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Frederick County supervisors set to go paperless

Board approves purchase of 13 iPads

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Officials and elected leaders in Frederick County plan to go "paperless" by joining other Virginia localities in the iPad craze.

The Board of Supervisors on Wednesday approved a measure to spend $10,688 to buy 13 Apple iPad 2 devices as recommended by County Administrator John R. Riley Jr. and the finance committee. Each iPad would come equipped with "wi-fi" and 3G capabilities to access the Internet.

Not all supervisors supported the move. Gainesboro Supervisor Ross Spicer voted against the spending measure.

The iPads will allow board members to receive the meeting agendas in a digital format and eliminate the need to print paper copies of the documents, according to Riley. Some meeting agendas can take up more than 200 pages when printed, and often include ink-heavy maps and color photographs.

Going paperless will save the county an average $2,400 per year in paper and copying charges, as well as the time it takes staff to assemble and deliver the agendas, Riley has stated in his request for the supplemental appropriation to the current fiscal 2012 budget.

But the county also must pay for data plans in order for officials to use the 3G capabilities. Riley says staff believe the budget includes enough money to cover the data plans, estimated to cost approximately $477 per month. The information technology director has inquired with the service provider about whether the county could qualify for a group or discounted data plan based on the number of users.

The money buys an iPad for each supervisor as well as officials such as Riley, Assistant County Administrator Kris Tierney, County Attorney Roderick "Rod" Williams and Deputy Clerk Jay Tibbs.

"All the board members who are not on the finance committee understand what is about to happen to them?" Chairman Richard C. Shickle asked before they voted, which prompted laughter.

"Mr. Chairman, welcome to the 21st century," said Back Creek Supervisor Gary Lofton, who uses a personal laptop to view digital versions of agenda documents.
Red Bud Supervisor Christopher Collins asked the board put on the record the savings they expect to see by spending the money.

"It doesn't include the IT director's phone calls from members saying, 'How do I open this file again?'" Collins quipped.

Both iPads and smartphones remain subject to the same rules as any other electronic records under the Freedom of Information Act, according to Megan Rhyne of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. All records generated by the devices -- email, chats, photos or documents -- when used to transact public business, remain subject to disclosure under FOIA, Rhyne said by email Thursday. If iPads are used to chat during a meeting, even as other vocal discussions take place, the text of those chats are public records, she said.

"The problem with these devices is that the app developers don't necessarily have public records, archiving or retrieval in mind when they design them," Rhyne stated. "The more traditional apps -- word processing, email, chats -- do, but there are also plenty of apps that have a message-exchange function where the chat may evaporate the second the app is closed or iPad turned off."

Retrieval of such records can prove problematic, though newer applications may help the devices send information wirelessly to printers, Rhyne added.

"There is an understandable appeal in using iPads for government business," Rhyne stated. "But as with the adoption of any new technology, it is important to understand the impact they will have on public records, public meetings and the public's right to know. It is in the county's best interest to establish some guidelines on how/when iPads are used, and then also to develop a strategy for archiving the records the officials generate on their iPads."

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