TARTU - City officials in Estonia's second largest city recently decided to embrace technological advances and curtail geographic distances by holding their first electronic City Council meeting on July 28, during which three out of four municipal leaders participated in the meeting via the Internet.
Mayor Andrus Ansip took part in the session from the privacy of his own home, while Hannes Astok, a deputy, participated via the GPRS network from Manilaid Island in the Gulf of Riga on his laptop computer and another deputy, Laine Janes, joined in from a cafe in Parnu with the help of a WiFi connection.
"We tested the new information system for city government sessions that enables people who are in Estonia but outside Tartu to participate in the session," Astok said.
"It was quite successful. All the paperwork in the city government is digital, and documents can be verified and revised in one's computer," he added.
Deputy Mayor Sven Illing, the only council member who actually was in city hall during the meeting, said the virtual meeting was important since it showed that council members could make urgent decisions even while in different cities.
"The summer is the main period of construction, and it is important that construction permits and plans are not stuck behind the city government," he told the Baltic News Service.
Commenting the meeting, Juri Molder, a municipal spokesman, said fast mobile and Internet connections, as well as the document management system based on IBM GoPro software (adapted for the needs of Tartu's city government by IBM Estonian specialists), made it all possible.
Molder said the document-management system drastically reduced the time required for making decisions. Also, copying session materials requires less paper since the agenda is electronically sent to the city government's departments along with the draft decisions and additional documents.
All those attending the meeting can choose what papers they want to bring to the session on hard copy. The document management system has been used at the Tartu city government since the end 2002.