Next on the agenda
Iowa is not known as a hotbed for tech-savvy trailblazers, but the booming town of North Liberty is harnessing technology to forge a paperless future. The town’s population, just 5,000 a decade ago, has grown to more than 13,000 residents, according to the 2010 Census. And like any growing town, North Liberty’s City Council, planning board and other municipal commissions were using reams of paper to distribute agendas, financial documents, permit applications, poster-sized blueprints and other information for public meetings.
“With the boom, we’ve spent the last couple years planning for the next 10,” says City Administrator Ryan Heiar. That meant not only building a more adequate meeting space, but streamlining the process of prepping for each council meeting. The paper-based process required city staff to print nearly 1,000 pages of paper, sort and bound packets, and hand-deliver them to councilors twice each month.
In August, after months of research, talking to nearby municipalities and counties, and number crunching, the city moved thousands of formerly printed pages onto iPad 2s. The devices were selected instead of laptops or e-readers because of their usability, flexibility, mobility and cost. North Liberty purchased 18 iPad 2s and apps, enough for the mayor, each city council member, some staff members and a few to share among other boards that meet with various frequency. Heiar believes the devices will pay for themselves in about a year, saving the city about $10,000 annually just for the twice-a-month council meetings.
Instead of driving printed packets to individual councilors, the packets are now delivered digitally via a service called Dropbox. Once city staff upload the packets, councilors download them to their iPads and can access the information whenever, wherever. During meetings, city officials have ready access to their documents and notes.
Elected officials and city staff have grown fond of the devices. Councilors, most of whom are middle-aged, have embraced the new touch-screen technology. “It’s taken some getting used to,” says Mayor Tom Salm. “But after just a couple weeks, I feel like a pro. It’s great to use a technology that not only helps us go green, but also is on the cutting edge. I think my grandkids are jealous.”
Project: Tablet computers for city administrators
Jurisdiction: North Liberty, Iowa
Agency: Mayor, City Council
Vendor: Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple
Date: August 2011