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North Carolina Town Commission Swaps Paper for iPads

BY Nick Judd | Thursday, June 30 2011

The town commission of Cornelius, N.C., has gone completely paperless: each commissioner now has a town-owned iPad, with meeting agendas, maps and worksheets served up through proprietary software.

The Herald Weekly of Huntersville, N.C. reports that the town commissioners brought the iPads out in a public meeting for the first time on June 20. Town manager Anthony Roberts says that the move was made as a cost savings — but by figuring out an etiquette for iPads in public meetings at all, Cornelius has solved a problem that is bedeviling towns across the U.S.

"It's a no-brainer," town manager Anthony Roberts told me by phone Thursday. He reiterated to me much of what he had already told the Herald's Frank DeLoache:

The town printed 19 agendas, averaging 210 pages each, for every meeting. That was one for every department head, members of the town board and at least four copies for media regularly attending the meetings. The town also had to pay for copying equipment.

Combined with the cost of the time spent printing and putting together these packets, Roberts figures he's made the cost-effective decision.

"We probably paid for one or two of those iPads the very first meeting," he told me Thursday.

The town uses software called NovusAgenda for managing agendas and agenda items. Town commissioners are asked to move any emails pertaining to public business into a special folder that is backed up on the town's server, Roberts tells me, adding that all of those emails relating to public business are made available to the public — and local media — after 60 days.

Across the country, from Massachusetts to Texas, towns are trying to figure out how to go digital and comply with the law at the same time. Questions abound about what becomes public record and what should — or shouldn't — be subjected to public records requests, or, in some cases, if iPads are even allowed.

Not so, it seems, for Cornelius, where Roberts — who is, by his own admission, "technically unsavvy" — says the town may expand its use of iPads to replace other computers, spending less than the cost of a new laptop when a laptop isn't necessary.

(With Andrew Seo)

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