Elections and new electronics don't mix


I suffer from tablet envy every time I walk into the city council chamber.

Had I but one cast-off iPad from a city councillor upgraded to newer gear, my council meeting Twitter stream might keep up with that of my JRfm counterparts, Jenn Ferguson and Taylor Renkema.

Most nights, while their dainty digits gracefully tweet the latest argument made, I must contend with my Android's frequent network gaps, or its unmanageable keypad, which would explain any tweets I've recently put out referring to Ciuncollor Jadon Baker.

A tablet, I would think, would offer the right balance of size and network coverage.

Alas, there will not be any used council iPads on the market in the coming year.

It's hard to take issue with councillors for nixing the idea of buying new tablets on time for next fall's election.

Sure, the aim was to give the new (or old) batch of reps brand-new tablets that will last them their full four years.

And there is already a saving built into the plan: only nine council members will be elected next year, meaning one fewer tablet to buy.

At the very least, they are no longer arguing over the need to get with the times and use computers instead of paper.

That battle was fought in the previous term, when it took councillors more than a year, from February 2007 to June 2008, to spend the money they'd set aside for laptops.

It did not take long for them to realize the things don't explode when you turn them on. And once they are turned on, you can research potential municipal contractors, provincial political statements or other municipalities' practices online in between speaking turns.

The argument is no longer whether to buy, but when to replace.

And in this instance it's hard to argue with Councillor Leigh Bursey's argument: they only got the tablets a year ago, and a two-year working life for a piece of technology is ludicrous.

Council made the right choice. Sticking to the four-year plan makes sense, even if it does not match the four-year council term.

Still, we should all spare a second, before being done with this piddling item and refreshing our mental page, to ponder the truth of Councillor Jeff Earle's observation that it was “politically expedient to whack” this minor expense.

Or, as I put it to another councillor on the way out of city hall last night: Never buy yourselves electronics when there's an election around the corner.

Saving eight grand by putting off new tablets is fine, but in the grand scheme of things it's a minuscule drop in a bucket big enough to exceed $40 million.

If councillors are to appear frugal for making do with 2012 tablets a little while longer, they will have to find more substantial savings.

And, as Councillor Mary Jean McFall warns, they will have to achieve the equally difficult task of not taking line items out only to put others in.

With an election less than a year away, the temptation will be even stronger to defend, out of political expediency, spending that would cover these tablets ten times over.