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Farmington city council might go paperless for meetings

It might not be too long before paper copies of the Farmington City Council agenda packets are a thing of the past.

Council members are considering doing away with the traditional paper copies of biweekly council packets and instead opening the documents on a laptop or iPad.

Going paperless isn't a new concept these days. Farmington School Board officials have made the switch, so have several communities around the state. The reason? Because paper and ink cost money, and making all the copies and assembling the packets takes time.

Last spring, the city of Farmington started posting agendas on the city's website so residents could download some or all of the packets. At the same time, the city stopped printing entire copies of the agenda packets for the public.

To date, the only people still getting hard copies of the entire agenda packets are city council members and even a couple of them have started to shy away from the paper copies. Council member Jason Bartholomay got an iPad to use for work and school, but has started to use it for council purposes, as well. Mayor Todd Larson has recently started pulling up the electronic version of the council agenda packet on his laptop during meetings.

"For a month, I had the iPad and the hard copy of the packet," Bartholomay said of his transition. "There was a comfortability of having the paper there if I needed it, but then pretty soon I realized I didn't need it."

Instead of having sheets and sheets of paper, Bartholomay just goes into the electronic document on his iPad, selects the page number he's looking for, and with a push of a button, the information comes up. The size works well for him, too - his iPad screen is almost the same size as a regular sheet of paper.

Occasionally, council members have short meetings with little information included in the packets. Those packets run anywhere from 30 to 50 pages. More often than not, though, packets include 150 or more sheets of paper. Documents like the city's budget or audit reports can be even bigger.

"I want to go paperless for a bunch of reasons," Bartholomay said. "We get copies of agendas from the boards and commissions as well. There's a lot of time in all that, besides the cost of paper and printing."

Larson doesn't have an iPad, but has started using his laptop for the same purposes. He likes using the laptop, but said he might be able to switch over to an iPad if that's what the rest of the council wants to do.

City attorney Joel Jamnik has suggested council members consider not using their own personal equipment but allow the city to purchase and own the equipment they use for city business. There are regulations in place when it comes to public information, and using personal equipment for public use could be a problem.

Council members are leaning toward having city staff purchase and maintain the equipment. In that case, council members would use the city-owned equipment as long as they're in office, then turn it back when they leave.

On Monday, the council gave interim city administrator Kevin Schorzman the nod to explore options between laptops and iPads. They also asked Schorzman to draw up an estimate of how much the city spends on preparing, printing and distributing all of the paper documents now. The goal, Schorzman said, is to figure out whether the conversion would truly be a cost savings.

Larson thinks the conversion would be worth the time and effort.

"It's something we've been talking about it for two years already," he said. "We're just getting serious about it now."

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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