Make use of tablets

The Montgomery County Legislature decided to replace its old system of paper photocopied resolutions with tablet computers. It’s perhaps fitting Montgomery County’s new form of government would be the first in the area to adopt this new technology, but we think the Fulton County Board of Supervisors and some of the local governments and school districts also should consider making this switch.

For an investment of $6,000, Montgomery County has outfitted its nine-member legislature, county executive and some of the county department heads with the Microsoft Surface RT, loaded with Windows 8. The main benefit of the tablets is Montgomery County no longer will have to produce thousands of pages of county resolutions, reports and other documents. All of the information the legislature members need will be instantly communicated to their tablet computers via the county’s Wi-Fi Internet connection. Although county officials couldn’t estimate how much money this will save over a year, we suspect the county will save a lot on paper and ink as well as the hours it takes to produce the volumes of photocopies required for every legislature meeting.

While we support the change, we attach this warning: Officials must not misuse the tablets. This includes using the devices for personal reasons.

Robert Freeman, director of the the Department of State’s Committee on Open Government, says the tablets are subject to New York state Freedom on Information Law requests. This means the public can keep track of the elected officials’ activities. For example, if an elected official is using a publicly paid-for tablet to play video games or browse inappropriate websites, a FOIL request easily could reveal that.

Any municipality that uses the tablets also should ensure it’s posting all the documents to its website so the public can view them as well.

The tablets could create new forms of public information and serve as a tool for better communication between the public and its elected officials. Governments should embrace the new technology and officials should use it responsibly.