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Paperless push has Pitkin County pondering iPads

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart/The Aspen TimesPitkin County commissioners will get an iPad demonstration Tuesday.
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ASPEN – Pitkin County commissioners might join their elected brethren in Aspen and Snowmass Village in moving toward a paper-free existence.

At the very least, commissioners could reduce their reliance on paper copies for the multitude of documents that come their way, according to Commissioner George Newman, who said he’s pushing for a conversion to iPads. Three commissioners – Newman, Rachel Richards and Jack Hatfield – will get a demonstration of the mobile tablet computers Tuesday.

“We figure we’re hitting the heart of the group,” said Phylis Mattice, assistant county manager, noting that the two commissioners who will be out of town have already embraced the concept. Rob Ittner brings his own iPad with him to meetings, and Michael Owsley doesn’t receive paper copies of the material that is distributed to commissioners, preferring to view them on his laptop computer.



The joint Aspen/Pitkin County Information Technology Department received nearly 40 iPads in November, most of which were destined for city government employees and the City Council.

The city typically goes through 93,000 pieces of paper annually just to produce the packets of material that are distributed for council meetings and work sessions, according to City Clerk Kathryn Koch.



Those packet materials are scanned and posted online, where they’re accessible to the public. Council members also can view the documents via their iPads (or any other computer), but they continue to receive the paper versions, as well, Koch said.

“I’m trying not to look at the paper,” Councilman Steve Skadron said.

Rather, he said he’s making an effort to rely exclusively on the iPad to review council documents and take notes. In addition, Skadron said, he has found the iPad handy for research and fact-checking in the midst of council discussions.

Meanwhile, the city recently entered into a $50,000 contract for software and training that will allow it to skip the paper step. Documents for council meetings will be produced in electronic form only, though Koch anticipates making one paper copy of council packets for the public to peruse. The transition to paperless council meetings is not expected before August.

Snowmass Village went paperless quickly last fall, purchasing eight iPads to equip the five council members plus the town manager, clerk and attorney. At the time, the town clerk figured the iPads would pay for themselves in six months, given that the town was spending about $11,000 annually on paper, toner cartridges and labor to produce the paper packets of council materials.

“I think it’s time we move into the 21st century, as well,” the county’s Newman said. “The scope of our packets are somewhat overwhelming. I think if we can cut our paper in half, it would be worth it.”

The county is spending roughly $9,000 a year to produce the paper packets of memos and other materials that go to commissioners and others for meetings each week, according to Mattice. The packets average almost 200 pages each, she said.

Mattice is among the county staffers who have purchased their own iPads and are using them at work. Some departments have been issued government iPads already; the Assessor’s Office has embraced the technology in a big way, Mattice said, filing appraisal forms and taking photos in the field with the device.

In Snowmass Village, where one paper copy of council packets is made available for the public, Town Council members now show up at meetings with their iPads in hand as a matter of course. They don’t get paper.

“I have not heard one complaint from a council member,” said Barb Peckler, administrative assistant.

“I do have a few council members who were very reticent,” said Snowmass Mayor Bill Boineau, a computer technician who uses his own iPad. “They took to it pretty quickly.”

Town Council members who were used to jotting notes on paper now use a stylus that allows them to do the same thing on electronic documents.

“It just takes some getting used to,” Boineau said.

Snowmass Village Councilman Fred Kucker said he was probably the most hesitant to make the switch, preferring paper over reading documents on a computer screen.

“I’m old, and I’m technologically incompetent with most things,” he said. “For the first two or three meetings, I was the only one showing up with paper. I was kind of embarrassed, so I came kicking and screaming into the 21st century.”

Kucker said he still prints out certain documents, but by and large, he has adapted to use of the iPad.

Richards said she intends to participate in the iPad demonstration with an open mind, though she’s not sure she’s ready to give up on paper entirely.

“You know, I’m a little old school,” she said. “I am concerned about how I will function with a single small screen.”

On the other hand, Richards said she’s contemplated getting an iPad herself to make access to email and other online functions easier when she’s on the road.

“It’s a changing world,” Richards said.

janet@aspentimes.com


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