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Published: Wednesday, 9/29/2010

Sylvania Township takes digital agenda system on test run

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
In Sylvania Township, specialist Mike Tans instructs municipal employees, from left, Greg Huffman, Nancy Beckmann, and Rob Boehme in the new computer system. In Sylvania Township, specialist Mike Tans instructs municipal employees, from left, Greg Huffman, Nancy Beckmann, and Rob Boehme in the new computer system.
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Greg Huffman, Sylvania Township's public works manager, used a recent training class for the township's new digital agenda-management system as a platform to put in a phantom pay-raise request.

Someone in the fire department suggested that acting Township Administrator Susan Wood wants to become a firefighter. Somebody else added "demolish township administration building" to the practice agenda.

It was all in good fun, of course, but within weeks, township officials will start assembling meeting plans and maintaining meeting records through the computer system, ushering in a new electronic era that is expected to make township decision-making more open to the public and significantly cut paper consumption.

"Every city I go to, somebody either asks for a raise, or a vacation," remarked Mike Tams, who is a systems installation specialist with SIRE Technologies of Salt Lake City. The township recently hired the company to install and maintain the computerized agenda and meeting-records management program.

Township trustee Kevin Haddad, for whom digitizing township business has been, along with recycling, a top priority since he was elected to office last fall, said the SIRE system will save Sylvania Township and its taxpayers thousands of dollars per year.

"We spend at least $10,000 to $15,000 per year on paper, plus copier maintenance and clerical staff time," and the electronic system also will make township government much more transparent, Mr. Haddad said.

While the agenda system is costing about $16,000 to install and set up, and is starting out with an annual software and maintenance charge of about $4,000, digital efficiencies will pay for it rapidly, Mr. Haddad said.

The system will allow township managers to add business items to township meeting agendas electronically, along with digital versions of supporting documentation, instead of submitting paper versions to the township administrator's office.

Mr. Tams said the system can handle meetings up to one year in advance, so if something comes up that needs to be handled at a specific date at some point in the future, it can be loaded in the system immediately instead of getting lost in somebody's stack of memos during the intervening weeks or months.

Once the agendas are approved, they and their supporting documents will be available for the public to peruse on the township's Web site.

During the meetings themselves, the agenda and supporting documents will be projected onto a screen behind the trustees' dais, enabling audience members to follow along.

"We think this will give some immediate access to what we're looking at up here," Carol Contrada, the trustees' chairman, said.

Mr. Haddad said he'd like to establish a public wireless Internet hot spot in the trustees' meeting room so that those guests with laptop computers could review documents and otherwise follow along with the meetings that way.

But Mrs. Contrada said she wasn't sure WiFi would be necessary, and it could distract some meeting-goers from fully understanding the proceedings.

"Meetings are more than just documents," Mrs. Contrada said.

Meeting minutes will be posted in the system afterward too. This will allow members of the public to research business conducted during township meetings all the way back to the date the system goes "live," Mr. Tams said.

The projection system operated during the trustees' meeting last week, but a complete agenda was not displayed.

Mr. Haddad said the trustees probably will do a "dry run" with the system during their next meeting, Oct. 5, while working from paper documents as well.

The computer system is expected to be fully utilized by the Oct. 19 trustees' meeting.



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