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November 24, 2011
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Aspen government makes leap from paper to iPad

ASPEN - Aspen city government is poised to join the paperless world.

City Council members and various city administrators will soon be issued iPads, allowing them to read digital versions of the voluminous material that is currently produced in paper form for every council meeting. In other city departments, iPads will accompany inspectors out into the field, where reports will be filed electronically, plans can be reviewed on the screen and photos taken with the mobile, tablet computers.

The joint Aspen/Pitkin County Information Technology (IT) Department took delivery of 37 iPads last week, three of which are destined for county government. The rest will be distributed to various city employees, as well as the council.

The total cost was $25,750 for the devices and covers, according to John Sobieralski in IT.

"It's a big trend in Colorado government, in fact, government everywhere," he said.

Snowmass Village recently made the switch, issuing iPads and eliminating its biweekly paper Town Council packets.

In the city of Aspen, packets of council material, with information printed on both sides of each piece of paper, can be two inches thick.

The city typically goes through 140 or so reams of paper (500 pages per ream) annually just for the council's regular meetings, according to City Clerk Kathryn Koch. That doesn't include material for council work sessions or the packets assembled for the city's other boards and commissions.

Aside from paper, the iPads will save the labor involved in producing multiple copies of paper council packets, which are then scanned so the material can be posted in PDF form on the city/county website. The associated cost savings have yet to be estimated, according to Rebecca Hodgson, assistant to the city manager.

"This way, you do everything electronically, push a button and upload it to the web," said Koch, who claims she cried tears of joy during a demonstration of the software. The city is still reviewing options, but will choose a system that allows council members to not only view their packets, but make notes on the PDFs and highlight the material, much as they do now with the paper packets, Hodgson said. They will also access their city email accounts with the iPads.

While most of the IT department's clients use Windows-based PCs, a session to bring key personnel up to speed on Apple's Mac operating system (the iPad is an Apple product), is planned next week, according to Jim Considine, IT director. His department has already been familiarizing itself with an iPad.

"We saw the writing on the wall and got our own department iPad, and started experimenting with what we could do with it," he said.

The city Building Department has also been using an iPad. The contractor working on the Aspen Valley Hospital expansion project provided a special app to the city that allows inspectors to call up the plans for the construction project.

Of the 34 new iPads slated for city use, 10 will go to administration, including council members, managers, Koch and the city attorney's office, 10 are headed for Community Development and nine will go to the city engineer's office, which is talking about creation of a custom-made app for the functions of that department, Considine said. The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority, Finance Department and Water Department will each get one, while the Parking Department will have two.

On the Pitkin County side, two will be employed by the assessor's office and one will go to the county manager's office. Issuing iPads to county commissioners was discussed, but not all commissioners are comfortable making the leap from paper, according to Phylis Mattice, assistant county manager, who often uses her own iPad on the job, as do various other county administrators.

"I think people need to realize what they can do with it before they're comfortable with it," Mattice said.

Commissioner Rob Ittner brings his own iPad to meetings, while Commissioner Michael Owsley brings his laptop.

The assessor's office decided to try the iPad after Assessor Tom Isaac used one to conduct business while he was hospitalized in Denver earlier this year, according to Mattice.

janet@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Nov 25, 2011 07:23AM Published Nov 24, 2011 07:21PM Copyright 2011 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.