John Mack - Newtown Supervisor

Summary of January 23, 2019, BOS Public Meeting

The following is a brief summary of the January 23, 2019, Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS Definition) meeting based upon the official minutes of that meeting, which you can find here. See how Supervisors voted on motions (click here).

Committee Reports

Newtown Township Human Relations Commission: Mr. Mack provided an update on the Human Relations Commission (HRC) Definition and that a contact was recently provided for Mr. Summerson of the PA Human Rights Commission whom he had met. Mr. Mack noted that Mr. Summerson will be doing the Training for the HRC, and noted that the commission needed to appoint a chairman and must be advertised in accordance with the Sunshine Law. A date will be determined for the organization. Mr. Mack made a motion to authorize the Township Manager to work with the HRC and come up with a date for advertisement. Mr. Fisher seconded, motion passed 5-0. Mr. Lewis stated that he will contact the entire committee.

Planning Commission: Commission vice Chair, Ms. Peggy Driscoll provided the Planning Commission report which included a Conditional Use Definition application for FairyGene Inc. of 121 Friends Lane, Suite 202, in the Friends Lane Commons development. The property was formerly occupied by Centrak. Applicants are planning to use 5,000 sq. ft. for cosmetic product manufacturing by combining non-hazardous ingredients with water to make a cream-like product. There will be no retail or export sales and signage will not be necessary. No testing or experiments on animals would be done.

Mr. Sander framed a motion for the Applicant’s Conditional Use application to permit the Applicant to operate a Use G-1 - Manufacturing Use at the Property, which approval is subject to the Applicant’s compliance with several conditions. The motion passed 5-0.

Fiscal Responsibility

DCED Early Intervention Program Grant: Resolution making a supplemental appropriation of funds in the 2019 Budget to allow $40,000 to be allocated for the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) Definition Early Intervention Program (EIP) Definition.

Motion was made by Ms. Bobrin to approve the Resolution making a supplemental appropriation of funds in the 2019 Budget to allow $40,000 to be allocated for the DCED EIP. The motion was seconded by Mr. Fisher. The motion passed 4-1 with Mr. Davis dissenting.

Andrew Sheaf Answers Questions About DCED's Early Intervention Program:

Land Development

Bucks County Community College Waiver of Stormwater Management: The Applicant is requesting a waiver of Township Storm Water Management Definition requirements related to a campus core revitalization project. Dr. Shanblatt explained that the intent and purpose of the project was to improve the campus core to make it more walkable, and to include landscaping, and porous and non-porous paving surfaces.

Mr. Fisher made a motion to grant the Waiver of Stormwater Management subject to the review and approval of maintenance procedures for porous paving areas. Ms. Bobrin seconded the motion. The motion passed 5-0.

Lower Dolington Trail: Mr. Lewis noted that the grant period for the 2019 DCNR Definition Grant is now open. Mr. Lewis recommended that the township apply for the 2019 DCNR Grant for the Lower Dolington Trail. Mr. Lewis provided a brief overview of the project, and noted that the Township was declined for the 2018 grant. It was a consensus of the Board to apply for the grant funding again in 2019.

Public Safety

Dr. Harry Carter gave a brief overview of the 2018 Fire and Emergency Services Study: Mr. Mack questioned how the location of the [recommended] fire house was determined. Dr. Carter outlined response times given to him by the Department. Mr. Davis questioned the rationale for moving the fire department just outside of the Borough. Dr. Carter explained that the recommendation was made to reduce response time.Mr. Mack questioned the recommendation as the National Fire Protection Association standards are less than the standard. Dr. Carter confirmed that finding, however the recommendation is based on the community. Mr. Mack commented that new taxes would be required to develop a new fire house location.

Mr. Mack also questioned the necessity of the recommendation for new apparatus. Dr. Carter elaborated on the recommendation to purchase a 75-foot Quintuple and defined what a quick response vehicle is. Dr. Carter also explained what a combination fire department includes, and involves.

Mr. Calabro asked why we have not needed 7-day coverage until now. Dr. Carter said the recommendation came from interviews with paid and volunteer staff. Mr. Calabro asked if the mutual aid agreements provide the Township with enough coverage during the evening and weekend hours.

Mr. Mack Reported on the Opioid Forum in Newtown Borough: He noted that the PA Attorney General [Josh Shapiro] was in attendance, and is considering litigation against opioid manufactures. The most moving presentation was by former addicts. Mr. Mack also stated that Feb. 16 the BCATO will have a discussion panel to discuss the opioid crisis

Speaking at a local the Opioid Community Forum on January 17, 2019, PA State Attorney Josh Shapiro said prescription drugs are providing the “jet fuel driving this crisis” and that is why PA is one of 4 states leading a 41 state investigation of pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors that “I hold responsible for a huge part of this crisis.”

Purchase of Police Vehicles: Motion to purchase 3 police vehicles through Fred Beans Inc. through COSTARS in the amount of $92,269.00. Motion was made by Ms. Bobrin, seconded by Mr. Fisher. The motion passed 5-0.

Motion to advertise for the purchase of two police motorcycles, lighting and equipment through PennBID. Mr. Lewis noted that these purchases would be reimbursed through the Keystone Communities Grant. Motion was made by Ms. Bobrin, seconded by Mr. Fisher. The motion passed 5-0.

Posted on 15 Feb 2019, 01:05 - Category: Board of Supervisors Minutes



January 2019 Police Report: Crash on Swamp Road

Interim Police Chief Jason Harris presented the Calls Report for January 2019 at the February 13, 2019, Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting. In January, the Newtown Police Department responded to 1,529 total calls, 264 (17%) of which were in Wrightstown Township (Newtown Police provides services to both Newtown Township and Wrightstown). See a summary of the report below. Note: Not all calls are listed.

Traffic Citations

There were 106 traffic citations in Newtown in January 2019. Sixty-one (58%) of those involved speeding, which is a perennial problem that residents are concerned about.

Chief Harris also reported more details of the crash that occurred on Swamp Road Jan. 27. He comended the response of Temple MedFlight, as well as local police, fire, and ambulance squads to help save the life of a young girl and reported that she was now conscious in Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Struck Deer

Posted on 14 Feb 2019, 13:08 - Category: Crime



PFAS Detected in Newtown Township's Water Supply

By now, Newtown Township, Newtown Borough, and some Middletown residents have received a letter from the Newtown Artesian Water Company (NAWCO) alerting customers that “a recent round of [water source] samples have shown detectable limits” of Perfluorinated Compounds (i.e., PFOS and PFOA Definition) aka PFAS.

Letter I received on February 11, 2019

Previously, at the August 8, 2018, Newtown Board of Supervisors meeting, Dan Angove, the NAWCO’s Assistant General Manager, reported that the levels of these compounds in Newtown’s drinking water was “nondectable”; i.e., below 5 parts per trillion (ppt).

The letter does not mention the exact amounts of these contaminants in recent samples but refers residents to the NAWCO website (www.newtownwater.com) to find the results of measurements. The following chart is based on that data.

NAWCO complies with the PA Department of Environmental Protection’s “safe” level of 70 ppt for these contaminants – the same as the U.S. EPA’s designated Health Advisory Level. This limit has been widely criticized. As reported recently in the Bucks County Courier Times newspaper (here), State Sen. Maria Collett, D-12, of Lower Gwynedd, introduced a bill that would establish a 10 ppt drinking water limit for PFOS, PFOA, and two other chemicals. New Jersey already set a limit of 14 ppt for PFOA and 13 ppt for PFOS. Some scientists call for a limit as low as 1 ppt.

NAWCO says “YES! The water provided by NAWCO is safe to drink and is well below the current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) health advisory levels for PFOA/PFOS (70 parts per trillion). Both the EPA and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) consider this level protective of public health.”

Despite declaring the water “safe” by PA DEP standards, the NAWCO – out of an abundance of caution – removed from service two sources of water (wells 14 and 18) “pending further tests.”

One has to wonder, however, if the levels of these contaminants in Newtown’s drinking will increase rather than decrease. The U.S. Navy is investigating the migration paths of PFOA and PFOS in the ground water originating from the Naval Air Station and Horsham Air Guard Station in Willow Grove and former Naval Air Warfare Center in Warminster [see story embedded below]. “(The base) is on an elevated plateau, so water will pretty much discharge in every direction,” a project manager with Navy environmental contractor Battelle said.

Posted on 12 Feb 2019, 01:54 - Category: Environment



Township Supervisors Are a Rare Breed

Those unfamiliar with the role of a township supervisor may wonder: What exactly do we do?

The Q1 2019 Townships Today newsletter published by the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors was created to educate the public about the job of the township supervisor (see below). Most people don't realize the hard work and sacrifices involved in public service. As Local Government Week nears, this is the perfect opportunity to start building that understanding.

You can learn more about how I spend my time as Supervisor by viewing my Monthly Supervisor Reports here.

Posted on 12 Feb 2019, 01:01 - Category: Governance



How Does Newtown Township's Website Stack Up?

A recent analysis of municipal websites and their social media pages by Bucks County Courier Times (BCCT) found that most sites succeed as “one-stop shops for information — budgets, agendas and minutes, videos of meetings and planning documents — that residents can access,” but others offer the “bare minimum.”

Where does the Newtown Township website sit on this “spectrum?”

According to data published by the BCCT, the NT Township’s site compares very well regarding what I would call basic content for a municipal informational website (see Table 1).

Table 1: Content Available on Selected Local Municipal Websites

Of concern to me are meeting minutes and video recordings of Board of Supervisors (BOS) meetings. I’m primarily concerned about how much detail is included in minutes and how easy (or difficult) it is to search for and find specific information in the minutes or in the video recordings.

Basic Document Management

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 a word(s) within the document.

My request was quickly implemented by the Township and now every PDF version of minutes going back two or more years is searchable.

On my Mac computer I can find any searchable PDF document stored in any folder that contains a certain word or phrase any where within the document (I was told that this is not possible to do on the computers used by Township employees). Using a PDF reader, anyone can now search the minutes for a word or phrase after downloading. It is not necessary to scroll page by page to find what you are looking for! Residents can also copy and paste sections of the minutes into other documents and posts to social media sites such as Facebook. However, only the version of the minutes on the website is official.

Searchable versions of minutes, however, would not be of much benefit if the minutes themselves did not contain important information about decisions made by Supervisors and comments from the public. The PA Sunshine Law regarding minutes of public meetings, specifies the bare minimum requirements:

"Written minutes shall be kept of all open meetings of agencies [the Township].  The minutes shall include:

  1. The date, time and place of the meeting.
  2. The names of members present.
  3. The substance of all official actions and a record by individual member of the roll call votes taken.
  4. The names of all citizens who appeared officially and the subject of their testimony."

On advice of their solicitors, some townships obey the “letter of the law” and include only minimal details. Why? Lawyers want to minimize exposure to legal challenges that can arise from minutes containing info that is open to misinterpretation or that reflects some unintentional bias. As an elected official, however, I feel it is my duty to provide as much information about the as reasonable and I expect the minutes to offer more than what is the bare minimum as required by law.

Minutes are historical records of the Township. Consequently, in my opinion, they should include enough detail to help the next Township officers 6 to 10 years down the road when the same issue pops up again. It’s also helpful for voters who would like to know the opinions of their elected officials. When I research issues, it’s helpful to see the nature of the discussion that occurred previously.

Let me cite an example. At a recent Newtown Board of Supervisors meeting there was a good deal of discussion about a Resolution Definition. The draft minutes did not include any details about comments made by residents or the Supervisors regarding the resolution. For example, the draft minutes only stated “Resident [name] commented on the resolution.” Also, the minutes did not record who voted yea and nay, but merely stated the resolution passed 4-1.

Clearly, the draft was in violation of Sunshine rule #3 above. More importantly, I believe it should have included more details of the conversation, such as “Resident [name] expressed concern about the costs associated with the resolution.” I am happy to report that the final approved minutes included this information.

I examined the minutes posted to local municipality websites to see if they provided what I consider adequate details and if they are searchable. The results are shown in Table 2.

Table 2: State of Minutes on Selected Local Municipal Websites
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 meetings if the videos are “indexed.” Figure 1 shows an example of an indexed video recording of a Board of Supervisors meeting. 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,” which is displayed side-by-side with the video.

Figure 1. Indexed Video on the Middletown Website. The index appears in the left box under the tab “Meeting Index.”

Every local municipality that features streaming videos of meetings – EXCEPT Newtown Township – includes video indexing (see Table 3).

Table 3. State of Streaming Video on Selected Local Municipal Websites
Website Analytics

Using Google Analytics it is possible to determine the number of total website page views and visitors, and to identify poorly performing as well as top performing web pages, where visitors came from (referrers), which pages they land on, how long they stayed on the website, time of day of access, and visitor demographics such as age, gender, and geographical location. This information is critical for making improvements to the site and ensuring easy access to important information.

According to the BCCT report, “Of the 52 respondents, 35 municipalities said they could not access, did not track or had incomplete data for how many people accessed their websites in 2017.” The 15 responding municipalities with that information had a combined total of 826,326 visitors to their websites. Bensalem, Middletown and Horsham garnered the most visitors in 2017, at 168,653, 103,795 and 103,260 respective viewers.

The Newtown Township website had 42,539 unique visitors overall in 2017. For a month-to-month comparison, there were 3,690 unique visitors in May 2017 and 1,953 unique visitors in May 2018. According to the BCCT report, nine of the 18 websites it analyzed — including that for Bucks County — experienced declines in traffic between May 2017 and May 2018.

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

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

Even though the Township already has a Google Analytics account set up to measure and report on its website traffic, the BOS decided against creating periodic reports citing a lack of need to do so.

Secure Web Sites

Google recently announced that having a “Secure” website is the easiest thing site owners can do to boost search engine ranking. You can tell that a site is secure by looking at the website address (URL). Addresses that begin with “https” are secure (“s” stands for secure). A major benefit of HTTPS is security and encryption. User information remains confidential and secure because only your browser and the server can decrypt the traffic, which prevents hackers stealing sensitive information from or injecting malicious content into web traffic. Only 4 of the 9 (44%) municipal sites listed in Table 3 are secure sites – the Newtown Township website isn’t one of them!
Social Media Use

Of the 53 local government websites studied by BCCT, 35 (66%) had active Facebook pages, 25 (47%) were active on Twitter and 13 (25%) had YouTube channels. Newtown Township has no social media presence (see Table 4).

Table 4. Social Media Used by Selected Local Municipalities

However, the Newtown Police Department has an active Twitter account (@Newtown_Police) and Facebook page.

This means that whenever the Township would like to reach out to citizens via social media, it must do so through the Police Department! Recently, for example the NT Police Twitter account poisted this notice for hiring a Township Recording Secretary:

The tweet linked to a CrimeWatch page for further information.

Posted on 07 Feb 2019, 01:30 - Category: Communication



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The opinions expressed here are solely those of John Mack and do not represent the opinions of any other person or entity.
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