The Windsor Town Council is on the verge of becoming the first government body in Sonoma County to go with paperless agendas, forsaking the bulky printed reports that have been an accessory for elected officials for decades.

By equipping its top officials to Apple iPads, Windsor expects to save the reams of paper and hours of staff time required to produce the thick agenda packets council members rely upon for their meetings.

In going digital and eliminating printing costs for the twice-monthly meetings, town officials estimate the Apple iPads they are purchasing will pay for themselves in less than a year.

"We will receive the iPads in February," Mayor Debora Fudge said Wednesday, adding the new digital tablet devices "will be really helpful."

The seven iPads for the five councilmembers and staff cost $5,670, including the monthly Internet service charge for a year.

That compares to printing costs and staff time of about $6,500 annually.

Besides the cost savings, council members say it's environmentally friendlier. Not only will it reduce paper use, it also will end the practice of town employees delivering the agenda packets to the homes of council members the week prior to their meetings.

"Staff won't be driving all over Windsor," Fudge said of the reduction in fuel and greenhouse gases.

According to Town Clerk Maria De La O, none of the other eight city councils in Sonoma County, or the Board of Supervisors, have implemented paperless agenda programs.

At the county Board of Supervisors, employees scan agenda packets into pdf documents, then e-mail them to two supervisors, who have iPads they purchased with their own funds, according to De La O.

A number of cities in California have gone the paperless route, including Hayward, Redwood City, Saratoga, Palo Alto, Sacramento, Los Altos Hills, Santa Cruz, Watsonville and Cupertino.

Windsor considered equipping council members with laptop computers, but chose the iPad because it is lighter and less bulky.

There were other considerations as well, such as security. A lost or stolen iPad can be pinpointed electronically, or have the data in it wiped clean by remote means, reverting to factory defaults, according to a technology consultant who addressed the council last month.

The California Government Code limits the use of the taxpayer-funded electronic devices to official business. Campaign and personal uses are prohibited.

Council members not only have to return them when they leave office, but "all information stored on the iPad may be subject to the Public Records Act," De La O said.

Windsor Council members said they will be able to access more information on the devices because agendas can have imbedded links to other websites for some topics.

Council members also will be able to get their town-related emails on the iPads.

"I think it could make us more effective and better decision makers as well," said Windsor Councilwoman Cheryl Scholar.

Fudge said council members will not use the iPads to communicate with each other or any one else during deliberations.

"Our policy is to communicate through voice and in public so those in the meeting and watching on television know exactly what's going on," she said. "We want our work to be transparent."

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