John Mack - Newtown Supervisor

My Supervisor Activities for June 2019

The following is a summary of my Supervisor-related activities for June, 2019. I spent 33.5 hours in June on official Supervisor business, which is somewhat below the average of 45 hours per month for the period of Jan-May, 2019. This is primarily due to the fact that there was only one required public meeting of the Board of Supervisors (BOS) in June. Usually, I spend 10 or more hours preparing for and attending a BOS meeting.

Log of Hours Spent on Official Business

My log keeps track of the time spent on the following:

  • Attending “Required” Meetings
  • Preparation for BOS Meetings
  • Attending Optional Meetings/Activities
  • Interaction with Residents
  • Travel To & From Meetings

What This Report Does Not Include

My log of Supervisor-related activities does not include the many hours I spend posting to this blog, maintaining my personal website, writing a newsletter, creating and posting video clips from meetings, hosting podcast interviews, summarizing decisions made by the Board of Supervisors (BOS Definition), etc. Also not included is the time I spend posting to my personal Facebook page, Twitter account, and Instagram account. These activities are NOT part of my official duties as Supervisor, but represent my personal views.

Also not included in this log are the many hours I am spending canvassing door-to-door campaigning for re-election from now until Election Day on November 5, 2019. Much of that time is spent discussing issues of imprortance to residents.
Meetings

In the month of June 2019, I spent 8 hours attending township meetings (required and optional). The average for the 5-month period of Jan-May, 2019, was 10 hours per month (including June, the average is 9 hours). Obviously, BOS meetings are the most important meetings - I am expected to attend them in order to satisfy my duties as a Supervisor. These include regular twice-per-month public meetings, and non-public executive sessions. Optional meetings include public work sessions, and special meetings (see the list below).

“Other Meetings” I attended were optional. In June, 2019, I attended a Planning Commission meeting on June 4, a Joint Zoning Council Definitionmeeting on June 6, a Finance Committee meeting on June 11, and a Newtown Fire Association meeting on June 24.

Interaction with Residents

In my opinion, personal interaction with residents regarding their concerns is an important part of my responsibilities as Supervisor. I want to be sure that I spend enough time reaching out to and responding to residents via personal contact, official email via my johnm@newtownpa.gov account and via my personal john@johnmacknewtown.info account, and via phone and/or Facebook.

In June, 2019, I spent 9.4 hours (28% of my total logged hours) interacting with residents compared to an average of 7 hours per month for the previous 5-month period. This did NOT include the hours I spent campaigning for re-election.

What did I discuss with residents? Here’s a partial list (some items are not included for confidentiality reasons):

Disclaimer

When speaking with residents on issues that may come before the BOS in the future for a vote, I never express an opinion as to how I will vote because I may not have all the information. Needless to say, I also do NOT discuss any confidential information that is not in the public domain. These discussions with residents are meant solely to inform me of their opinions, not for me to give them my opinion. Or it is just to listen to complaints/concerns and to forward them on to the BOS if necessary
The height of each bar represents total hours spent on official business that day. This includes time spent at meetings.

I decided to keep track of my activities as a Supervisor on a monthly basis partly because I want to be accountable to residents, but also to make sure I am making the best use of my time. It's really an honor to serve the community! I learn something new every day and have met many fine people and volunteers who also put in a lot of time without any compensation at all. Thanks to everyone who help keep Newtown in business and safe.

Posted on 02 Jul 2019, 01:48 - Category: Open Records/Transparency



Newtown Township Police Department Adds Nextdoor to Its Social Media Outreach Program

This morning, I was surprised to see this in my email inbox from Nextdoor:

Actually, I should not have been surprised because the Police Department has an excellent FB page as well as Twitter and Instagram accounts! Kudos to Sergeant Lupinetti, who manages these accounts.

About Nextdoor

Nextdoor is a social networking service for neighborhoods. Nextdoor members can post notices, events, and topics for discussion and/or feedback from other members. Members submit their real names and addresses and other information in their profiles. Posts made to the website are available only to other Nextdoor members living in the same neighborhood, hence the name “Nextdoor.”

Typical platform uses include neighbors reporting on news and events in their "neighborhood" and members asking each other for local service-provider recommendations. It can also be used to post events and other notices of interest to members such as this post I made about the impact of the Township’s Pollution Reduction plan on Roberts Ridge Park:

This resulted in residents attending a Board of Supervisors meeting and submitting comments on the plan for the park. As a result, the plan was changed (read “Newtown Revises Pollution Reduction Plan After Hearing Resident Comments”) and a new group, “Friends of Roberts Ridge Park” (see the FB Group) was formed with a goal to plant native trees in the park to augment the well-maintained meadow area approved by the Township.

It’s a shame that Newtown Township does not have any official social media presence. Of the 53 local government websites studied by the Bucks County Courier Times, 35 (66%) had active Facebook pages, 25 (47%) were active on Twitter and 13 (25%) had YouTube channels.

Social Media Used by Selected Local Municipalities

Because Newtown does not have its own Twitter account or Facebook page, it must rely upon the Police Department whenever it would like to reach out to citizens via social media. Recently, for example the NT Police Twitter account posted this notice for hiring a Township Recording Secretary:

Although the NTPD Twitter account has over 3,100 follows, the majority of these followers are other police departments, law enforcement agencies, police officers and their families, school districts, etc. Consequently, posting to this account is not the best way to reach a significant number of ordinary law-abiding citizens of Newtown.

Now that the NTPD is posting to Nextdoor (see the Departments Nextdoor profile and list of posts here), I am sure their messages will more likely be received and read by the citizens they are intended to reach.

Further Reading: "My BIG Idea: Openness, Transparency & Better Communications"

Posted on 28 Jun 2019, 01:36 - Category: Communication



2019 Newtown Township Road Paving Schedule

This past March, the Newtown Board of Supervisors approved the milling and repaving of 2.73 miles of roadway at a cost of $706,596.20. The currently projected paving schedule is shown in the table below.

UPDATE (July 10, 2019): Due to weather conditions, some paving activities have been delayed. Access the latested REVISED paving schedule here.

See the maps showing the locations of the sections of these roads scheduled to be repaved here

Posted on 27 Jun 2019, 12:11 - Category: Roads



My BIG Idea: Openness, Transparency & Better Communications

You've probably seen the segment "My BIG Idea" on the NBC Nightly News where Democrats running for president talk to Harry Smith about their big ideas, how to pay for them and the impact on voters. At first, I thought this was a bit hokey, but then I got to like the idea and decided to publish my own BIG Idea, which is: Openness, Transparency & Better Communications in local government!

There are several things I would like to accomplish to achieve that goal in Newtown:

(1) The Township should implement a text messaging and social media based “emergency" notification system that can ALSO be used to notify residents of public meetings and other official news from the Township.

I surveyed over 100 people about such a system (e.g., Savvy Citizen which would cost about $300 per month). 82% of respondents said they would opt-in to such a system. Currently, the only such system available to residents is a free service called ReadyBucks, which is pitiful - it only reports such things as flash floods, sever thunderstorms, etc., which is information we all get from a number of other free sources!

See the survey results and more information, comments from respondents pro and con, etc..

(2) Searchable minutes of meetings (DONE!): Very early on in my tenure in January, 2018, I requested that the minutes posted to Newtown Township’s website be converted to searchable PDF format. Searchable PDFs are useful for retrieving documents from a document repository (e.g., computer disk drive) and useful to find the location of words and phrases within documents.

My request was quickly implemented by the Township and now every PDF version of minutes going back two or more years is searchable. For more on that, read "Basic Document Management" in this Blog Post.

(3) Streaming Indexed Video: Just as it is easier to find an item in the minutes if the document is searchable, it is also easier to locate an agenda item in the streaming video of Board of Supervisors (BOS) meetings if the videos are “indexed.”

Here’s how this is implemented in EVERY other local municipality (Lower Makefield, Middletown, Northampton, Upper Makefield, Wrightstown):

The agenda/Meeting Index is displayed alongside the video screen. Viewers can jump to any section of the video that corresponds with an agenda item merely by clicking on the item in the “Meeting Index.” It’s a travesty that Newtown stands alone in NOT having this option even though it uses the exact same video streaming software as other townships! For more on that, read "Newtown BOS Website Video Streaming Improvement" in this Blog Post.

(4) Website Analytics: At the June 13, 2018, BOS meeting, Josephine Vlastaris, former Chair of the Technology Committee, recommended using Google Analytics to monitor traffic and bounce rates for the township website, and make changes to pages as needed (see her presentation here). The Committee suggested that the following reports be created on a monthly basis:

  • Page Views (e.g., the 25 most visited pages)
  • Demographics of Users (Age/Gender distribution)
  • Top 25 Landing and Exit Pages
  • Behavior Flow (where do visitors go from landing pages)
  • Device Categories (desktop/mobile/tablet)
  • Browser source, i.e., Chrome, Firefox, IExplore

This information is critical for making improvements to the site and ensuring easy access to important information. Even though the Township already has a Google Analytics account set up to measure and report on its website traffic (the code is already on every page), the BOS decided against creating periodic reports citing a "lack of need to do so." I should note that it takes about 2 minutes to produce a useful analytics report from Google!

(5) Social Media: Of the 53 local government websites studied by the Bucks County Courier Times, 35 (66%) had active Facebook pages, 25 (47%) were active on Twitter and 13 (25%) had YouTube channels (source: "How Does Newtown Township's Website Stack Up?") . Newtown Township has no social media presence whereas the Police Department does have an excellent FB page and Twitter account!

(6) Glossary of Municipal Terms: MS4, PRD, LST, EIT, SALDO, Liquid Fuels Program, Impervious Surface, Sketch Plan, Conditional Use, Spot-Zoning, etc. These are just some of the acronyms and terms a Newtown Township Supervisor has to learn to do his or her job. Perhaps more importantly, township residents must understand these terms if they are expected to participate in local government. To that end, I have created the first-of-its-kind Glossary of Municipal Terms on my website.

A similar glossary of terms should be available on the Township’s website. Note that many terms link to related information on my website. The Township’s glossary would, of course, link to repeated information on the Township site.

This all relates to the poor use and management of digital assets by the Township, which appears to be living in the 1990’s as far as its use of modern communication tools goes. 

 

Posted on 26 Jun 2019, 01:48 - Category: Communication



Summary of May 22, 2019, Newtown BOS Public Meeting

The following is a brief summary of the May 22, 2019, 2019, Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS Definition) meeting based upon the official minutes of that meeting, which you can find here. In attendance and voting were Supervisors: Chairman Phillip Calabro, Vice Chairman Linda Bobrin, Secretary John Mack and members Kyle Davis and Dennis Fisher. Also in attendance were: Township Manager Micah Lewis, Township Engineer Leanna Colubriale and Township Solicitor David Sander.

Environment

Pollution Reduction Plan: Mr. Mack asked Mr. Lewis for an update on the Pollution Reduction Plan specifically regarding Roberts Ridge [Park]. Mr. Lewis said there has been no official revision of the plan yet as the engineers are still reviewing it. CKS is still responding to comments received and then a final decision will be made [read "Newtown Revises Pollution Reduction Plan After Hearing Resident Comments"]. Mr. Davis asked if we have mowed the field recently and Mr. Lewis said yes.

Development

Conditional Use - MOD Super Fast Pizza: Mr. Blackburn presented the application for E-5 and E-6 eating place at 2938 S. Eagle Road in the eastern most portion of proposed building eight at the Village of Newtown Shopping Center (see plan below).

Mr. Mack asked about parking for this specific quadrant and how it relates to the rest of center. Mr. Blackburn said the retail space in this area totals 48,642 square feet which requires 228 parking spaces. He said the parking ratio is on a site wide basis and there are 217 spaces proposed for this area. Mr. Mack then asked Mr. Blackburn to review the concept of walkability as it relates to the shopping center. Mr. Blackburn stated the outdoor restaurant seating is a component of the walkability scheme as well as the enhanced sidewalk networks and traffic calming measures.

Mr. Calabro asked about the amphitheater area and if this location will have seating available. Mr. Blackburn pointed out the amphitheater on the plan and explained it will be a common public space with seating not designated for any specific tenant. Mr. Calabro questioned the necessity of 30 outdoor seats for MOD Pizza since there is the amphitheater seating.

Historic Preservation

Historical Architectural Review Board: Mary Donaldson, Vice Chairman of HARB, reported three applications were reviewed at the May 8, 2019 meeting. The first for Affinity, a title company at 9 South Sycamore Street, for signage, painting, windows, roof, front door and guard rail. The second is for Guru Restaurant at 203 N. Sycamore Street for 3 wooden signs to replace the Saloon signs and the third is for Steven Robbins Eyewear for replacement of the sign at 41 Cambridge Street.

Public Safety

Emergency Services Report: Chief Forsyth reported the Fire Department had 101 calls for service during April; there were 44 fire calls, 57 calls for emergency medical responses, NESD responded to 74 calls and 27 calls to the Fire Association.

Mr. Mack asked Chief Forsyth if it was possible in future reports to have a breakdown of the types of fire calls such as commercial building fires vs private building fires, car fires, etc. Chief Forsyth responded that he could give a breakdown every month

Supervisor Reports

Mr. Mack: Mr. Mack was given a tour of the Tyler Park covered bridge trail restoration site. He also reported the Human Relations Commission will be receiving training on 5/28/19.

[More details (not in minutes): Walking Tour of the Tyler Park Covered Bridge Trail Restoration Site: On Friday, May 17, Mr Mack was given a tour of the Tyler Park Covered Bridge Trail restoration site by Joyce Ely, Director of the Neshaminy Creek Watershed Association. Recall that Ms. Ely made comments about Newtown’s Pollution Reduction Plan at the last BOS meeting on May 8 (see here). She also submitted a 4-page document that will be included along with the Pollution plan when submitted to the PA DEP (find that document here). The Neshaminy Creek Watershed Association received funding to plant 249 trees, 40 shrubs and 80 perennials this fall along the trail. I am told that this will add shade and provide caterpillars for feeding young birds – the only food they will eat (I was surprised to learn that the baby birds cannot eat bird seed, which was a disappointment to my wife!).

HRC Training: The Newtown Human Relations Commission members and members of other local commissions will receive training from the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission on May 28 right here at the Municipal Center in Newtown. Afterward the Commission will be ready to go to work. If any resident feels that he or she has been discriminated against in housing or employment in Newtown and would like to bring a case before the Commission, you can call (215) 968-2800 and press 8 for the Administration.]

Mr. Fisher: Mr. Fisher reported the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED Definition) grant was fully executed and sent back to the Commonwealth. The Finance Committee is working on the request for proposal. The Committee is also working on a survey to gather data on economic development for the township.

 

Posted on 18 Jun 2019, 15:03 - Category: Board of Supervisors Minutes



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