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City Council takes first step toward paperless agenda process

August 18, 2010|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

The Hagerstown City Council agreed Tuesday to use Google Docs for receiving agenda packets and to consider investing in technology that would make its entire agenda process paperless.

Scott Nicewarner, director of Technology and Support Services, briefed the council Tuesday on hardware and software options that would reduce paper use.

He provided a list of options ranging from iPads, laptops and jump drives to Google Docs and what he called "soup to nuts" proprietary meeting systems.

"I think if we are going to do this, I really think the bigger savings is in ... a paperless process versus a paperless meeting," he said.

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Nicewarner said 90 percent of the paper used for agenda is generated by staff.

Supporting documents for each agenda item are repeatedly copied for review and signatures before reaching the council, he said.

A paperless system would allow all approvals to be electronic, he said. It also would allow for keyword searching archived documents, for making electronic notes and for auto-distribution of minutes to the city website, he said, features not available through Google Docs.

The city council asked to hear a presentation in September on the paperless systems.

Nicewarner provided council members with a cost/benefit estimate for a paperless system that was generated by a software vendor.

Councilman Martin Brubaker asked city staff to review that estimate. He said he wants to see where the benefits and costs would be reflected in line items of the current budget.

"That is where the proof hits the pudding," he said.

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said previously that the city spends about $35,000 annually in labor and materials to produce the paper agendas.

Nicewarner said proprietary systems have come a long way since he and City Clerk Donna Spickler started researching them five years ago, estimating a system to now cost $15,000 to $35,000 for hardware and software.

Some of the systems are software-as-a-service (SAAS) options, where the software would be hosted by a vendor and the city would pay an annual subscription fee to use it, he said.

"It's a system similar to watching movies online where the movie is housed on a server and you pay to watch it over an Internet connection," he said. "This works like that. The vendor hosts the software and we would access it through the Internet as opposed to us buying the software, hosting it on our servers and providing access through our network."

If the council decides to make the entire agenda process paperless, staff would issue a Request for Proposals because the city has been "inundated" with interested vendors, Nicewarner said.

In the meantime, the council gave the nod to begin using Google Docs through Gmail to distribute council agenda packets.

IT staff will set up a Gmail account for each council member and the mayor as well as a central city account, he said.

Spickler can load the agenda and all supporting documents into Google Docs through the central Gmail account and, using their accounts, the mayor and council members can download the information, he said.

Nicewarner said he hopes to have the council using Google Docs by the first meeting in September.

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