John Mack - Newtown Supervisor

Doylestown Township Passes Juneteenth Freedom Day Resolution

A RESOLUTION OF THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS OF DOYLESTOWN TOWNSHIP, BUCKS COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA DESIGNATING JUNE 19th AS JUNETEENTH FREEDOM DAY

WHEREAS, Juneteenth is recognized as the oldest commemoration of Black economic liberation in the United States; and

WHEREAS, the last people legally enslaved in Bucks County were freed from slavery in Doylestown Township in 1824 into indentured servitude for decades longer; and WHEREAS, President Abraham Lincoln first issued the Emancipation Proclamation effective January 1, 1863, freeing enslaved people in the South. However, southern slave owners ignored that order. On June 19th , 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas and enforced the President's order, freeing the slaves two and a half years after it was first decreed. This day has since become known as Juneteenth; and

WHEREAS, Through other systems of oppression, such as sharecropping, Jim Crow, redlining and mass incarceration true equality has yet to be realized for Black Americans; and

WHEREAS, Today Black Americans face inequities in our judicial system, medical systems, employment and housing as the lingering effects of enslavement and racism; and

WHEREAS, Juneteenth was recognized as a state holiday in Pennsylvania on June 19, 2019.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THIS 4th day of May, 2021, that the Doylestown Township Board of Supervisors adopts this resolution and designates June 19th, as "Juneteenth Freedom Day", recognizes the historical significance of Juneteenth Freedom Day to Doylestown Township, and supports the continued nationwide celebration of Juneteenth to provide an opportunity for the people of the United States to learn more about the past and to better understand the experiences of the Black community that have shaped the United States and to rededicate ourselves to work toward freedom and equality for all.

DULY RESOLVED THIS 4th Day of May 2021.

[Download the PDF version]

Posted on 06 May 2021, 11:27 - Category: Discrimination



Incorporating Zoom Into Live BOS Meetings

An important mission of the Newtown Township Technology and Communications Committee (TC&C) is to improve communications between the Township and its residents through the use of technology.

At a recent TC&C meeting, I was asked to provide some examples of how other townships use technology to improve communications with residents. To answer that I posted "Some Ideas for Improving Township Communications with Residents," which includes a comparison of how local municipalities use social media compared to Newtown.

Today I visited the Doylestown Township website to find out more about the passage of a resolution recognizing Juneteenth; i.e., June 19, which is on a Saturday this year. I did not find the resolution, but I did view the webast of the May 4, 2021, regular meeting of the Doylestown BOS during which the resolution was passed.

Doylestown's webcasts of BOS meetings show how technology can improve communication between supervisors and residents. The May 4 meeting was interesting to me not just because of the Juneteenth resolution, which I have yet to find, but because it demonstrates that live meetings can include participation by residents via Zoom as well as in person. See the screen shots below:

In addition to showing the agenda below the video of the BOS speakers, the
Doylestown webcast is capable of a split screen, which is shown here, where
a speaker at the podium is shown side-by-side with the BOS chair person.
It's a nice-to-have feature but not something necessary to have.
What is really interesting is that residents can participate in the meeting via Zoom
as well as in person and the Zoom screen/video is included seemlessly into
the webcast!

At recent Newtown Township BOS meetings, one or another supervisor has asked when live meetings will return. So far, no specific date has been set, but I have already commented that when live BOS meetings return - which may be after Memorial Day - I hope that somehow we can include participation by residents via Zoom. So far, however, no one has discussed how the township can implement that with the archaic system it has in place. Unfortunately, the May meeting of the TC&C has been cancelled because it was scheduled for Monday, May 31 - i.e., Memorial Day! I hope, however, to bring this up again at the next BOS meeting.

P.S. If you would like to help us implement better technology-enabled resident communications in Newtown, please consider joining the Technology and Communications Committee. It’s difficult to achieve a quorum with only 4 members currently. The TC&C meets only once per month via Zoom.

If you are interested in serving, please submit a letter of interest and resume to Olivia Kivenko, Newtown Township, 100 Municipal Drive, Newtown, PA 18940, by email to oliviak@newtownpa.gov 

Posted on 06 May 2021, 01:38 - Category: Communication



Google Analytics and the Township’s Website

At the April 26, 2021, Newtown Technology and Communications Committee (T&CC) Zoom meeting, several people complained that it was difficult to navigate the township website (www.newtownpa.gov) and find the information they were seeking (listen to the discussion).  

Considering that the website is the main way that the township communicates with residents, it is crucial that its usability be improved. As Peter Drucker, who was arguably the world's greatest management consultant, famously said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

It just so happens that Google Analytics is one of the best tools available to “measure” the usability of websites – and it’s freely available. All that is required is a Google account and a special code to be inserted in every page, both of which are currently in use by the township.

Should the township periodically run Google Analytics on its website to determine how it is used and where improvements may need to be made? Below, I review the analytics for my website to get an idea of what data is most useful to look at.

Case Study: JohnMackNewtown Website Analytics

I run Google Analytics on my website (www.johnmacknewtown.info) every month. It’s actually done automatically by Google. To access the data, I merely login at which point I’m at the home page. The home page automatically includes charts and tables for different time periods – usually the last 7 or 30 days. To get more specific data, all I need to do is click on the various reports available and set the time period. Easy peasy!

Let’s look at some of these data to get an idea of whether or not they would be useful to have for the township’s website as well. [Spoiler alert! Yes, it would be useful to have at least some of this data for the township website.]

Audience Overview

The Audience Overview is probably the first thing you would look at when running analytics. The following chart shows the Audience View for my website for the month of April 2021.

Audience Overview for April 2021. Shows data regarding users/visitors.

There is much useful information here, including the number of users, sessions, pageviews, and average session duration. About 77% of those sessions resulted in the user navigating away from the site after viewing just one page. This is referred to as the “bounce rate.” I need to improve that number, but it’s nice to know that 14% of visitors were new.

I notice that there was an unusual spike in users on April 28. What was that due to? For the answer see the section “How Do I Acquire Visitors to My Website?” below.

How Many Pages Were Viewed in April?

Probably the most important parameter you want to keep track of is pageviews. A pageview is an instance of an Internet user visiting a particular page on a site. A pageview is recorded whenever a full page of the website is viewed or refreshed. In April 2021, my website recorded 2,092 pageviews.

Of these 1,721 (82%) were “unique” pageviews i.e., pageviews that combine the pageviews from the same person (a user in Google Analytics), on the same page, in the same session. So, if you reload a page or visit a page two or more times before leaving the site, it is counted as one unique pageview.

The average monthly number of pageviews this year (Jan through Apr) is 2,048 (1,334 in Jan, 2,140 in Feb, 2,626 in Mar). Thus, there was a total of 8,148 pageviews in that period compared to 5,174 for the same period in 2020 – a 57% increase! I must be doing something right!

What Were the TOP Pages Viewed?

Google Analytics can show you the Top 10, 25, 100, or whatever pages viewed. The following is a representative table of pageview data.

TOP 10 Pageviews for April 2021. Not all data are shown. *Homepage, **Mostly blog pages, ***Page Not Found – these are from dead links outside the site.

From this I see that 58% of visits to the homepage were “bounces,” which means the visitor had no interaction with the page; i.e., did not click on a link in the page to other pages on the site. For 2021 to date the bounce rate for the homepage was 52%. Obviously, I’d like to improve upon that.

How Do I Acquire Visitors to My Website?

One of the most important pieces of information to gauge a website’s usefulness is the origin of visitors; i.e., referrers such as websites, search engines, etc. The following chart shows the referrers to my website during the month of April, 2021.

Referrals By Day. A referral in Google Analytics happens when one website refers traffic to my site. Essentially, it's a recommendation from one site to another.

You can see that on April 21, patch.com and scoop.it were the major referrers accounting for 88% of referrers, whereas on April 28, surveymonkey.com was a major referrer accounting for 75% of the known referral sites.

What was going on those days? What I know is that on April 21, I posted the article “The Newtown Planning Commission Versus Wawa” on Newtown Patch. That article includes multiple links to the website.

On April 28, my survey “What Should Newtown Spend Federal COVID-19 Relief Funds On?” had a spike in responses (123). That survey also has links to the website. Looking at the Surveymonkey analytics, I see a spike in responses via the Newtown Patch on April 28 (see chart below). These responses most likely came from my Patch article I posted on April 25. But why the spike on April 28? I’m not sure. Perhaps Patch promoted it that day. I bet that if I were more adept at using Google Analytics I could find the answer to that question. I’m just happy to know that Patch helps me get visitors to my website and surveys.

Responses from Patch to COVID-19 Relief Funds Spending Survey.
Data from Surveymonkey analytics.
The Top Referrers for 2021 to Date.

Channels

Google groups traffic sources to websites into 4 “channels”:

  • Direct
  • Referral (see above)
  • Organic Search
  • Social

Google Analytics defines direct traffic as website visits that arrived at a website either by typing the website URL into a browser or through browser bookmarks.

NOTE: Visitors also are directed to my website via links in my email newsletter, which is sent to 650 opt-in subscribers. In April, I sent 5,752 emails, which resulted in 360 clicks – mostly to my website. I’m not sure these are counted among the 663 sessions via the direct channel.

Devices

Another interesting piece of information refers to the devices used to access my website. In April, 2021, 55% of sessions were from desktop computers, 44% from mobile devices (i.e., phones) and 2% from tablets. Interestingly, of the 869 total users in April, a majority (58%) accessed my website via their mobile phones. That means I need to pay close attention to making sure pages are readable via small screens.

When Do Users Visit My Site?

One more piece of data is the number of users by time of day, shown in the chart below. Note that Wednesdays (including April 28) had the highest concentration of users, particularly in the hours between 12 pm and 3 pm. Consequently, I surmise that somehow the Patch article was highlighted at 12 pm that day.

Users By Time of Day, April 1 – 30, 2021

How Does This Apply to Newtown’s Website?

Not all the types of data presented here may help improve the usability of the Newtown Township website. IMHO, the most important questions we need to ask include:

  • how many users visit the site?
  • what are the top 10 or 20 pages viewed?
  • are important pages being viewed?
  • what are the major referral sites?
  • etc.

My hope is that the TC&C can make recommendations to the township regarding what analytics to collect and how often to collect the data. The data must also be analyzed and put into reports that will help the township improve the usability of the website.

Posted on 03 May 2021, 01:48 - Category: Communication



Newtown to Receive $1,936,231* in Federal COVID-19 Relief Funds

Preliminary information related to the recently passed Federal Relief Package was released on Friday, March 12, 2021. It was announced that the 936 million dollars would be shared among local governments in Pennsylvania with populations of less than 50,000. Newtown Township’s allocation of those funds is anticipated to be $1,936,231.

The Township should have ½ of the Township’s funds by June 9, 2021. The State will have it by May 10, 2021 and it has 30 days to distribute to municipalities.  The second half will come before March 11, 2022.  

*UPDATE: On June 29, 2021, Newtown Township recieved $1,024,920.93 from the American COVID Relief Fund. Until it is decided how the money will be spent, the funds will be placed in as special account.

What Can It Be Used For?

This money is not to be used for daily operational costs, but rather one time funding opportunities focusing on capacity building, and infrastructure. The spending window is from 2020 through the end of 2024. The funding may not be used to deposit into pension funds, or to offset revenue resulting from a tax cut through the performance window through December 31, 2024.

UPDATE: On Tuesday, May 10, 2021, the U.S. Treasury released an interim final rule for the American Rescue Plan. Download a fact sheet on the 151 page regulation, which provides guidance about eligible uses of the funds.

The Township can spend these funds on:

  • Response to COVID-19 emergency or negative economic impacts.  This includes, but is not limited to, assistance for households, small businesses, non-profits (including volunteer fire companies whose fundraising may have taken a hit during COVID-19), and aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel, and hospitality.
  • Premium pay for essential workers.  Can pay a bonus to workers.  Up to $25K each.  Could be paid in a lump sum as long as you don’t violate $13/hour rule.  Public and private employees.  “Essential workers only”.  Backpay is most likely ok.  Fire Company block grants, police - ok.
  • Lost revenue replacement.  The revenue deficit must be as a direct result of COVID-19, and could apply from 2020 through 2024.  2019 is used as the “base year” with which to compare revenues.  Applies to tax revenue, liquid fuels, etc.
  • Infrastructure investment.  Drinking water, storm water, sewer, broadband hot spots, but you can’t spend it on roads and bridges.  Roads and bridges may come in the fall.
  • Can use for construction for larger meeting space or technology for remote meetings.
  • If Township-owned parks were impacted due to COVID-19 (more use), you could use to repair/maintain them.
  • If you can link the proposed use to an impact caused by COVID-19, then it is most likely a permissible use.

Federal regulations (and maybe State regulations) will initially be issued prior to funds being distributed, but those regs could be modified or refined at any time in the next 3+ years. I'm sure there will be a long line of requests for these funds!

Tell me how YOU would like this money to be spent. TAKE MY SURVEY.

DISCLAIMER: This is not a Newtown Township approved survey. It is solely a survey posted by John Mack acting as a private citizen. You may remain anonymous - your personal information is never revealed without your permission.

Posted on 24 Apr 2021, 01:20 - Category: Finances



Facial Recognition Software is Inherently Racially Biased

Is facial recognition technology coming to a police department near you?

Thanks to Aamir Nayeem for notifying me and the Newtown Township Human Relations Commission about the intended approval by the Bucks County Commissioners of a $25,995 contract with facial recognition technology company Clearview AI to provide assistive technology for law enforcement.

"A simple Google News search for Clearview AI reveals numerous issues with the tool at every turn," says Mr. Nayeem. "Nearly 70 immigrant rights, civil liberties and privacy groups are currently calling on the Department of Homeland Security to 'immediately stop' using [facial recognition] technology (source) amid massive privacy concerns and accusations of racial bias with the software, leading to wrongful arrests."

From an article last year:

Late last month, Detroit Police Chief James Craig suggested the technology the department uses, which was created by DataWorks Plus, isn't always reliable. "If we were just to use the technology by itself, to identify someone, I would say 96 percent of the time it would misidentify," he said in a public meeting, according to Motherboard. From the start of the year through June 22nd, the force used the software 70 times per the department's public data. In all but two of those cases, the person whose image the technology analyzed was Black. 

The Bucks County Commissioners will meet at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, April 21, 2021, at the Bucks County Administration Building, 55 E. Court St., Doylestown. The meeting will be live-streamed on the Bucks County Government Facebook page and archived there for later viewing.The approval is one of the first items on Wednesday's agenda. According to the Bucks County government website's instructions for public access, one can attend the meeting and comment in person, or an email can be sent "on April 21, 2021 between 10:30 and 10:35 am." 

There is a documentary on Netflix ("Coded Bias") on how this kind of software incorporates the prejudices of the white majority - research has shown that facial recognition is very bad at correctly identifying people of color and it's not just because of the color of their skin!

If the use of this technology by the Newtown Township Police Department came up for a vote by Supervisors, I would oppose it!

Posted on 20 Apr 2021, 10:14 - Category: Police



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