes in a document. He already has been using his computer more and the paper packets less so he believes the transition will be an easy one for him.

“I like the versatility,” Bourke said. “I don’t think we need that much paper if we can save money. I’m fluent with a computer so I’d just assume I’d do that.”

Swanson likes to review the paper packet when he is at his cabin. The Wi-Fi service is poor, so he was worried about having the ability to view the packet.

Olson said once the packet is sent out by staff, the council can download it on their iPad in a place where there is Wi-Fi.

According to Swanson, he spends a lot of times looking at maps and questioned how well this would work with the iPad.

Clark said Google Maps is a great way to get an overhead view of areas the council is talking about.

Ultimately, Swanson said he is more comfortable going back and forth between his laptop and a paper packet.

“I’m of a generation that is not comfortable using that particular technology,” he said.

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

  • Rachel Kahler

    Why iPads? They’re more expensive and less flexible than other technology. I’m definitely supportive of going digital, but I’m not impressed with the decision to use Apple products over less costly, generally more useful alternatives.

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