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.
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.