NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

November 7, 2013

Merrimac selectmen join digital meeting age

By Elizabeth Rose
Correspondent

---- — MERRIMAC — At an October selectmen’s meeting, Jennifer Penney, selectmen’s administrative assistant, buzzed among selectmen like a study hall teacher offering individual coaching, consultation and praise as the members struggled with passwords and new software. Each selectman was momentarily transfixed by a shiny new piece of equipment that will eventually help their office go paperless: personal Dell tablets.

By the following meeting all members were comfortable with the new hardware. The move to have selectmen’s meetings conducted digitally with tablets uploaded with all pertinent documents is an idea spearheaded by chairman Rick Pinciaro. The agenda as well as all correspondence and relevant documents will now be viewed on the tablets at each meeting. This avoids the triple printed copies that have been supplied to each selectman’s weekly packet for years.

According to Pinciaro, “The idea was floated a couple of years ago.”

The town was considering offering a stipend to selectmen in compensation for their work.

“We were offered a stipend for the BOS and instead of us getting paid, we decided to use the money to be more efficient in the office and save some trees,” Pinciaro said.

The $7,950 for the project was appropriated at Special Town Meeting in April from the Free Cash fund, according to Carol McLeod, finance director. Of the total, $2,481 is for the tablets and $4,950 will cover the cost of the software.

Penney is confident the system will introduce greater transparency, efficiency and paper saving.

“The selectmen will have access to all of the present and past agenda documents wherever they are as the program is web based. They can note comments (for their viewing only), search previous documents by keywords, and not carry and store 3 years worth of paper files on them, in their car, at their home, in this office. As you can imagine, there is a tremendous amount of paper used and accumulated over time,” Penney wrote in an email.

The new software will allow departments to upload agenda items in a workflow that Penney will receive and process for meetings. She can ask for further documents pertaining to the items and can also receive direction from selectmen as to whether to include the item on future agendas.

They will be using the software Come to Meeting by Novusolutions to assemble, file and locate meeting minutes, agendas and documents pertaining to items on the agenda. Eventually, the software will allow them to post all agendas and notes to the town website and will enhance transparency and communication.

The public will eventually have similar access to all documents except for those meant exclusively for executive sessions.

“For the public, the software company will put a link on our website which will provide increased transparency. The public will have access to the documents from the meetings,” she wrote.