John Mack - Newtown Supervisor
Communication Category

Got Potholes, Broken Street Light, Dead Deer on Road? Who You Gonna Call?

One item on the agenda of last night’s Technology Committee meeting concerned “Resident Reporting Methods.” One of the missions of this committee is to “improve communications between the Township and its residents” (find the mission statement here).

A committee member wondered if residents were aware of how to report a specific issue such as a pothole to the Township. “If you call the main number and you have to go through several cycles before reaching the pothole people,” he said, “that would not be good.”

Actually, there is a better way to communicate with the Township to report a specific concern. It’s an online form that residents can use (find it here). You need to enter your name, street address and email address, then select one of the following problems/concerns:

  • Pot Holes/Road Issues
  • Street Lights
  • Traffic Lights
  • Hit Deer/Animal
  • Wild Animal(s)
  • Business License
  • High or Overgrown Grass
  • Excessive Noise
  • Work Without Permit
  • Uncleared Sidewalks in Snow Conditions
  • Other

Depending on your choice, you will get further instructions and/or be asked for more information. For example, if you select “Wild Animal(s)”, you will be presented with a new form that asks for the location of the animal and type of animal. Finally, you’ll be asked to provide additional information, if necessary.

After completing the form, you get this reassuring message: "Your comments and concerns will be directed to the appropriate departments within the township. If necessary, a representative from the department will be sure to follow up with any questions they have based on your submission."

The website is responsive and adapts to a mobile format so it can be used on cell phones. But is there a better technology that can be used instead or in addition to this? How about a mobile app? What if the Township had a Twitter account and residents were able to send direct messages through Twitter to the township?

These are the sorts of questions that the Technology Committee is designed to answer should the Supervisors request it.

Posted on 30 May 2018, 10:15 - Category: Communication

Improving Communications Between Newtown Township and Residents

One of my goals as a Newtown Township Supervisor is to improve communications with Township residents. That is the main purpose of this blog. It’s good to know that my efforts have not gone unnoticed. Yesterday, for example, a member of the Nextdoor community website - where I often post information of interest to Newtown area residents - sent me a personal note: “I think your (sic) a terrific Supervisor to keep us informed!” That person made my day.

More important than posting to my website is the work I have done in conjunction with the Township staff, Technology Committee volunteers, and contractors to improve communications and access to public information. Some of the small steps toward my goal include the following.

  1. I revised the mission statement of the Technology Committee to include “improve communications between the Township and its residents” (Resolution 2018-R-11, March 28, 2018).

  2. Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting agendas previously stated at the top: “Please Turn Off Cell Phones During Meeting”. I thought that would discourage residents from using their phones to record the meetings. Consequently, I requested that this phrase be replaced with “Please Silence Cell Phones During the Meeting.” My request was granted. This should apply to all agendas of public meetings. 

  3. Related to that, at the March 14, 2018, BOS Meeting, I noted – and the Township solicitor confirmed - that residents can video record ALL public meetings, including Zoning Hearing Board meetings. Audio recordings are also allowed.

  4. At the Mar 28, 2018, BOS meeting, I noted that there was an unnecessary delay in publishing minutes of meetings. The process involved approving minutes at the following meeting and then signing the approved minutes two weeks later at the next meeting – a total of more than four weeks after the original meeting. Now, if there are no changes, the approved minutes are signed and posted about two weeks after the meeting. If corrections need to be made, the Township administrative assistant posts a temporary copy of the minutes, which is then replaced with the corrected copy.

  5. Related to that, very early on in my tenure in January, 2018, I requested that the posted minutes be converted to searchable PDF format. This was quickly implemented and every PDF version of minutes going back two years have been converted. Using a PDF reader, you can now search the minutes after downloading. You can also copy and paste sections of the minutes, which I do all the time. See for example the summaries of minutes posted to this blog.
Newtown BOS Website Video Streaming Improvement: No More Pixelation!

Now I can put another small “feather in my cap.” Finally, the quality of the streaming video of BOS meetings on the Township website has been improved and is now on a par with online videos of other townships. This is something I have been pushing for since taking office in meetings with the video contractor and the Township Manager and at BOS meetings. The "before and after" screen grabs below clearly show the improvement.

Another issue is indexing the video to allow viewers to jump to different sections of the video by clicking items on the agenda while playing the video. Lower Makefield Township (LMT), which uses the same streaming video vendor as does Newtown, includes this useful feature. LMT’s streaming video page showing the index to the video. Viewers can click on an item in the agenda such as “Contract for New Manager” and jump immediately to that portion of the video (see screen grab below). Since Newtown’s video page lacks this feature, it is very difficult for residents to view the sections of BOS meetings that they are most interested in seeing.

Now that Lower Makefield has stolen our Manager (click on “Contract for New Manager” here), I want Newtown to be competitive, not only in having great management but having great communications capabilities. The above accomplishments and suggestions are small steps in that direction, but there is still much to be accomplished. Stay tuned!

Posted on 25 May 2018, 10:37 - Category: Communication

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