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A Paperless Council or “Angry Birds” for Tustin City Council

The iPad is a wonderful product and we noted, with sadness, the passing of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs last week.  The iPad can do almost anything a notebook computer can do and in some cases, do it better than a notebook computer. And everyone wants an iPad.  Including four of the five members of the Tustin City Council (no iPad for council member Deborah Gavello) who have an iPad and related software applications and accessories provided by taxpayers in an effort to have the city council go paperless.

The problem is, Tustin can’t explain if the iPads have saved the taxpayers any paper whatsoever.

According to records obtained by TheLiberalOC through a public records request, the Tustin city council voted on September 7, 2010 to approve the purchase of Apple iPads based on a staff recommendation from the council’s August 3, 2010 meeting on the feasibility of a paperless option for the City Council.  The motion carried 3-2 with Council members Doug Davert and Gavello dissenting.  The point of securing the iPads was to allow the city council to “review agenda reports and minutes in a digital format that would eliminate the need to produce paper agenda reports.”

The problem — since purchasing the iPads last January — Tustin hasn’t eliminated paper agenda reports.

Four of the five members of the council got a nice iPad too.  WiFi and 3G connectivity with 32 GB of storage; the city is paying a monthly wireless service for the iPads to allow council members instant connectivity from anywhere for a total of $122.40 a month.  The four iPads themselves cost taxpayers a total of $3,993.94 plus $495 in an unspecified software application (@ $99 a device) and $195 for pretty iPad cases, $97.81 in stylus accessories and another $13 for various PDF reader apps (but it’s unclear if that is total for for each client device).  I didn’t ask about the cost of any training classes and I don’t know if the city paid for any training but that can easily reach twice the cost of the hardware and software.

None of this was budgeted for in the city’s Fiscal Year 2010-2011 budget and it required a supplemental budget appropriation from unappropriated reserves to pay for it all. That’s fiscal conservatism in action for you.

Part of my public records request is to document the savings in paper the taxpayers are enjoying from the purchase and use of these iPads.  To paraphrase the answer from the city’s lawyers, “the City has no records responsive to request number 3 (about paper savings).  We’ll note that it appears only Mayor Jerry Amante uses the iPad during the meetings and that council members regularly use the traditional agenda items and documentation in deadwood form.

What I really want to know is what websites are the council members hitting while using those city owned iPads?  Do they have photos of their spouses, kids and dogs on them?  Are their games, videos, music, and other personal items on the iPad paid for by city taxpayers, or did Jerry and his cronies purchase the latest Lady Gaga album for playback on their iPads or the unrated version of “Bridesmaids?”

At the tail end of the last city council meeting, in announcing that not a single signature had been submitted for recall (in spite of thousands of them gathered but not enough to qualify), Amante accused unnamed members of Tustin Unified, a member of the city council (presummably Gavello who Amante didn’t name) and former elected officials of launching a vindictive recall effort for political revenge (a bit overdramatic, dontcha think?).  Astonishingly, Amante said the recall effort cost taxpayers $10,000 “at a time when our budget is tight, and families throughout our city are sacrificing and watching every penny…this was a shameful abuse of the recall process.” Words to that effect.

To that I say hogwash. 

To start, TUSD and a member of the city council had nothing to do with the recall effort, because if they did, it would have succeeded

I challenge Amante to produce a shred of evidence Gavello played any role; she was practically begged to get involved and she did not.  Amante owes her an apology at the very least.  Or that any member of TUSD had a leadership role of any sort. 

Truth be told, if the city clerk did the job correctly, the recall petitions would have been approved after the second draft but the strategy to continue rejecting resubmitted petitions on what amounted to formatting issues and margins was designed to delay the approval of the petitions until after the Tustin Chili Cookoff when a bulk of the needed signatures would have been gathered. Heck recall petitions in Fullerton for the majority of the city council were approved on the second draft.  Explain that! 

Even calculating the time for the Tustin city lawyers to review each of the five submitted petitions, it’s hard to see how the recall effort cost $10,000 in taxpayers funds unless the cost of each review was $2,000 each.  And if that’s the case, Mr. Fiscal Conservative ought to look into how this is even possible because the taxpayers are being screwed. 

Jeff Gallagher at OurTownTustin will be looking into this in greater detail since Tustin PIO’s office won’t return my emails or calls. 

But do enjoy that taxpayer funded iPad Jerry.  I’m sure those Tustin taxpayers who “watch every penny” are glad to hear you’re using one at their expense to go paperless while most of the city council still uses paper.  I hear that “Angry Birds” game is downright addictive.  YouTube is a real time killer (search for “sports bloopers” — hysterical) and there’s always those Facebook updates.


  1. Jeff Gallagher Jeff Gallagher October 12, 2011

    Funny, it was Jerry’s black ops guy, Jim Neilsen who led the charge into the electronic age for the council. Of course, his former hitman and chaplain extraordinaire, Jim Palmer, backed him up. Jerry was so giddy in the video, he could hardly wait to get his hands on the new toy.

    I was actually a proponent of the city council using ipads to get rid of the reams of paper they seemed to keep at the dais. Unfortunately, I have not seen a significant reduction in the paper, nor have I seen a significant use of the iPads other than the two councilmen already mentioned. I considered that Gavello was just one of those who is not comfortable with technology. The idea was a good one. So far, the implementation has been poor.

    By the way, didn’t they enact an ordinance that limits the use of the iPads to council buisness? You don’t think they would violate the law, do you?

  2. CB CB October 27, 2011

    Someone, not sure who, said; “the paperless office has as much chance as the paperless bathroom”

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