That’s the number of packets of legislation an employee in the Akron City Council Clerk’s Office prepares every Friday for meetings the following Monday. Often it’s an all-day task, with each packet containing several pages.
And what happens to all of this paper?
Council members “look at it, vote on it and pitch it,” Councilman Russel Neal Jr. said.
Neal is chairing a technology committee that is studying the idea of council going paperless or at least becoming less paper dependent. This would mirror the step communities nationwide have taken or are considering as a way to decrease paper, copier, ink and labor costs.
Columbus City Council reported a $17,000 savings in 2012, its first paperless year.
Many communities have coupled going paperless with other improvements, such as adding wireless Internet to their city halls and putting agendas, legislation and other documents online.
“Not everyone’s made the transition, but everyone’s looking at it,” said Neal, who was chosen as committee chair because he is one of the more tech-savvy council members.
Several local communities have made the move to paper independence, including Macedonia, North Canton and Tallmadge. Summit County Council members are expected to start using new iPads, purchased last year, during their meetings this month. And a few of Ohio’s biggest cities, among them Columbus and Dayton, have taken major steps to become paperless.
A survey by the magazine American City & County and the Public Technology Institute, released in November 2011, found that 78 percent of respondents planned to spend the same amount or more on information technology in the coming year as they did the year before.
Susan Cave, executive director of the Ohio Municipal League, said she is hearing more and more about cities looking into new technology to get away from stacks and stacks of wasted paper.
“For some places, it’s probably going to be a savings,” she said. “For others, it wouldn’t make much difference. A lot has to do with volume and frequency.”
When Troy Miller first became a Columbus councilman five years ago, he couldn’t believe the amount of copies council members received each week.
Legislative aides would deliver each of them a thick binder of legislation. If amendments were made to any pieces, council members would receive updated copies.
“I said, ‘This is just ridiculous,’ ” said Miller, who is a database consultant.
He proposed an initiative, called eCouncil, that was aimed at bringing council up to more modern standards while also making it more efficient and accessible. This involved several steps phased in over time: adding wireless Internet to Columbus City Hall, buying iPads for council members and their aides, updating the legislative software for a mobile application and improving council’s website to make it easier for the public to view legislation and accompanying documents.
Council paid for the iPads and software upgrade, a one-time expense of about $20,000, while the city covered the cost of the wireless, which was already in its plans. Miller said council nearly recouped its investment in the first year with about $17,000 in paper, toner, printer and labor costs.
While Dayton hasn’t gone quite as high-tech as Columbus, the city has taken steps to decrease its paper reliance.
The five members of Dayton’s city commission — it serves the same function as a city council — bring laptops to their weekly meetings. Commission staff prepare an agenda for each meeting that includes background material for each item. Commission members can click on an agenda item, and it brings up the legislation, along with any accompanying information, such as a bid tabulation or map. This agenda with the additional information is on the commission’s website, where the public can view it, said Kery Gray, executive assistant to the commission.
Gray isn’t sure how much the commission has saved but thinks the figure is “impressive.” He said the legislative packets would sometimes be as many as 400 pages long. Now, he said, the staff only makes any copies that are required.
His advice to cities considering going paper free is to “develop a plan with logical chunks and get started down the road. It’s a journey. You do not go from A to Z, but you can go from A to G and then H to Z.”
Miller said cities must explore whether their legislative software has a mobile application and, if it doesn’t, look into new software. He said communities also need buy-in from their elected officials.
“I had to demo with council members to explain why I suggest we go this route,” he said. “At first, there was resistance. They like paper to circle and highlight. I showed them the functions on the iPad. After two weeks, council members were saying it was great. They didn’t have to drag their packets with them.”
One of Macedonia’s six council members has refused to go paperless.
While the other council members use iPads to receive communications electronically, Councilman Michael Miller is sticking with paper.
Miller said he didn’t want to accept the iPad that was provided to council members in mid-December because “it’s one more device I’d have to keep track of.” He already has several things provided by the city, including a cellphone and accessories, “and having one more thing I’m in charge of that taxpayers paid for didn’t interest me.”
Prior to the iPads, Macedonia council members received a printed packet at home, delivered by a city police officer. The iPads cost $829 each, including accessories like a keyboard and a case.
Summit County spent $6,700 for 14 iPads for council members and staff.
“We are trying to reduce our paper consumption and our printer expenses and trying to get up with the times,” said Mark Potter, council’s chief of staff.
Potter pegged council’s annual paper expense at about $3,000. Council is waiting to get the iPads in and programmed, with a target of debuting them this month.
North Canton went paperless about a year ago at the suggestion of Council President Jon Snyder. This helped save on paper and ink, as well as labor costs, with council going from 2 to 1½ employees in the clerk’s office.
City officials estimate the savings for paper alone will be $6,000 in the next two years, which would pay for the 11 laptops that were purchased to make the paperless move possible. The legislation and agenda are available to the public on the city’s website, and the agenda is projected onto a large screen during meetings.
Tallmadge City Council made the paper-free move six months ago, when the seven council members were provided with $200 basic laptops.
Mayor Dave Kline said the first meeting of the year featured 54 ordinances averaging three pages each, on top of a seven-page agenda. By having council and staff access the information on laptops, that meeting alone saved more than 2,500 pieces of paper. The only printing is perhaps 10 copies of the agenda for the public on an average council night.
Ward 2 Councilman Gene Stalnaker, 82, didn’t even have a computer at home when he got his council laptop. Lloyd Alger, the city’s information technology director, sat with him during the first council meeting to show him how to call up the agenda and click on links to the legislation.
Stalnaker said he still needs help, and Alger is present at every council meeting, but he’s a big fan of going green.
“The waste of paper was tremendous. There would be reams and reams of paper, and maybe we’d look at it one time, read it, pass the ordinance and then throw the paper away,” Stalnaker said. “This is much more efficient.”
Since receiving his council laptop, Stalnaker said his children bought him an iPad. He uses it almost every day.
Akron has been talking about going paperless for years, but Councilman Garry Moneypenny made the step a priority when he recently took over as council president.
Moneypenny formed a technology committee, tasking its members with studying paper-free options, while also looking into other potential upgrades, such as adding screens to the chambers to display information during meetings. Council spent about $5,000 last year on paper and has a $2,000 yearly maintenance contract for its copier.
Neal, the technology committee chair, has been researching what steps other cities have taken. He’ll share what he’s learned during council’s annual retreat in mid-February. He’s hoping Richard Schmahl, Akron’s new chief information officer, will be able to discuss what makes sense for council, considering the city’s other technology plans.
Schmahl said there’s talk about making City Hall wireless, but other network upgrades would be needed before this could happen. He helped lead the way for the Akron Police Department to put its incident reports online, a step he says has saved substantial time and money, and thinks it makes sense for City Council to follow a similar route.
“I don’t think anything’s off the plate,” he said. “It’s just a question of how much money, how much time and how good do you want it to be.”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or email@example.com. Staff writers Kathy Antoniotti and Marilyn Miller also contributed to this report.