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Largo commissioners' digital efforts going smaller with iPads

LARGO — Since Apple debuted the iPad in 2010, the sleek device has revolutionized and dominated the tablet computer market. Apple has sold more than 55 million. The company may soon get seven more customers: Largo's city commissioners.

The iPads will replace laptops as the devices commissioners use to check email and review city documents from home. The city staff is still working out the kinks of determining Largo's application needs, but information technology director Harold Schomaker thinks he'll be ordering several (depending on how many of the seven commissioners request one) in the next few weeks.

And although some residents may criticize commissioners for spending city money on iPads while trying to cut the budget, Schomaker counters that the iPads will actually save Largo tax dollars.

Commissioners now use Dell laptops, which cost between $1,200 and $1,400, Schomaker says, and are out of warranty and in need of replacing. With Apple's recent release of the latest model, older iPads are on sale for as little as $399.

"Why buy a big old laptop you have to lug around when you can get something smaller and cheaper that has the same functionality?" said Schomaker, who has been using an iPad 2 at work for the past two months to test different types of applications commissioners will need.

One of the applications Schomaker is testing, iAnnotate, may have won over Commissioner Harriet Crozier, who has declined to take a city laptop. The iAnnotate app allows users to jot notes onto electronic documents they can save for future reference.

Crozier is Largo's representative on a number of local boards, like the Metropolitan Planning Organization, and often finds herself juggling several bulky agenda packets, each with a different set of notes. With an iPad, she could save the agendas and her notes, all in one place.

"I think it's really going to help me, and it's a great price," said Crozier, who objected a few years ago when she says former City Manager Steve Stanton bought laptops for the commissioners without asking first. Crozier didn't like the idea of reading agenda documents off the screen of a laptop, but she's sold on the sleeker iPads.

So is Mayor Pat Gerard, who has left her city laptop at City Hall for the last year. She doesn't like lugging the laptop around, but Gerard thinks she'll get more use out of the iPad, which is less than 10 inches in height and weighs less than 2 pounds.

"I just think it's what you buy these days instead of new laptops," Gerard said.

Schomaker hopes the iPads are enough of a hit that Largo can move closer to becoming a paperless operation. The city spends roughly $300 for each City Commission meeting on printing, putting together and delivering agendas, according to City Clerk Diane Bruner. With about 36 meetings per year, that costs about $10,800 in total.

The iPads will just be for commissioners at first, though. Schomaker is still looking into the use of iPads by other city employees, like those who conduct inspections or write citations, in the continued quest to go paperless.

"There has to be a return on investment," Schomaker said. "I'm not going to just give these out as toys."

Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or whobson@tampabay.com. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Largo commissioners' digital efforts going smaller with iPads 03/27/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 27, 2012 4:28pm]
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