Norwalk iPads defended by councilman who has, so far, said, ‘No’

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Councilman Rich Bonenfant (R-At Large).

NORWALK, Conn. – The amount of money being spent to buy iPads for Norwalk councilmen in miniscule in comparison with the city budget, one councilman said after an online debate erupted over the cost/savings benefit of supplying city tablets for the full Council.

That total is $1,130 so far, Finance Director Thomas Hamilton said.

“The City IT Department is currently piloting a program with three members of the Common Council: Councilmen (David) Watts, (Travis) Simms, and (Jerry) Petrini,” Hamilton wrote in an email.

“Councilmen Watts and Simms have been issued City-owned iPads and Councilman Petrini indicated that he already owns an iPad, so he is participating in the pilot program with his own device. The cost of the two iPads that were purchased by the City was $485/each, plus $80 for an external keyboard and case. These devices were paid for out of the City IT Department’s capital appropriation for computer equipment. The devices remain the property of the City of Norwalk, and must be returned to the City if the individuals are no longer members of the Common Council. The City devices operate just in a Wi-Fi mode; the City has not equipped these devices with cellular service, so there are presently no monthly data charges that are being incurred for these units.”
The iPad experiment was announced at last Tuesday’s council meeting by Watts, who touted the savings in paper that could be achieved by getting the council packets by PDF, instead of having the thick stacks of paper delivered to council members’ houses.

Councilman David Watts (D-District A) shows off the Norwalk iPad given to him last week.
Councilman David Watts (D-District A) shows off the Norwalk iPad given to him last week.

It’s a lot of paper.

City Clerk Donna King said she had, in response to a request, come up with an average of 12,744 copies per month over the last nine months.

“Probably a good chunk of that is council packets,” she said. “More specific than that I can’t be. It would be impossible.”

Sometimes the agenda looks small, but the backup materials are heavy, she said.
Packets have been delivered by hand “forever,” she said.

“I was on the council in the late ’70’s into the ’80’s. I served for seven years and the packets were then and always have been delivered by a courier, who is an employee of the city,” she said.

Council members Rich Bonenfant and Glenn Iannacone said they would not be taking iPads at this point. Iannacone said paper is easier to deal with. Bonenfant said the politics of the situation are not good, that Councilman David McCarthy had told them “absolutely not.”

Watts also expressed concerns about the Freedom of Information Act and the possibility of having a personal computer subpoenaed because city business had been conducted on it.
Lawyers for the Al Madany Islamic Center wanted Zoning Commissioner Emily Wilson to surrender her laptop for three days, Bonenfant said.

“I understand, it’s nice to keep things separated,” he said. “You don’t want to be turning in all your personal stuff. What they did to Emily Wilson, it really was an eye-opener. Somebody wanted all the correspondence related to the mosque. She said, ‘You’re not getting my computer. I’m going to sit next to you and let you read all the ones. I’ll point out what is related to the mosque and I’ll sit next to you.’”

He estimated the total cost of buying iPads to be about $7,000 to $8,000. The reaction of some NancyOnNorwalk commenters was surprising, he said.

“It’s like an eyelash, when the city of Norwalk just in October wrote off $50 million for the Maritime (Aquarium). No one said anything. They want to bust our chops for $7,000 to $8,000,” he said.

Bonenfant said that, when he was a councilman under then-Mayor Frank Esposito, he was given a laptop. No one cared if it was used for personal use, he said.

There used to be $5,000 in an account for Common Council expenses, he said.

“It was never used so they never put it in there. Now they have it down to the bare bones. Not a lot of slack,” he said.
“The purpose of the pilot program is to determine if Council members believe that using iPads to receive agenda packages and official email communication is facilitated or improved by having these devices,” Hamilton wrote. “The IT Department is looking for feedback from the three Council members who are participating in the pilot program to determine the usefulness of providing iPads to Council members and/or to offer members of the Council the opportunity to have software installed on their own devices to transact official City business. After this evaluation period is over, then a determination will be made if this program will be expanded to other members of the Council and/or to the entire Council. Only the two iPads which are being piloted have been purchased to date.”

Councilman John Kydes (D-District C) said he won’t take a city iPad.

“I will continue to use my personal devices for city business,” he wrote in an email. “As chairman of the Mayor’s Energy & Environment Task Force, I will be advocating for double-sided printing be standard operating procedure for the city of Norwalk. I do believe that the mayor, Council members and city employees want to see paper usage reduced and this may be the kick start for making that happen.
He continued, “The city’s  IT department has offered to help me with downloading an application onto my personal Ipad, smart phone and home computer, that will give me access to my Council email.”


22 responses to “Norwalk iPads defended by councilman who has, so far, said, ‘No’”

  1. anonymous

    Kydes gets it. Everyone already owns their own form of digital device, have IT department already on payroll, no extra costs, accommodate CC members access through their own devices. Double-sided paper, use CC mailboxes in City Hall, eliminate delivery, print only for those who want.

  2. Yankee Clipper

    I think they are on to something … if your own personal device could be subpoenaed …. probably best to keep your personal and City stuff separate. Maybe the iPads are a better idea than initially appeared!

  3. John Hamlin

    Considering that the Council is essentially unpaid I wouldn’t begrudge them an iPad and some IT support. I mean, really. Figure out who wants an iPad and move on to what matters.

  4. the donut hole

    a 1000 here, a 1000 there. On a 330 million budget (including capital) it is Pennies right? Who saves pennies anymore? Who discusses things like useful life of an asset, repairs and maintenance, etc…? If it feels good spend it. If it sounds good, throw the money after it and hope for the best. Everyone manages their household finances like this after all.

  5. Don’t Panic

    So, if the courier is a city employee, will he or she be unemployed after the council goes digital? If not, savings are in the paper and ink, not the delivery.

  6. Dave McCarthy

    I saw this too, and since my name gets mentioned…saving paper is great, and I am all for not printing out simple agendas. However, having tried for several years, it is impossible to avoid printing anything that is more complex than the simplest of documents. If someone wants to not print anything, that is great, but their comprehension will diminish rapidly.

    If they can keep up without printing, that is great, and they can choose to do so. However, to go on for months and harangue the mayor for an ipad at city expense is extremely telling. When one takes this into consideration along with the 85% absentee rate at committee meetings between 2011-2013, it is just not funny.

    I understand Rich B doesn’t want to say anything negative about anyone, and that is one of his best qualities. I happen to have a particular sensitivity to people looking to make a buck, even one, on the backs of the taxpayer. I don’t think the comparison to the aquarium is particularly apt. People made that decision with their eyes wide open. No one in Norwalk got to consider whether or not to do this, nor is there any plan in place to change the information flow or structure to make this feasible.

  7. Jlightfield

    Would it be so hard for council members to perhaps work on providing text searchable PDF packets accessible to the public whilst they bicker about how they will address in addition to their comments on each item and ultimately a cummatice record of their attendance and votes?

  8. the donut hole

    JL brings up a great point about searchable PDF packets. Let’s add on a PDF writer license for each and every single department that needs to submit documents. Don’t forget industrial grade scanners for oversized blue print readers and drawings and software to digitize those. By the time we’re done with this we can easily get the cost up over a few $100k, not including repairs and maintenance and on going capital to replace equipment that goes obsolete every few years. All for a council person who isn’t going to read the contents or show up to his meetings anyway.

  9. the donut hole

    I did for a second, but don’t forget the training and additional staff required to run all of this that NASA or AFSME will likely demand of the city. Of course it is the right thing to do longer term for the city, but would we ever get rid of the unnecessary cost? Not likely. More likely the city would have to run with both approaches in parallel. And don’t forget section 508 compliance. All of this has to meet ADA standards as well once you put it in. Will the documents be accessible to would be handicapped council people? Ah, government at its finest.

  10. LWitherspoon

    Thank you Councilmen Kydes and Petrini for saving taxpayers money by using your personal iPads.
    David Watts announced that he owns two iPads, but he won’t tell us why he refuses to follow the good example set by Kydes and Petrini. Even if the taxpayer-financed iPad were free, there is still the matter of all the environmental resources used in producing that iPad, which will be e-waste in a relatively short time.
    The cost of one iPad is small when compared to the entire City budget. However it’s important for elected officials to set an example of frugal behavior with taxpayer dollars. If elected officials don’t, what are the chances that other City employees will?
    Please also keep in mind that there are taxpayers who must forgo expensive luxuries such as iPads. Using money provided by those same taxpayers to buy iPads for David Watts and Travis Simms shows a major lack of consideration.

    1. Mark Chapman


      This is from our story published April 24:

      Watts said he already had two iPads when he accepted the one from the city. Zoning Commissioners were recently informed that they would have to turn over access to their personal emails and their peronal computers because of a subpoena, he said.

      “Maybe I don’t want people going through my personal computer,” he said.

      At the time the pilot program was announced it was stated that the exclusive use of city-owned iPad could prevent those people from having their personal computers subpoenaed, as was the case on the Zoning Commission recently in the lawsuits filed by Al Madany Islamic Center.

  11. Taxpayer Fatigue

    Really? This is the most important issue facing the city of Norwalk? Give the iPads to the couple of younger council members who can figure out how to make work. Most of the rest of them are too old to adapt to new technology – keep sending them their paper if it makes them comfortable. A big thank you to Rich Bonenfant for showing what mature, non-partisan leadership is about!

  12. anonymous

    @Chapman, Email 20 years old, how many subpoenaed computers of CC members over the years, how to guarantee ‘exclusive’ use. Donut hole, point taken, $1,000 here, $1,000 there, like play money.

    1. Mark Chapman


      It is not my intent to argue positions in the comment section, just to set the record straight re: what has been reported or, in some cases, re: facts we are aware of that might not have been in a story but might help to clarify something.

      That said… how to guarantee exclusive use is a question I have as well. I had a dedicated work computer at e very newspaper I’ve worked for since 2002, but have emailed from my personal devices regularly. There are many issues in this proposal that go beyond whatever savings there might be on paper, which is why it is simply a pilot program to see if it is desirable and/or feasible.

  13. jlightfield

    @thedonuthole, the reality is that blueprints these days are not had drawn, they are computer generated. There is no need to scan them, simply accept all applications, maps and plans electronically. PDF licenses, how 1980s. PDFS are generated either automagically, on ahem iPads, but for those who require a desktop equivalent for PCs, there are open source PDF writers out there. I’ve used them in the past, but not currently.

  14. EastNorwalkChick

    @Mark Chapman-The “it is simply a pilot program to see if it is desirable and/or feasible” part is what many of the naysayers are completely missing…..
    Could you please clarify what Mr. McCarthy means by this sentence in the article:
    “Iannacone said paper is easier to deal with. Bonenfant said the politics of the situation are not good, that Councilman David McCarthy had told them “absolutely not.””
    Is it, Mr. McCarthy says “absolutely not” to an iPad for himself, or is it, “absolutely not” for Republican Council members receiving iPads.

    1. @EastNorwalkChick,
      According to Rich Bonenfant, David McCarthy told them not to take iPads because of the political situation. Bonenfant told me he would buy a tablet himself, if it looks like it would be useful.

  15. EastNorwalkChick

    Thanks Nancy, kinda of sad that trial use of iPads becomes political…

  16. LWitherspoon

    @Mark Chapman
    Thank you, but Mr. Watts’s justification still doesn’t make sense, because it assumes that any device used to access City-related e-mails makes the entire contents of that device open to subpoena. So if you used your phone to look at City e-mail via web access, your phone can be subpoenaed too? I believe the situation on zoning arose from the fact that commission members were handling commission business via personal e-mails. With the City creating @norwalkct.org accounts, there will exist a separation and correspondence will be archived on City servers.
    The other question is why Petrini and Kydes have no fear about using their personal iPads, while Watts does.

  17. Joe Espo

    If the council wants to squeeze the city for tablets, there are so many better choices and much more productive tools than the iPad- which is nothing more than a big iPhone toy that’s geared more toward entertainment than office-type productivity. The Samsung Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 has a bigger, sharper screen and comes with the S-Pen stylus that allows direct annotations on documents, expandable Micro-SD storage and multi-tasking ability to run four windows simultaneously (not so on the iPad). Why not the Windows-based Surface Pro 2 tablet that does all that and more and runs Microsoft Office natively? It’s a much more productivity-centric tablet than the iPad. How about grabbing a couple of dozen of the thousands of Chromebooks worth hundreds of thousands of dollars that the BOE is buying for Common Core? (these devices play Flash animations; something the iPad doesn’t do)
    “The Norwalk Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday night to purchase Chromebooks, using nearly $423,000 from the $600,000 carrying over in the budget from the 2012-2013 school year.”

    But some critics have it right: there’s just too little real estate on a tablet to replicate the efficiency of a paper packet.

  18. Peter Parker

    OMG, here you go, the city should move to two sided printing and if the test pilot pans out you get ipads for all the cc. We live in the age of digital communication, why then would you advocate that our cc live in the dark ages.. Next topic.

  19. Steve

    Ugh, as an IT professional living in Norwalk it makes me sad to read this article.

    Do they really print everything still? What is it 1995? Don’t get me wrong printing things is necessary sometimes, but once you get past say 10 pages you would be better off with a laptop and a PDF.

    Conduct business on an iPad… it can be done, but if you actually want to be productive you need a computer. $565 can buy a basic laptop with a decent warranty.

    Whether it is personal device or town supplied device is an argument in its own, which I do not know enough about the councilmen role to form an opinion on.

    If they conduct business on a personal computer they should be using some form of remote desktop so no data actually lives on their personal device. Rather than buy a fleet of ipads, buy a terminal server, RDP cal’s and have IT put an RDP shortcut on the councilmen personal device. Done.

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