LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Town Hall is getting more tech savvy.
Officials are going paperless at future community development district meetings, eschewing paper agendas and bulky document binders in favor of electronic folders. They've already beefed up online security to keep out would-hackers and online vandals. And they're even making the leap onto Facebook.
Town Hall launched its own Facebook page last week (search for "Lakewood Ranch Town Hall" on the social media site). It had a few dozen fans in its first few days of existence.
"This is another way we can connect with people," said Eva Rey, Town Hall executive director.
The Facebook page will highlight links to Lakewood Ranch media coverage, post events and redirect residents to updates on Town Hall's homepage, lakewoodranchgov.org,
Posts so far have also included photos of the recent release of grass-eating carp into 191 stormwater retention ponds in Lakewood Ranch and from the construction of the new operations facility.
Going paperless will include the purchase of tablets for district supervisors and staff to use at public meetings in lieu of paper. But the change isn't just practical. It will eventually save Town Hall between $600 and $900 a month in materials and manpower needed to put together packets of documents, Rey said.
Rey is familiar with bringing government entities up to speed on technology. She led the charge for Marion County to go paperless in 2002 when she worked in administration for its board of county commissioners.
Town Hall information technology specialist Art Sugerman is helping Lakewood Ranch district supervisors make the transition.
"We don't want board members to be teeny-boppers in order to do it," said Sugerman, who's overseen IT at Town Hall since December 2011.
Sugerman has been beefing up Town Hall's computer networks since coming aboard. The danger isn't that hackers could access sensitive information, he said, since all Town Hall records are public under Florida's Sunshine laws. But the system could still be vulnerable to attacks from spam, "phishing" emails or other malware.
Sugerman works with officials and employees to ensure they avoid harmful emails, and he has put in firewall routers in five interconnected computer networks used by employees to communicate, control security gates and swipe cards. He'll spare you all the details and tech-speak.
"If I really describe to you what we did, you'd end up in a coma," he said.
The bottom line: Town Hall's tech system is safer than before.
"We have definitely beefed up our security," Rey said. "That has really increased."
Jason Bartolone, East Manatee Editor, can be reached at 941-745-7011. Follow him on Twitter @JasonBartolone.