Little Kansas Town Proves Paperless Agendas Possible

A city councilwoman from Lenexa, Kan., stole the show at a recent national

convention with two magical little words: paperless packets.

Not only does her little town have them, said Amy Slater, it has been

years since she and her fellow elected officials said goodbye to the reams

of paper that traditionally bogged down city meetings. Lenexa — population

40,000 — pulled off with ease what larger cities are still dreaming about.

City information technology aficionados swarmed Slater demanding her card.

Even the mayor of tech-savvy Palo Alto, Calif., told her, "You've just made

a lot of people very jealous."

Sandy Howell, Lenexa's city clerk, directed the city's paperless transformation.

With the proper motivation, any city could do the same thing, she said.

"They think we went out and developed something," Howell said. "That

isn't the case at all. We're using the same products they have at their

city halls."

Accepting technology and applying it wherever possible has long been

a goal in Lenexa, which is in the Kansas City metropolitan area. The city

first dabbled in electronically delivering information to its officials

in 1995 after buying desktop computers for each of the council's nine members.

The computers at their homes, along with modems and printers, enabled

city leaders to send and receive e-mail messages and to receive meeting

agendas in what Howell calls "a giant e-mail."

Later, as City Hall renovations were under way, the forward- thinking

staff renovated the council chambers to accommodate audio-visual and multimedia

presentations, building in the ability to access the city's computer network

from the council dais and staff tables.

In 1997, Lenexa modernized even more. The city bought laptop computers

for the council members. The equipment cost $21,000 for the computers and

$2,200 for software.

After extensive training, the council decided that Jan. 1, 1998, was

its goal to go paperless.

Howell called training crucial. She said it is imperative to be sensitive

to the individual needs of elected officials because some will struggle

with what others pick up easily.

Howell said initial resistance came from the officials who weren't

computer-literate.

"They wanted paper they could touch and feel and look [at] and write

on," she said, explaining that those who dragged their feet received extra

attention. "Now they will tell you they'll never go back to paper."

The training ranged from how to hook up the laptops to the dais in council

chambers to how to negotiate the electronic packet to how to use e-mail.

Consultants showed everyone how the software worked.

Unlike with the "giant e-mail" technique of transmitting the packet,

the new laptops had Microsoft Corp.'s Office 97, software that enabled the

electronic information to be used almost like paper. Council members could

highlight information in their packets and jot notes and questions off to

the side.

In addition to the cost of the laptops and software, the city also bought

scanners for six key departments so they could include documents and images

in the packets. The scanners cost $3,600. Still, very large items such as

plat maps are too big to scan, so city staff members bring the hard copies

to meetings.

All told, Howell doesn't doubt that Lenexa has gotten its money's worth

from the paperless packet system — and then some.

Before, assembling the meeting packets was a grueling task for the clerk's

office. All the departments that had material for the packet sent it to

the clerk's office, where it then had to be sorted, copied and bound. It

took at least one staff member at least a day to compile the packets.

Now the city's departments simply e-mail their information to the clerk's

office. Clerk office staff members create a document, drop in the various

packet contributions and save it. The city staff members and the council

receive e-mail messages saying that the packet is ready, and then they either

review it online or download it. The media or interested residents can obtain

the meeting material the same way.

Howell said it takes only a few hours to prepare the packet, rather

than a day or more. It's easier for council members to save the electronic

information than the bulky paper. And the city is saving enormous amounts

of paper — the old paper packets used to be as many as 167 pages long, with

about 20 copies needed. "We recovered that cost — easily," Howell said.

"It can be recovered in a year by staff time saved."

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