ROCKINGHAM — A new piece of technology sat in front of each member of the Richmond County Board of Commissioners at their last meeting.
Instead of the laptops with a gold foil county seal they’d been using since April of 2011, each commissioner had a tablet.
County Manager Rick Sago said the decision was to purchase the devices several months ago when Commissioner Herbie Long expressed the need to have a tablet to use during the meetings and when traveling to conduct other duties pertaining to his elected office.
“Other commissioners had expressed an interest, too, since they are much more portable unlike the full-sized laptops,” Sago said in an email Tuesday.
The county purchased seven 128-gigabyte Microsoft Surface Pro3 tablets — along with a keyboard and docking station for each device — at $1,065 each, for a total cost of $7,455.
“I like ‘em,” said County Commissioner Thad Ussery. “I brought mine home the first night just to mess around and get used to it.
“The tablets are small, lighter, more portable…pretty simple to use and easy to handle,” he added. “If we go to meetings anywhere, we can take them with us without any trouble.”
Ussery said he has a tablet of his own, a Samsung 10.1.
“It works pretty good for me and I’ve been using it about three or four years,” he said. “I use it more than my computer, really.”
Ussery said he also uses an iPad for the Sandhills Center Board of Directors, of which he’s been chairman for the past decade.
“There’s 21 of us, so you can imagine the amount of paper that was used for every meeting,” he said.
In addition to being used at county meetings, Ussery said the tablets would come in handy at state and national conferences, like the upcoming National Association of Counties Conference and Exposition in Charlotte next month.
“You see a lot of commissioners at those meetings with those tablets…typing notes in them,” he said. “If you wanted to take a tablet with you, that would be a good place to take one.”
Sago said commissioners first got the laptops after deciding to move to a paperless agenda in 2011.
“The idea was that it was a huge waste of paper and time to print and compile those printed notebooks every month,” he said. “They could pull up the agenda and supporting information right there in front of them with the laptop. Now they can do that with the tablet.”
At that time, Sago said laptops were the best option given the set requirements, including a Microsoft operating system to integrate the devices into the county’s existing management infrastructure — and having as large a screen as possible.
The county purchased 17-inch laptops, which Sago had county seals printed to cover “the very prominent Dell logo” on the cover.
“I have always had on my mind that the laptops were too large for their use during the meetings as they blocked the views from the cameras,” Sago said. “Also, the commissioners did not choose to take them home for everyday use since they already had laptops or PCs at home.”
UPGRADE & REPURPOSE
Sago said it was for those, and other, reasons that he wanted to re-deploy the laptops to county staff for departmental use.
“This would give me an opportunity to buy new devices for commissioners, more suitable to their needs and devices better suited for use during the meetings” he said.
According to Sago, the county was able to offset the costs of purchasing the new tablets by using the laptops to fulfill requests from department heads who are budgeted to buy new devices. Five have already been designated for re-use and the others will be distributed as requests are made.
“In my opinion,” Sago said, “the Surface tablets were the right device as they run the Microsoft (operating system), they stand on their own, are small enough to be a convenience for commissioners to travel with and do not obscure them from the broadcast cameras.”
Sago said commissioners will use the tablets to receive communications, view documents from him, the clerk and other county staff and for general Web browsing on the variety of topics they encounter.
Ussery added, “I think all the commissioners are going to like these tablets better.”
Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_Toler.