In Lodi, Galt and many other cities, getting detailed information on what the city council will face at an upcoming meeting comes as quickly as a few clicks on the computer.
But not so in San Joaquin County. You can find the Board of Supervisors agendas and minutes to previous meetings online, but not staff reports that really tell you what the agenda item is about. And it could be a year before reports are available online
To get copies from San Joaquin County, you must drive to downtown Stockton, feed the parking meter or pay a parking lot attendant, walk through a metal detector at the county courthouse and take the elevator to the seventh floor to the board clerk's office.
Some people just won't bother.
Meanwhile, the city of Lodi saves an estimated 200,000 pages of paper a year because agendas and reports are on the city's Web site, according to city spokesman Jeff Hood. The 200,000 figure was an estimate by former City Clerk Jennifer Perrin back in 2003, when Lodi began putting agendas and staff reports online.
"Lodi is rather good in the tools that are available," said Mike Carouba, a commercial real estate broker who frequently looks up staff reports on the city's Web site.
In Galt, City Clerk Liz Aguire said that her office printed 30 City Council packets - usually 100 to 200 pages per meeting - which would take several hours of staff time just to print. Now only two copies printed, one for the Marion O. Lawrence Library and one for the city clerk's counter, where the public can come in and look at the reports.
"We feel it is a great service to the community," Aguire said.
San Joaquin County Administrator Manuel Lopez agrees that putting reports online would be great for the community, but he says he faces several obstacles.
Information available from Lodi, Galt Web sitesCity of Lodi
Web address: http://www.lodi.gov/
Services available: Agendas, minutes and staff reports online, live broadcasts on Web site, past agenda packets and minutes, city news updates on your cell phone or computer.
Information: Call Jeff Hood, 333-6801.
City of Galt
Web address: http://www.ci.galt.ca.us/site/
Services available: Agendas, minutes and staff reports online, live broadcasts, past agendas and reports.
Information: City clerk's office, 366-7130.
Sources: City of Lodi, Galt
The county has 12 departments with the technological capability of sending the board clerk their reports online, but 17 departments do not, Lopez said. And the larger departments like human services, the sheriff and public works have several divisions, which makes it even more complicated, he said.
"And of the 12 (that can send electronically), only a few and scattered do it," Lopez said. "We're not getting any consistency at all."
Bob Marty, who serves on the Lockeford Municipal Advisory Council, combs the Board of Supervisors agendas for items of interest in the community. If he has any questions, he has to call either county Supervisor Ken Vogel or a county employee to get the information he wants.
But he wouldn't have to if he had access to county reports online.
Furthermore, Marty said, residents who aren't familiar with how county government operates won't know who to call or how to get information.
"Printing out (agenda) packets costs energy and resources and taxpayer dollars," Marty said. "At my business, we're trying to go all electronic. Everything we write is in PDF."
County departments that don't have the capability to send reports to the clerk of the board electronically can scan them and put them on the Web site, Marty said.
While Lopez, the county administrator, said he'd like to see more county information online, he hasn't really pushed the issue because he doesn't want some reports to the Board of Supervisors on the county Web site, but not others.
Upon reflection, Lopez said that maybe he could work toward putting staff reports online during the slow time of the year - December, January and February - rather than wait an entire year.
"It's easier than he thinks," said Galt City Councilman Darryl Clare. "We think the electronic age has served us well."
Clare pushed for a "paperless" agenda shortly after he became Galt's mayor in December 2002. It didn't take long for Aguire to get it set up.
In Lodi, City Clerk Randi Johl converts staff reports from a Word document into a PDF file. Then she forwards it to Hood, who places them on the city Web site.
There is an initial cost to set up agendas and staff reports online. There are software costs, and Lodi and Galt, at least, purchased laptop computers for department heads and each of the five City Council members.
Hood and Aguire couldn't give dollar figures on how much money was saved in duplication and other costs. But Hood noted cost savings on the wear and tear on the copy machine, the need to buy less toner, not to mention binders and dividers.
"It's a huge timesaver - and going green, it also got us on the road to environmental issues," Aguire said.