Monroe County Council goes paperless with iPads

The Monroe County Council has decided that each councilor “needs” an iPad in order for the council to go paperless. The effort to go paperless is an admirable one, because it is more environmentally friendly and because it can be much more efficient. After all, if you have a searchable PDF instead of a thick paper packet, you can search for a specific line much faster.

But why do we need to give each councilor an iPad? A new iPad runs $500 or $600 or more, but a laptop is much less costly. In fact, several council members were already using laptops back in 2006. I found several laptops on BestBuy.com for between $250 and $400. Why can’t the council make due with a less expensive solution?

It is fine to use technology to increase efficiency and productivity, but we should not use it as a gimmick. That’s what the Herald-Times suggested in a September 16 editorial, proposing “a participatory system that would let viewers give a ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ (or ‘like” or ‘dislike’) to issues up for votes.” We could see the will of the people in real time!

This is a silly suggestion. If we move to real-time direct democracy, what is the point of electing county council members at all? Furthermore, there’s a good reason the founders didn’t set up a direct democracy. The will of the people is already reflected in who they choose to serve on the council every two years.

It would also be a poor representation of the public’s views on the budget. The vast majority of people in Monroe County are not going to attend the meetings or watch them live on television, so this proposal would leave the decision to a few political junkies – not exactly a representative sample of the voters in Monroe County.

Furthermore, we already have the ability to directly contact all of our county councilors to express our views on items coming to them for a vote, though telephone, letters, electronic mail and public comment at meetings. Their contact information is listed on the county government website. (The same is true with the city.)

Frankly, I would be ashamed to editorialize in favor of such a silly gimmick. This foolishness is not worthy of the opinion page of a serious newspaper, but it fits just perfectly on the Herald-Times editorial page.