September 27, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 39

Assembly goes to electronic meeting packets

Meeting packets are a thing of the past for the Haines Borough Assembly.

Instead of reams of paper, assembly members now each get an iPad, a slimmed-down, tablet computer with a touch-screen keyboard.

Borough officials say iPads will not only save the Haines Borough heaps of paper and ink; they’ll also reduce staff time and wear and tear on the copy machine.

The devices debuted at the Sept. 11 assembly meeting. Before that, 11 meeting packets were made twice monthly. Each packet was 60 to 320 pages.

At one cent a page for paper and seven cents for copying both sides, the paper and ink alone cost between $46.20 and $246.40 per meeting.

Though borough clerk Cozzi will still compile the “e-packets,” she will now only have to print two hard copies – one for the library and one for the borough’s permanent record.

The change means “untold pieces of paper no longer will be hauled off to Haines Friends of Recycling,” she said.

It also means assembly members will be able to access any section of the borough code or comprehensive plan quickly and easily. Other documents that are now in large notebooks, along with the budget, will all eventually be added to the iPads, Cozzi said.

“We’ll be able to immediately get the answer we need,” said assembly member Steve Vick. He demonstrated that at the Sept. 11 meeting when there was confusion about who qualified to bypass the boat harbor’s waiting list for a slip.

“I found the answer in 20 seconds,” he said.

The iAnnotate app, which has been loaded on each of the eight iPads for the assembly, Mayor and manager, will allow them to – among other things – write notes, underline and highlight.

The addition of the iPads, which cost approximately $700 each, will also mean changes for residents wanting to access borough information.

As soon as a few more pieces of “hardware” arrive, a computer will be set up in the borough office for public use.

“It will be a limited-use computer that is configured to be restricted to the property data online, the borough’s website, the borough code and probably the State of Alaska website,” Cozzi said.

The plan is for that computer to also allow users to make credit card payments for their property taxes or water-sewer bills through the borough’s website.

“Right now, we have no ability to take credit cards if someone walks in and wants to do that,” she said.

Vick sees no disadvantages to the assembly’s move into the electronic age, but he knows there is the potential for glitches.

If someone forgets to download information or forgets to charge their iPad before a meeting, that could be a problem, he said.

The borough will also need to upgrade the electrical system in the assembly room.

“Right now we are using extension cords and power strips,” he said.

Mayor Stephanie Scott, who described herself as being behind the learning curve when it comes to iPads, was so concerned about her inexperience that she went home and printed the entire packet before the Sept. 11 meeting.

“I put those 200 pages on the floor beside me and went through the entire packet on my iPad and didn’t even touch the paper once,” she said.

“Then I went to the meeting and found that chairing a meeting and attending to my iPad was beyond me. I need to be attending to people and what they are saying, rather than attending to my iPad.

“I felt like a failure, but all the other assembly members felt comfortable.”

Scott said she felt better when someone told her that presiding over a meeting and working an iPad may not work. “It’s kind of like a ‘stay tuned’ thing for me.”