Matanuska-Susitna Borough

MSB Clerks pioneer paperless packet

Mat-Su | Patty Sullivan | Sunday, January 29, 2006

Palmer - The Matanuska-Susitna Borough Clerk's Office has made 700,000 photocopies for its Assembly meetings in a single, nine-month period. But recently MAT-SU Borough Clerk Michelle McGehee and Deputy Clerk Janice Case began mapping out an effort that clerks across the state may be following. It's called the paperless packet.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough is the first local government in Alaska to begin scanning working documents to a compact disc, instead of making photocopies on paper. The documents include, among many, the proposed ordinances, the meeting minutes, and the resolutions of the MAT-SU Borough Assembly. At each of the two regular meetings per month, the Mayor and the seven-member Assembly have thumbed through up to 800, two-sided pages. But on Jan. 17, paper disappeared and laptops appeared.

"I love it. It's so easy," said Wasilla Assemblywoman Mary Kvalheim. "I definitely look at the money saved in paper alone. With a 600-page packet, look at how many trees you kill. I used to say they ought to give us a donkey when you got elected to carry around our packets," Kvalheim said.

It took about a year to phase in the electronic packet. "It's a different work methodology," McGehee said. "With paper you're going from something tangible that you can write on and put on stickies, to a process with a laptop and a disc." Now however, McGehee said, technology makes the computer screen nearly as tangible as a hard copy. With a Tablet PC, for instance, the Assembly can write on the document displayed on the computer screen with a pen-like stylus. The Assembly also can put Post-It Notes and write on notepads that are on a specific page on the screen.

Some news reporters and Borough department directors followed suit and are requesting a CD rather than a hefty binder.

This week, McGehee and Case will be training clerks across the state at the annual Alaska Association of Municipal Clerk's Conference in Fairbanks. "A phenomenal response came back, across the state from different clerks," McGehee said. They wanted to know everything about it, she added. Fairbanks, Wasilla, and Kenai are interested in going electronic, she said. Some municipalities are beginning the process through small steps such as posting agendas and legislation online.

The setup of laptops and software cost $25,000. While the Borough Clerk's Office is not fully electronic yet, some 15 of 29 packets are now scanned. The switch cuts down the day and a half spent photocopying for one administrative assistant. Scanning CDs also saves the life of Borough photocopiers.

"We killed the old copier because of making packets," McGehee said, adding that in her office a typical photocopier lasted only five years. The machine costs about $25,000, with $5,000 for annual maintenance bills, she said. "Some paper copies will always be available for the public, as not everyone has access to a computer," McGehee said.

For more information, contact Borough Clerk Michelle McGehee at (907) 745-9685.