John Mack - Newtown Supervisor

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



A Deeper Understanding of the "Redsk*ns" Conversation

This is a guest blog post contributed by Arla Patch who I met at a recent weeklong series of hearings held by the PA Human Rights Commission at Bucks County Community College in Newtown Township (see here). Ms. Patch was the Community Engagement Coordinator for the Maine Wabanaki State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission when she lived in Maine. She now lives in Quakertown.

Why do some communities hang on with all their might to the term “Redsk*ns,” which is considered a racist slur by many, while other communities hear the Native American voices that ask them to release it? In particular, why do the largely Euro-American members of the Nashaminy school board, teachers and parents say they use the racial slur “R word” to HONOR Native Americans and yet attack, berate and highly disrespect the very Native People who are asking them to stop using it? Even when Native American members of the same community insist that it DOES NOT honor them?

I think loss has something to do with it.

When I lived in Maine I remember a group of Wabanaki tribal members traveled to Sanford, Maine in 2012 to ask the Sanford High School community to please stop using the term “Redsk*ns” for their sports team. The tribal members shared the impact on their lives of being reduced to a mascot and how that made them feel.  From what I understand, nearly everyone “got it” and they voted to change the name.  But the retired football coach spoke in favor of keeping the Redsk*ns name. Apparently he said with fiery passion: “I was born and REDSKIN, I’m going to die a REDSKIN!”

That level of identity struck me as significant. When I read Sebastian Junger’s book Tribe, I realized that especially for Euro-Americans there is a very deep genetic component to embracing Native American identity.  Each one of us non-natives left our ancestral territory at some point for the “New Land.”  We broke our multigenerational connection to the land of our ancestors and took up residence in someone else’s homeland. We all carry the genetic memory of tribal cohesion, where each person’s survival depends on the rest of the tribe working together, supporting each other, and living with an awareness of the group as a whole. This is the powerful cohesion that Junger also contends occurs in the military when a group of people are life-threatened regularly and depend on each other for survival. He contends we are designed for that cohesion.

For me personally, being of very mixed European ancestry, I have also craved a cultural identity. My first marriage had the very attractive aspect of being married to a full blooded Swede and getting a very ethic Swedish last name. I learned to cook Swedish food and celebrate Swedish holidays.

There can be a longing for an identifying culture when yours has been obscured by generations of mixing and diluting.  And when you can attach bravery, strength, and fierceness to an identity such as the projection on the Native American warrior stereotype, it's a powerful mix.  If you have no real education on the context, the history of what Indigenous Peoples have suffered since we first arrived on their land, you can aggressively embrace that mascot identity as your own.  Further you will be blind to the cartooning, mimicking and misuse of imagery, gestures and regalia, so great is your need for that identity.

This powerful appropriation connects IDENTITY WITH PRIDE. This PRIDE is so emotionally based, and the need and identity becomes so strong, that it outweighs what the members of the tribal communities tell you. To take that identity away, for some people, is a loss too great to bear.

Another force the drives the voracity of clinging to Native American identities I believe is an underlying and unspoken guilt. Most of us know on some level, that this land and all its resources that we possess came at the cost of nearly wiping out the Indigenous Peoples who were already here. Horrific things were done. The depth of grief to accept what our forbearers might have done can feel overwhelming.

But to me, part of the healing is to acknowledge. I heard it said: “If we own up to our past we won’t be condemned by it.  We are more than the worst things we’ve done.” It is a history that we’ve inherited. The choice now is what are we going to do with that inheritance moving forward?

Further Reading

Posted on 05 Feb 2019, 01:45 - Category: Discrimination



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