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January 11, 2011 > A paperless city hall

A paperless city hall

By Simon Wong

The City of Hayward is thought to be the second California municipality, after the City of Sacramento, to have decided to go "paperless." Minimizing the consumption of paper creates cost savings and sustains the environment. Hayward's elected officials and city staff are practicing what the Council Sustainability Committee preaches and supporting the goals of its Climate Action Plan, a nation-wide model for other jurisdictions.

The first step of this "cultural" change within Hayward's local government administration is the initiative of the City Clerk's Office to produce paperless agenda packets for Council.

Each agenda item has a staff report comprising a report, resolution and attachments. Previously, the report's author submitted a draft in triplicate, one each to the City Attorney, Assistant City Manager and City Clerk's Office, for review approximately 15-20 days before Council heard the item. Each reviewer annotated the document before returning it to the author who re-issued the edited paper, in triplicate. Once the City Manager had approved the final version, it was copied and included in the packet materials for Council and the public.

"Production of 21 hard-copy packets for each Council meeting is unsustainable. In 2009, this averaged 185,928 pages with associated photocopying expenses of $4,648 and paper costing $1,115. The annual cost of employees' time spent assembling these packets amounted to $13,427. Fiscal and environmental benefits are both desirable," stated City Clerk Miriam Lens.

"Laserfiche Agenda Manager (web-based agenda information software) enables us to automate the document review process and production of agenda packets using the City's Intranet and accomplish our objectives more efficiently," she explained.

Staff reports are submitted as MS Word documents to Agenda Manager which manages workflow in real time. On approval by the author's head of department, the report is immediately available for online review by the City Attorney and Assistant City Manager before review and final approval by City Manager Fran David. Once she affixes her signature to the document, Agenda Manager prevents further changes to the report which becomes available to the City Clerk who must also approve it and check that all attachments are included. The software also records all actions performed on the document.

The City Clerk's Office assembles and publishes the agenda and packet materials as a bookmarked, searchable PDF file that can be printed, circulated electronically and posted online. Council members are notified of the availability of the packet materials which they download to their iPads to read. They also take their iPads to Council meetings. Previously, the packets were mailed to their home addresses.

"We've taken incremental steps over 12-18 months to complete this initial project. The next step is to roll-out a paperless environment to our boards and commissions, especially the Planning Commission which produces substantial reports. Right now, the focus is on the Council members who went paperless on November 9, 2010 and have supported the initiative. There have been no problems," said Lens.

"An environmentally responsible workplace is the future. Some municipalities remain hesitant about this route. Of course, there is always some resistance to change but their main concern is the Brown Act which requires transparency. An iPad gives elected officials access to email and the Internet; some cities fear communication with individuals, who are absent from the meeting, about agenda items under consideration might occur without the knowledge of those present or observing the proceedings remotely. Our Council is aware of the City's Communication Technology Policy which now includes the iPad," explained Hayward's City Clerk.

Laserfiche document management software was acquired some time ago with Agenda Manager as part of the bundle so there has been no cost other than $7,546, already budgeted by Technology Services, to acquire iPads for the Mayor and six Council members. There will be annual savings of at least $11,319.

The City of Hayward is the first municipality in the Tri-City and surrounding areas to start reducing its paper consumption materially. The City of Fremont might follow suit. As for the City of Sacramento, the decision to go paperless might have been made but has yet to be implemented.

For more information, visit the City of Hayward website at www.ci.hayward.ca.us.

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