Norwalk move into digital age gets mixed reaction

Norwalk Common Council 042214 160
Norwalk Councilman David Watts (D-District A) shows off his city iPad Tuesday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk council members are joining the 21st century three years after their counterparts in New Haven, said Councilman David Watts (D-District A), who referred to an animated version of the Stone Age in response to a “partisan” attack on the topic from fellow Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E).

Watts and Minority Leader Travis Simms (D-District B) on Tuesday received the first iPads to be issued to council members, Watts said. A third one is available, with a goal of getting iPads to every council member by the end of the year, he said.

This coincides with the establishment of official city email addresses for council members, in response to Freedom of Information Act and privacy concerns stemming from the lawsuit filed by the Al Madany Islamic Center against the Zoning Commission, Watts said.

Using iPads will save the city money on paper, he said.

“There’s no real reason to print these huge documents,” he said at Tuesday’s council meeting. “I think it will save the city a lot of money that we move to email communications and pdfs instead of printing out paper. I think it’s definitively a step in the right direction, if we can conscious decision to reduce the amount of paper that City Hall puts out.”

The city delivers council packets by hand, he said.

“We’re using horse and buggy technology when we have these packets hand delivered,” he said. “There’s no reason in having someone spend the money on having someone drive the packets to our house. Harry Rilling, I got to give him credit. This is definitely green technology that he gets, on the environment.”

The celebratory mood was squashed by a midnight email from McCarthy to NoN.

“If someone needs an iPad, they should buy it,” McCarthy wrote. “I find it the height of arrogance that someone would make a grand show of turning down the stipend and then demanding an iPad from the mayor and council funds from the BET (Board of Estimate and Taxation) for personal use. Take the 50 bucks and do with it what you will. Or get a job.”

What about saving paper?

“I’ve tried very diligently to use an iPad to minimize printing,” McCarthy wrote. “Matt Miklave and I both requested to not be sent paper copies last session. Given that you need to refer back and forth if you actually want to understand and participate, it proved futile to do so except for the simplest of meetings.”

We sent the comment to Watts for his response.

“Nobody knew that he felt this way,” Watts said, promising a reply.

On Wednesday, he said he thought better of it, sayiing that his first response wasn’t “Christian.”

Last winter was terrible, he said. Council packets are left on the porch or the step, and if it’s raining or snowing it turns into a “soggy noodle,” he said.

“Here it is 2014 and we are just catching up with what other cities are doing,” Watts said. “There’s no legitimate reason where we have to have a courier deliver packets by hand. Dave McCarthy is a just partisan guy. Last year I was at the same place he was. … But a lot of Republicans came out and voted for me and the numbers prove it. I won in a landslide. It’s told me that everything is not Democrat or Republican.”

There’ no partisan rancor on the council this year, he said.

“It’s too boring for Dave McCarthy. Maybe it’s too quiet; he wants to throw a grenade because people are getting along,” he said. “… He is like the one guy who shows up to the party and messes it up for everybody. Everybody decides they want to go home. He needs to get out of the ‘Captain Caveman’ mentality and join the 21st century. We need to lose the paper and move to electronic documents and only print when we have to. …  This is a policy change. He is turning policy into something politics and he’s turning it into something personal.”

Majority Leader Jerry Petrini (R-District D) said he didn’t know who would get the third iPad reportedly up for grabs.

“I was approached by the IT department a few weeks ago with the offer of getting an iPad and I turned it down because I have one of my own,” Petrini wrote in an email. “I didn’t see the need to carry two of them. I did, however, agree to get a new city email address that I could use for all of the city’s business that I do instead of using my own. I am still waiting for it.”

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.

But, he said, the new email address comes with its own lack of privacy. The city can check his email at any time, he said.

The email format for council members is the same as other city employees: first initial, last name, @norwalkct.org.

Emails sent to 11 council members Wednesday night resulted in bouncebacks from every address except [email protected] and [email protected].

Meanwhile, the Norwalk Housing Authority is also planning a switch to iPads.

“A number of agencies are going to iPads,” Executive Director Curtis Law said to the board of commissioners. “… It is proving to be much more cost effective.”

He promised to take it slow, which resulted in hearty laughter.

“We’re going to look into this, maybe have a prototype. I was hoping that one commissioner would volunteer. Then we thought we would do, once we had everyone comfortable, that we would always have a book here on the table. A reference book. When you think about the time that we spend Xeroxing these books and everything and the time that we have to turn around delivering all of this, we have found some of the boards are moving toward iPads.”

The wave of the future also included the threat of using Skype. One commissioner said that would give everyone the opportunity to dress in a business fashion from the waist up, like television commentators do.

Law said the agency might try to get a grant to pay for the iPads.

“We will have training,” Law said. “Therapy if needed.”


36 responses to “Norwalk move into digital age gets mixed reaction”

  1. anonymous

    @Chapman who paid for these Ipads? Did Norwalk stop delivering paper copies? Why hand-delivered, is there no mail cubby in City Hall for common council members?

    @McCarthy agree with you and I usually don’t. To those council members who took one, buy your own!

  2. JC

    Not a fan of either David (how’s that for bipartisan) but I think FOI does come into play here. Anything Watts does or downloads on his city issued iPad is up for grabs. With McCarthy using his own personal iPad, he’s got more protection.

    Imagine how different the tone of the article would be if terms like “caveman,” “height of arrogance,” and “partisan” were left out of the exchanges between the Davids. How about a simple, “I’ve been using my personal iPad for a year – it’s been great.” Or, “I didn’t realize Dave was using an iPad. Good to know that if I have any questions about navigating council documents I can ask him.”

  3. John Hamlin

    What I find unfortunate is that all the venom and energy is spent on hurling insults and arguing over things like iPads when there are serious issues to be discussed and serious problems to be addressed. Figure out if you want an iPad or not and get on with it.

  4. Casey Smith

    “Norwalk council members are joining the 21st century three years after their counterparts in New Haven, said Councilman David Watts (D-District A) (D-District A), who referred to an animated version of the Stone Age in response to a “partisan” attack on the topic from fellow Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E).”
    Note to David Watts – We’re not New Haven. We’re not New Canaan, where they also use iPads. We live in Norwalk, which by the way, is not in the Stone Age. However, if you truly believe that, Mr. Watts, maybe you’d be happier living in New Haven, where the roads are smoother, the schools are newer and iPads are issued all around.

    Norwalk has made several strides forward in terms of technology over the past few years (witness the upgrades in the Council Chambers) but when the iPads were issued to Council Members, it cames down to a partisan attack? How sad.

  5. Bruce Kimmel

    This is an interesting discussion.
    In the past, I tried to use my laptop to review council material. I found it very difficult, going back and forth, highlighting this and that, and then at meetings it was hard to quickly address certain portions of the backup material. Remember, often we are dealing with hundreds of pages of backup; it’s not that easy to scroll up and down and find a specific reference. When I brought this up to the city’s tech staff, they seemed to agree and I had thought that the issue was dead.
    My guess is that those folks who carefully read the backup — folks like McCarthy and Miklave, who are mentioned in the article — find it extremely difficult to use any type of computer to both prepare for meetings and to participate in meetings. Planning Committee backup, for instance, often contains upfront summaries that are based on buried details spread out in very long documents. And sometimes the summaries do not accurately reflect the details; or leave certain details out.
    My point is, these documents are complicated and often we see Council members arrive at meetings with all types of paper clips, bent pages, etc., to help them get through the discussions. We also see council members arrive at meetings empty handed, or with unread packets.

  6. Joe Espo

    @Anonymous poses a valid question: where did the IT department get the money to purchase at least 18 new iPad Airs? One for each council member, and one each for the City Clerk, the Mayor and Corporation Counsel (they also get packets)? If these are mid-level 64GB models, big enough to store two year’s worth or more of council packets (for the duration of a council member’s term), that’s $12,600 @$699ea, not including taxes and apps. Chances are that a couple of other people are getting them, too.

  7. the donut hole

    The question is, will Watts actually read the packets again? Hey, if he sits there and watches Netflix during council meetings, maybe we wouldn’t have to suffer his useless, uninformed ramblings.
    @Joe Espo, you’ve left out data plan charges, insurance, replacement costs, etc…. Just looking at the picture I can see the finger grease all over Watts issuance. I’ll walk to New Haven if he treats it like it were his own.

  8. Joe Espo

    @ donut hole: My previous calculation was for wifi units only. If these things are cellular data capable, that’s another $130 ea, an extra $2340 for 18 units. That means IT is spending almost $15000 for what Mr. Kimmel suggests is useless technology for what it’s intended to do. That doesn’t factor in $75 or more monthly for a data plan. That’s more than $16,000 per year!!!! Am I paying taxes just so these guys can watch Netflix?

  9. Don’t Panic

    According to the Hour, this is in connection with the issuance of City email addresses for council members, and the costs are nowhere near what is being speculated.
    So far, the city has purchased two iPad Air devices at $484.92 each from GovConnection and two keyboards at $79.99 each from B&H Photo, according to Del Vecchio.

    She described the iPads as low-end models that do not have cellular service nor Internet access except for where WiFi is available.

    Council members must sign the city’s acceptable use policy, not use the devices for personal use and return them to the city afterward, she said.

    “It’s city property and the expectation is that you give it back” after you leave the council, Del Vecchio said. “This is not a gift.”
    That having been said, everybody’s perception of how this will save time and paper is not based upon having experience with actually distributing materials to these things. Boards who use ipads for materials in the corporate world spend significant time preparing and securing the documents. Deadlines are assumed to be flexible because it’s digital and production gets sloppy because people assume it will be easy to fix a mistake.
    And then there’s the communication from wherever the documents are produced to the unit. The posted materials don’t magically get into the device–they must be emailed, downloaded or whatever. These are wifi, which means the council members will be responsible for having working internet connections with wifi routers and for scheduling themselves time to do the download, instead of opening an envelope and getting to work.
    And then there is the ipad, which has to have its ios updated periodically in order for its apps to work.
    Council members who choose to go paperless should have the option to do so, but those who prefer the paper should have that option.

  10. Joanne Romano

    The whole idea is ludicrous, this is what is wrong with society today, instead of reading and writing we scroll til we get to what we are interested in. I’m sorry but scrolling and hunting and pecking during a meeting is annoying and counter productive and the person with the pad has access only where there’s wifi so what happens when there’s no wifi? You show up to a meeting and tell everyone , hold on, we lost power, there was no wifi where I was etc and I now have to scan through the docs before we can begin? There have always been council e-mail addresses provided although I will admit they very seldom worked without having kick backs but there are so many e-mail servers that do work that the council can collectively choose a designated server and set up council only e-mails. As far as not wanting packets delivered, which I agree wholeheartedly with, each council member has an in-house mailbox to retrieve their packets from. I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone would want to spend an entire council meeting scrolling back and forth through documents instead of having them in front of them. If they don’t want to go to their mailbox they can have them e-mailed and printed themselves. You chose to serve the city, some choose not to take your stipend for whatever reason but you will require the city to provide I-pods for your use although you mention you already have 2 of your own? Am I missing something here? Oh and I do believe you also requested council letter head…so tell me again, how is this saving money???

  11. EveT

    Bruce Kimmel makes an excellent point. I can see someone who is adept with voluminous documents being able to manage them productively on a robust laptop — but on on iPad? Not so much.

  12. Jlightfield

    Maybe it’s time we stop electing people who haven’t mastered the search field in any electronic document.
    The comments here reflect a basic ignorance of digital workflow. For all the calls to reduce the tax burden on residential tax payers you’d think that investments into technology to automate government would be welcomed.
    The fact is most of the antiquated PCs in city hall run XP or something older, which is no longer supported by Microsoft. You would think the esteemed council people would be discussing the added cost of either upgrading or paying a special support fee instead of dragging this into political sniping.
    Anytime a council person or any board member uses their personal tech devices on city business that device is subject to FOI. Records of texts. Emails, documents etc. are the norm in communication. Phone call records are FOI-able.
    Let’s see some quality discussion about how to improve council members ability to work with the enouoys volume of information that in paper format is just not searchable.

  13. David Watts


    Thank you, for joining the discussion. Local governments are now going paperless. Here is an example of a city council going green.


    OGDENSBURG — As he prepared to take the helm as city manager, John M. Pinkerton was surprised by a long-established practice. few days before his first City Council meeting last November, an Ogdensburg police officer came to his home to deliver a copy of the agenda.
    Wow, he thought in disbelief. “That was my reaction,” Mr. Pinkerton said Friday. “I got a police officer delivering the mail to me.”

    No more. Mr. Pinkerton, Mayor William D. Nelson and all six members of the council no longer have their twice-monthly meeting agendas and weekly updates home-delivered to them by the police. Instead, all of the information is electronically transmitted to their iPad tablets, supplied by the city at $399 apiece.

    The councilors have been paper-free since February, and they love it.
    “I think it’s great,” Councilor William D. Hosmer said. “I like it electronically because I’m always on the go. It saves the city money.”
    Councilor Jennifer Stevenson, pointing to the bulky, agenda-crammed three-ring binders in her office, agreed.

    “I find that the electronic access to my city update is much easier, economical and more secure,” she said. “In the past, a packet would be delivered every Friday. That involved the time of a city police officer and a person to make all the packets. Now, I can access my update and other information anywhere, anytime. I can save the updates and city information on the secure iPad.”

    The iPad way, Ms. Stevenson said, is convenient and environmentally friendly.
    “It is then accessible and easier to search if during a meeting I need additional information,” she said. “I can also answer questions for city residents more timely as the information is with me if I am at home or even away at a conference. We are also being more green-friendly by not using as much paper and gas to deliver the packets.”

    Mr. Pinkerton concedes that the savings are modest, about $2,500 a year.
    “Savings is savings,” the city manager said, adding that he was especially pleased to spare the $22.99-an-hour cost of police officers’ time.

    “They’re being taken away from doing their jobs,” Mr. Pinkerton said.
    Planning and Development Director Andrea L. Smith is also going electronic with the agendas, staff reports, meeting minutes and resolutions for the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals.
    “I think it’s really worked out well,” she said.

    This is only a pilot program and we all should keep an open mind.

  14. Joe Espo

    OK, Jackie: let’s disqualify any candidate who’s older than a millennial. Smart! The problem is not the search field in an iPad. The problem is that you can’t run simultaneous apps and you can’t have multiple screens. And even if you could, the display real estate is too small. And I suppose if you were Norwalk’s IT department head, you would have had us chasing our tails on the OS upgrade merry-go-round, first with the nightmare called Vista and then to Windows 7 and 8.0. That would have been job security for you because you would have been the hero at every stage fixing bugs, and updating apps and drivers that would not have been necessary to update but for the fools errand of migrating from XP. Staying with XP was the smart move. So what if it’s not “supported.” If you have service pack 3, you’re golden. If DelVecchio wants to upgrade I hope she shops for Win 7 PCs because Win 8 is a disaster, just like Vista.

  15. David Watts

    @Bruce Kimmel

    Councilman, I thought you asked a very important question at the February 20th finance committee meeting. You asked how much of the $100,000 being spent on supplies included paper. Did you ever get a response?

    From the minutes.

    Mr. Kimmel asked about the amount of copy paper used by the City in aggregate. Mr. Foley noted that he would research and provide this information to him by e-mail.


  16. Joanne Romano

    David, just because I chose to step out of politics does not mean that I don’t keep up with what is happening in the city I have lived in and served in many capacities for the better part of 39 years. As I have stated, I think I-pads are not the best use of city funds which each and every year are stretched to their limits. While some city computers are out of date and do not hold the required programs that are needed for the 21st century I believe an investment of new ones is a better choice for a city of this size. The city has always provided e-mail addresses to council persons albeit they most times don’t work for one reason or other. For this reason I also believe that the council as a whole should choose an e-mail server unanimous of all members for use of city business only. Should you choose to use them for your personal business then it is your mistake and you would in fact be subject to FOI. I have in fact “mastered the search field in electronic documents” long ago but personally prefer to have my work printed for ready reference as should be the choice of the individual council/commission/board member. One size does not fit all. I agree wholeheartedly that the idea of a delivery to each home is ridiculous, as well as I do believe the mailboxes assigned outside the mayors office should be utilized since each council member certainly spends at least 2-3 nights a week in city hall and the 2nd floor is really not that far a climb. I own a kindle, an I-pad and a Samsung tablet and am limited to their use if not in a wifi designated area. Perhaps the city should look into an open wifi as do other cities and towns. A laptop can have its own internal internet hook up through an individuals phone carrier but in the case of city distributed laptops, they should not be removed from city property, the problems are endless when this happens. Loss, theft, breakage, crashes, etc. Perhaps upgrading the entire city hall with state of the art computer system is a worthy expenditure but as I have said, I just don’t believe I-pads are a practical use of city funds.

  17. Jlightfield

    @joe espo I find that the public officials in other cities are mostly proficient with technology. In fact Norwalk has lagged installing the tech tools that enable things like tracking contracts through edits in committee along with links back to original documents, so you can easily see the evolution of a clause or policy point. Not many (if any) millennials in the bunch.
    The point about XP right here and right now is that the OS is at the end of its life cycle. Note that this not seem to be a concern in this discussion. Why not?
    Lastly I’m not interested in starting a platform war or debate on geeky tech features. The iPad delivers the benefit of easy document management and productivity with those apps. Ease of use and demonstrable productivity is the metric to by which to pick tech solutions. Not the latest feature list.

  18. piberman

    Once upon a time Norwalk had Council members who actually devoted time and effort to their responsibilities and came into Council meetings well prepared. In the “paper age”. And they typically deftly responded to questions of attendees numbering in the dozens. Nothing illustrates the seeming ineptness of Council members than the comments made above. Maybe the “job” is simply above their grade level. What a sad commentary from Council members than computers and I pads are just too diffciult to operate effectively. No wonder Norwalk citizens have difficulty admiring their “public servants”.

  19. Don’t Panic

    you are going to find the use of the mailboxes is one of timing. I.e. The packets are not ready when councilmembers are available to pick them up.
    Again, those of you judging the councilmembers inept with technology simply don’t understand how the materials are produced or used.
    Studies show that people who read a newspaper on a screen do not retain the information as well as those who read the article on paper. These materials do’t just need to be read, they need to be dissected, judged, questioned.

  20. the donut hole

    All the tech in the world wont make Watts actually read or comprehend the packets. Nor will it make him attend or show up on time to committee meetings.

  21. Suzanne

    No expert here but exactly what studies cite the better comprehension of material when it is on paper as opposed to digital format? I just did a quick google search and found no such studies – rather, the contrary. From my limited experience, digital text can be highlighted, pages marked, notes made either within the text or on the margins, searches easily facilitated by key words or phrases, simple scrolling from one document to another,etc. No post-its, no scrap pieces of paper for book marks, everything in context within the document(s) and easily retrievable. No problems with the dissecting, judging, or questioning within documents. I am assuming that materials are created on computers – certainly to print them out on hard copy, including graphs, studies, etc., they must be. So what is so hard about digital delivery? Just a suggestion: those Council members uncomfortable with this technology could take an in-house training class and be brought up to speed (with the 21st Century or, rather, the 20th Century.)

  22. David Watts

    The numbers are in! The city prints 12,744 copies per month and most of it is council business.#go green

  23. the donut hole

    Wattever. School system probably does that much in one day. Until they create a programmed memory pill, you still won’t read them. Your mindless questions betray how ill prepared you are to do anything positive for this city.
    If all 12,000 pages and ink were saved you are still probably talking less than a price of these IPADs. Not that financial implications have any meaning in your world.

  24. David Watts

    @the donut hole

    Can you explain your math?

    Williamsburg, Va, Albertville, Ala, Columbus, OH and Vancouver, Wa are all using IPads.

    Vancouver, Wa City Council cut paper usage by 40%


    The facts are not on your side.

  25. lwitherspoon

    @David Watts
    You’ve stated that you already own two iPads. Why was it not possible for you to receive and read your council packet on one of your existing iPads?
    What’s your source for the statistic that the City makes 12,744 copies per month? What percentage of that number is eliminated by one Council member receiving a taxpayer-funded iPad? What is the cost to the City per copy?

  26. the donut hole

    Watts. There are over 10,000 children in NPS plus another 1000 teachers who are constantly handing out photocopies materials to them. I’m only guessing but I bet the amount of paper you are saving the city is less than $10 a month, which will take 5 years for your IPAD to recover its cost assuming you don’t break it or it doesn’t go obsolete first. Oh, these things never go obsolete now do they? What can I possibly be thinking.
    At any rate, I think some council people can be more productive. But that doesn’t include you, because you demonstrate every fortnight that you are never prepared whether the packets are delivered to you via hard copy, soft copy, or air writing for that matter. Go away, please.

  27. Jlightfield

    All records of correspondence of city business should be conducted on city equipment and retained.

  28. minimum wage worker

    @the donut hole

    Can you ask a question without the personal attacks? You’re attacking Watts because, he fights for the poor and the working class. David Watts is a good dude and I totally have his back.

    One word sum this up “Technophobia”. The City of Norwalk should be happy to have a councilman willing to shake it up.

    The city website is a disgrace and I am sure you are wishing you could watch reruns of MASH on Betamax and or listen to Donny and Marie’s greatest hits on 8 track but those days are gone.

    Now put on your butterfly collar shirt and poly blend suit and travel down to SONO looking for a Disco pal. It’ s not there! LOL

    Join the 21st!

  29. Lwitherspoon

    Assuming what you say is true, how do taxpayer-funded iPads move us closer to this goal? If a personal iPad is used to send an e-mail from a City account, presumably using a web interface of some kind, no record of the correspondence is kept on the iPad.
    @David Watts
    Would you be so kind as to answer my questions above?

  30. jlightfield

    @lwitherspoon The iPads simply make it easier to provide documents and correspondence and manage a retention policy across all similar devices. Who would want the contents of their personal devices backed up to the city servers? Security is managed by limiting access to city resources by MAC address in addition to account logins etc.
    check out iLegislate here for the sales pitch. http://www.granicus.com/ceo-blog/ilegislate-governing-on-the-ipad-evolved/

  31. the donut hole

    The council should have electronic access through a vpn and city email accounts. We shouldn’t be buying hardware for those who don’t even read the paper packets like Watts. Let responsible council people have access to documents either through secure ftp server or other vpn. Email correspondence can be stored on the city servers with normal legal retention periods in effect. That way they can use their personal devices to do the same without taxpayers having to buy toys for the irresponsible.

  32. I agree with The Donut Hole – a real grasp on the big picture with an eye on the bottom line. Until city council members master the “old fashioned” way and everyone is in full compliance, then no new devices.
    It just doesn’t make good business sense.

  33. Suzanne

    What doesn’t make good business sense is the use of paper over electronic devices, evenly distributed to all Council people with the securities mentioned above by JLightfield, when this present of data distribution, this computerized universe we live in is what is. It really is laughable – we are all making comments via a computer interface right here on Nancy on Norwalk yet we think that Council people should not use the same device/modality to review and share information? What century do we live in? It’s the 21st for those of us who are counting. It’s a Luddite’s world at Norwalk City Hall when devices used by the rest of the world and the rest of governance are argued about, result in name-calling and lack of process or action.

  34. the donut hole

    @Suzanne. Says someone who probably never reads the packets either. I for one would support devices with statistical capturing of page views so we can confirm for once those who are there for themselves first and those who plainly don’t give two cents about city business or residents.

  35. Suzanne

    TDH, I do not volunteer my time as a City Councilperson so, therefore, no, I do not read the packets. However, it is in the job description, I believe, for a City Councilperson, as a servant to the constituents of the City of Norwalk, to read the information they are presented in advance of meetings at which the subjects will be discussed. Distributing and reading this material electronically? I can’t believe this is even up for a discussion in this day and this age. I do not gather either that statistical capturing of page views really matters all that much other than to polarize and politicize an already over-heated political entity with constant political agendas rarely of service to the people of Norwalk.

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