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June 20. 2013 11:14PM

Nashua officials debate pros, cons of tablets

NASHUA — As city officials consider whether to issue iPads or similar tablets to aldermen, at least one board member is raising concerns about texting during public meetings.

Aldermen participating in meetings at Nashua City Hall all use different electronic devices to obtain information, including smartphones, laptops, tablets, etc., according to Alderman-at-Large Barbara Pressly, who worries some of the activity on certain devices could possibly cause right-to-know violations.

“We don’t know if they are texting. We don’t know if people are calling in and communicating with them,” Pressly said of her fellow aldermen, maintaining all communication by elected officials at public meetings should be part of the public record.

Pressly says she is pleased the board is considering distributing an electronic tablet so that each alderman can access the same information simultaneously during meetings.

“What we have been doing sort of bumps up against the right-to-know,” she said.

Alderman Brian McCarthy, board president, said he often uses his cell phone to search for city ordinances or resolutions during meetings.

McCarthy is hopeful the Board of Aldermen can go paperless in the upcoming fiscal year. He has drafted a proposed ordinance regarding the issue.

The intention of the ordinance is to provide electronic submission and access to necessary materials for aldermen. Promoting the use of electronic data can significantly reduce the amount of money aldermen spend on paper, McCarthy said.

He is proposing that city-owned tablet devices be provided to aldermen who choose to take advantage of the proposal, in the form of a basic iPad or Android tablet with minimum memory and WiFi access.

“I kind of like paper,” Alderman-at-Large David Deane said earlier this week at an aldermanic Personnel and Administrative Affairs Committee meeting.

Technology, as advanced as it has become, still has problems, said Deane, who said he still supports some of the proposal.

Eliminating paper would be an efficient use of staff time and technology, according to Alderman-at-Large Lori Wilshire, who is in favor of the ordinance.

“I don’t really find there is a terrible misuse of technology in here,” said Wilshire. She said that although she uses her phone to occasionally check something during meetings, she does not use it to text anyone else in the room.

McCarthy said he does not acknowledge incoming texts during public meetings, and he encouraged other board members to do the same.

Members must adhere to that advice on their own, he said.

The committee ultimately voted in support of the proposal, which will now go forward to the full Board of Aldermen for a final vote.

According to the ordinance, aldermen may choose one of three methods for paperwork distribution. If approved, aldermen will have the option of receiving a city-owned tablet device that could be used to obtain city agendas, meeting minutes and other pertinent packets, presentations, emails and correspondence necessary for aldermen to perform their duties.

The tablets, if chosen, will be the property of the city, and must be returned at the end of the alderman’s term in office unless he or she chooses to purchase the device at its current value, says the proposal.

Another option will be for aldermen to use their own electronic device, as long as it conforms to any rules the Information Technology Division director may develop for such devices.

And the third option will still allow for the old-fashioned paper distribution of materials.

McCarthy said initial expenses will be about $7,500, although the official price tag will depend on how many aldermen seek tablets. He is recommending that an anticipated surplus from the board’s existing budget be used to pay for the new tablets.khoughton@newstote.com


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