In a display of collegial cooperation, Petaluma's City Council on Monday night unanimously voted to allow the use of iPads and other electronic devices during meetings to increase efficiency and to save on printing reams of paper documents.
The policy prohibits council members from sending or receiving electronic communications during meetings, except for emergencies, but allows Internet access related to city business.
"It seems to me this meets a variety of goals," Mayor David Glass said.
The fairly brief discussion was a swift end to an issue that has been smoldering since January when a planning commissioner questioned Councilman Gabe Kearney's use of his personal iPad to access his notes and large e-documents during a meeting about the controversial Deer Creek Village shopping center.
The community discussion spurred, on one extreme, suspicions of secret communications between council members or lobbyists and, on the other, calls for wide-open Internet access with public tracking of what council members were looking at on their screens.
Three council members — Mike Healy, Tiffany Renee and Chris Albertson — said they couldn't agree with a policy that prohibited all Internet access.
Kearney, Renee and Councilman Mike Harris have all used iPads to access agendas, staff reports and their own notes during meetings. The programs used for those applications sometimes require Internet access to download late additions or to coordinate calendar items.
With a bit of give and take, an agreeable policy was crafted that allows Internet access, generally to view information related to city business, such as notes or calendars.
The city's information technology chief, Tim Williamsen, said the new rule makes Petaluma only the fourth city in the state to have a formal policy restricting electronic devices on the dais.
Jason Davies, chairman of the city's technology committee, said he wasn't sure if the compromise would satisfy the most vocal opponents.
A requirement that electronic devices be put in offline "airplane mode" likely would have assuaged those suspicions, he said. That would have required council members to download all necessary documents and calendar items before a meeting and then turn off their Internet connection.
In Sonoma County, the Board of Supervisors provides all of its members with iPads, as does Windsor for its council members.
You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or firstname.lastname@example.org.