About those iPads

There were two stories last week in the Daily Press about the Hampton City Council and its efforts to reduce the cost of public meetings.


The first story, “Hampton City Council may ditch the costly paper agendas,” sets us up, telling us that it costs an average of $1,500 to print agendas for council meetings, with a meeting in early May costing $4,145.


Yow! That’s a lot of money. Save some money and stop killing trees. Get rid of those pesky printed agendas!


The second story delivers our hero: “Hampton Council members to try out iPads.”


Yes! Save us, oh tech fad of the year!


Truth be told, I’m an Apple geek. I started using Macs in 1989 and have been regularly amassing iThis and iThat ever since.


But, as an access advocate, the iPad-as-substitute-for-paper-agenda? Well, that makes me a little nervous.


I get the cost-savings. I really do. At a cost of between $650-$700 per member for a 7-member council, that’s $4,900 for the year, not $18,000 as projected in a report accompanying the council administration’s proposal.


As the self-professed Apple geek mentioned above, I also get the reasons the administrator listed for why the iPads would be so great: long-lasting batteries, two-finger on-screen zoom-in, and easy access to relevant material.


And, as Hampton council clerk Katherine Glass patiently explained to me, they haven’t been printing entire agenda packets for meeting attendees for ages. The complete agenda materials are posted online at the same time Glass sends them to council members. She says it doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while someone will come in to the office to ask for a paper copy of the materials and Glass will print it up for them. At the meeting, though, only the agenda -- the schedule of items to be discussed -- is printed up and made available at the meeting.


Still, there’s something about moving all meeting materials onto electronic devices. Maybe it’s knowing that while looking at their iPad agendas, they could be using any number of apps that allow users to make -- and share -- annotations. They could be e-mailing, editing, exchanging documents all the while, all out of the public’s eye or knowledge.


Elected officials have been using computers at meetings for years now. This shouldn’t be any different. Maybe I’m paranoid. I hope I’m paranoid.


But please, Hampton City Council (and all others to follow). Be careful.


Oh, and tell me if you think I should get an iPad, too.

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