Despite a recommendation from city staff to not allow council members to use iPads to send and receive messages at meetings, the council failed to reach consensus on the topic Monday and will pick it up again next month.
Council members Gabe Kearney, Tiffany Renee and Mike Harris all favor the use of iPads at city meetings and say the devices make it easier to access documents, look up information during discussions and eliminate the need to carry heavy stacks of paper.
But others say they are concerned that council members with iPads can send and receive messages from residents, or worse, lobbyists on sensitive issues in violation of the Brown Act, that requires that city meetings be open and public.
For Mayor Dave Glass, the issue comes down to trust.
“I don’t have an iPad and I won’t be getting one, but to me it’s about how do we assure the public that there isn’t outside communication coming in?” Glass said. “It’s a game changer and some people don’t trust it.”
Renee, who has an iPad that she uses for both her job as a web developer and for city business, said that the implication that council members would be more likely to break the law if they had access to iPads is wrong.
“I took an oath when I took office and…now suddenly something has changed because we are talking about using an iPad?” Renee said. “Some of these policies really get into a nanny state, so do we also have people who follow us around (to make sure council members don’t discuss city business in groups?) The information age is here and it’s very useful.”
The use of iPads on the dais became an issue when Petaluma Planning Commissioner Dennis Elias questioned Councilman Gabe Kearney’s use of an iPad at a January meeting about the proposed .
Kearney, a city liason on the planning commission, said he was saving city time and the environment by reading the lengthy Final Environmental Impact Report on his electronic device, but Elias said he was concerned about transparency. In the end, Kearney agreed to shelf his iPad for the duration of the meeting.
On Monday, Kearney spoke about the benefits of having an iPad, including a password feature that could prevent confidential information from being accessed if the device was lost.
“If I were to leave my iPad at , I would be able to access it remotely and scrub it clean unlike if I left my briefcase at the coffee shop,” Kearney said.
Despite the benefits, Councilwoman Teresa Barrett said it was imperative that council members not be allowed to receive or send email during meetings, something that could be accomplished by switching a device to "Airplane Mode."
But Councilman Mike Harris pointed out that if an iPad was offline, it would no longer populate iLegislate, an app council members with iPads use to read their council packets. Renee, too, disagreed with the idea, saying that not allowing online access curtailed members’ ability to research relevant data.
“We’re limiting ourselves and limiting the technology if we start to shrink down the parameters of the technology we can use,” she said.
CLARIFICATION: iLegislate enables users to review meeting materials before, during or after a meeting from any location and does not need an internet connection. For more info, click here.
What's your take? Should the City Council and other public bodies be able to use their iPads during meetings? Should the city issue iPads for council members? Sound off in the comments below and don't forget to take our poll on the issue.