Marathon County Board is considering going paperless and buying iPads for its members.
Congratulations, Marathon County Board, on your new iPads. Now we expect you to use them.
Actually, that's premature: The County Board doesn't have its iPads yet. Its Executive Committee last week unanimously recommended a plan to purchase them for Board members as a way of saving costs in postage and paper and cutting clerical time preparing mailings of various legal and policy documents. The full Board will vote next week.
We think it's a worthwhile move and one that could help make the 38-member board - still the state's largest, by the way, and still too large to be practical - more efficient and more prepared to face 21st-century challenges.
There were some misconceptions around this purchase among readers who weighed in on our website and Facebook page on the question of whether the iPads were a wise investment. A common comment: "What's wrong with a pen and paper?" seems to miss the fact that the tablets won't be primarily a tool for Board members to take notes - they'll be a tool to receive materials, which can be voluminous.
In general, it seems to us that new technology tends to catch on for a reason: because it offers tools that the old technology, those pads of paper and three-ring binders, don't. The Marathon County Sheriff's Department has successfully integrated iPads into its command staff's way of working, and Wausau City Council is considering the same. The notion is spreading because it really is a more efficient way of working.
A couple of caveats:
? Readers raised the legitimate question of whether the Board requires iPads, or whether a cheaper tablet or laptop such as a Chromebook might serve the same purpose at less cost to the taxpayer. It's a fair point, and worth exploring.
? If the county embarks on this initiative, it needs to enforce it. Don't allow technophobic Board members to avoid using their machines. Require that they receive documents electronically, and don't make the paperwork available on paper. Everybody needs to be on board.
Getting everyone up to speed on the use of the devices will require training, of course, and the county has a plan in place for that. But as a general proposition, this seems like a promising step toward making the operation of government more efficient.