published Monday, October 21st, 2013

Hamilton County goes all in on iPads — almost

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    The Apple iPad is examined after its unveiling at the Moscone Center in San Francisco in this file photo.

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    Commissioner Fred Skillern talks during a Hamilton County Commission meeting.
    Photo by Angela Lewis.
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Will iPads help improve government transparency?

Starting this week, Hamilton County commissioners will step into the 21st century -- at least most of them.

On Wednesday, commissioners won't be given large bundles of weekly reports, minutes and agendas before the meeting as they customarily have. Instead, they'll have slim, sleek iPads.

Mayor Jim Coppinger said last week the effort has been a long process, but it will ultimately lead to more transparency and better exchange of information between his office and the commission.

Most of the commissioners are going in with both feet -- but not their leader.

Commission Chairman Fred Skillern will still be using paper.

"All I know about it is I'm not involved in it. I'm not going to be using an iPad. I'm computer illiterate, and I don't have enough time left in my life to learn it," Skillern said.

Commissioner Larry Henry said he's going to get his feet wet, technologically speaking. But he likes having physical documents too much to dive straight into the paperless pond.

"Personally, I think it will be great for the commission. Of course, I have still requested that all my packets get printed out. I guess you can't break an old dog and learn new tricks," Henry said.

But Skillern and Henry both said having electronic documents will be a boon for the commission as a whole.

The rest of the commission is all in.

Commissioner Greg Beck says electronic documents will save the county time and money, and they will help him do his job.

"I think it's going to save a considerable amount of money in the long run. They will tell you in the open market we are getting a discount on paper. But this is going to be a spark that will be a grand savings for the taxpayers," Beck said. "We need to move into the 21st century. I need to be able to carry this thing around and pull up any resolution I need."

Currently, residents who go to commission meetings can readily get only copies of the current agenda and included resolutions, but with the electronic system, all supporting documents and reports will be immediately available for public consumption.

"This is going to be a bonanza of transparency for the constituents in the districts," Beck said.

Commissioner Joe Graham, who owns a printing business, says he knows the cost of printing. He'll need training to use the iPad, but he's up for it.

"I'm open-minded to it, and I hope it works out well, because it would save not only in paper but man-hours," Graham said. "I'm going to have to be trained on it. ... But I'm optimistic and going into it open-minded."

Before the iPad program, the county printed about 30 to 40 copies of each resolution for agenda packets every week, according to Hamilton County spokesman Mike Dunne. The average amount the county pays for a case of paper is $34.99.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon or at 423-757-6481.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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