John Mack - Newtown Supervisor
Communication Category

Mackís Guide to the Newtown Township Website. Lesson 2: How to Access Financial Information

This lesson will show you how to access important township financial information. It specifically will focus on how to find Bills Lists (and Treasurer’s Reports) on the township website and how to analyze the data for useful insights. [View the Video below.]

As a resident, you may be interested to see exactly how you tax dollars are being spent, by whom, and who gets those dollars. The Bills List is a great way to find that information.

As always, the first step is to go to the homepage, which is www.newtownpa.gov.

The logical place to start is Finance Department page, which you can access via the DEPARTMENTS drop-down menu (see Figure 1 below).

Figure 1: Newtown Finance Department Webpage

There’s lots of interesting financial information here such as the approved and annual budgets, financial statements – which are yearly audits - and monthly treasurer’s reports, etc. These are high-level data, but not data about who gets paid for what. We’ll look at the Treasurer’s Report at the end of this lesson.

But there is no folder for Bills Lists!

OK, so here’s my first secret I have for finding the Bills Lists: You have to open the GOVERNMENT drop-down menu and roll your mouse pointer over “Boards and Committees” and then careful move the pointer over to the submenu and click on “Board of Supervisors.”

This will bring you to the Township Board of Supervisors page, which you may think is not the most likely place to find Bills Lists. Stay with me and we will find out why the Bills Lists are available from this page.

Scroll all the way down to the bottom of the screen below the pretty faces of the five supervisor guys and up will pop “Supervisor Meeting Minutes & Agendas” with a list of years (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Bottom of Newtown Supervisors Webpage

Suppose you are interested in seeing one or more Bills Lists approved by the BOS in 2021.

Although this list does not mention Bills Lists, if you click on the year 2021 you will see a “Bills List” folder along with folders for Agendas, Minutes, Treasurer Reports and Zoom Meetings! [View the video below.] These are all items that Supervisors might be interested in and so they are located on this page. That’s my guess anyway. If it were up to me, I would include the Bills List folder on the Finance Department page as well.

Anyway, let’s click on the Bills List folder to open it. Let's look at the Bills List for July 14, 2021, which is at the end of the list. [View the Video below.]

Note that all the Bills Lists are PDF documents. If you click on "07 July 14", you will see a preview of the July 14, 2021, Bills List.

 
SIDEBAR: The naming of files is very perculiar! "07 July 14" by itself would not let you know what this file is about. I only know it's the Bills List for July 14, 2021, because of the folder names it is stored in (i.e., 2021/Bills List). I have no idea what "07" means! It may have something to do with Google docs, which is used by the Township to store documents.

You can scroll down this preview and see every invoice that needs to be paid or was paid in this cycle (actually these are bills that were approved to be paid at the July 14, 2021, BOS meeting; that's why Bills Lists are found on the Supervisors page). For example, on page 1 you will see a bill for $1,213 from Bella Commercial Services for June Janitorial Services/Parks.

Up at the top of the screen you should see several options such as printing or sharing the document. You also can download the document. Let’s try that. [View the Video below.]

Click on the downward pointing arrow and voila! The document should open up on your computer if you have a PDF reader set up to automatically open PDF files when downloaded.

A Secret About PDF Files

There are two types of PDF documents: ones that are “searchable” and ones that are NOT. A searchable PDF file is a PDF file that includes text that can be searched using the standard Adobe Reader “search” function. In addition, the text can be selected and copied and pasted into other applications such an Excel spreadsheet.

Unfortunately, the Bills List PDF documents are NOT searchable. You call tell that by the shape of the cursor, which is a crosshair rather than a bracket.

Let me show you what that means if you try and search for information. [View the video below.] Say you want to find bills related to legal fees related to the proposed Wawa on the Bypass. Now, you don’t know if this Bills List includes any invoices for that so you logically would use the PDF reader’s search function to find any Wawa-related legal bills. Let’s try that.

Type Wawa into the search box and click on “Find Next in Current Document.” Whoops! “No matches found.” Oh, well, I guess there aren’t any such bills.

But wait! Even if you search for a word you know is in this document such as “Newtown” it says not found! That can’t be right. What’s going on?

In order to search for text in a PDF file, it must be a converted to a searchable PDF file. Because I have the proper software, I can convert this non-searchable/non-readable Bills List into a searchable/readable document by using the Adobe’s built-in OCR Text Recognition function.

[BTW, early on in my Supervisor career, I got the township to post only searchable Minutes of meetings show that residents can sift through these sometimes lengthy documents to find what they are looking for without the need to have and know how to use OCR Text Recognition software.]

Now that this is a searchable PDF, if we search for "Wawa" what we find is that there are two bills from KILKENNY LAW LLC related to WAWA, one posted in MAY21 for $1,764.00 and one posted in JUN21 for $2,254.00.  [View the Video below.]

There is no information about what these bills are for. To learn that, you must request copies of the invoices. But I can tell you that these bills are for representing the township at the Zoning Hearing Board opposing Wawa’s requests for variances to the zoning. For more on that, listen to my audio clips from the July 8, 2021, ZHB meeting.

Let’s see what we can do with the KILKENNY LAW FIRM data.

Basically, now that the PDF file is readable, it is possible to copy and paste the data into an Excel spreadsheet. Unfortunately, this involves a few steps. I’ll skip the details and show the results. As you can see, the total for KILKENNY bills is $13,157.67 and bills for Wawa make up 30.5% of the total. See Figure 3 below.

Figure 3. Kilkenny Law Data in and Excel Spreadsheet.

That’s interesting, but what is more interesting is an analysis of how much money the township spent on legal fees for a whole year, including a breakdown of how much was paid to each law firm and for what general purpose. I did this for 2020 (see Figure 4 below).

Figure 4: Summary Section of 2020 Law Firm Bills Spreadsheet

First, you can see that there were more than 200 bills from law firms paid in 2020 for a total of $161,111.16. [View the Video below.] This happens to be 8% over the 2020 budgeted amount of $149,000.

I broke down the bills into 3 broad legal categories: Solicitor, Litigation, and Labor. 73% of the 2020 paid bills were for “solicitor”, which is a fancy term for a lawyer advising the various committees and boards regarding correctly applying local, state and national laws. Only 16% involved “litigation.” The KILKENNY fees for Wawa, for example, fall into that category.

In 2020, the budget allocated $65,000 to pay for solicitor fees from KILKENNY. Actually, KILKENNY was paid nearly $126,000, which is 78% of the total legal fees paid by the township in 2020.

Treasurer's Report

Unfortunately, I cannot do this type of analysis every year for every type of expenditure. The Treasurer’s Report is a good source of information of this sort but on a monthly basis.

For example, we can go back to the Supervisor webpage and access the May 2021 Treasurer’s Report. Figure 5 shows the page related to POLICE SERVICES for that month and Year-to-Date and compares that to what was budgeted.

Figure 5: POLICE SERVICES page from the May 2021 Treasurer’s Report

While the Treasurer’s Report is very informative it does not break down payments into specific categories such as legal fees paid to specific law firms for which purpose. So, I still rely on the Bills List for that sort of detail.

I hope you found this lesson interesting. Perhaps you will do your own different analysis and get back to me about what you learn.

View The Video

Posted on 21 Jul 2021, 01:17 - Category: Communication

Mackís Guide to the Newtown Township Website. Lesson 1: How to Access Official Meeting Agendas and Minutes

Let's suppose you wish to attend an upcoming public meeting such as the next meeting of the Board of Supervisors (BOS) or Planning Commission or other official committee. But you want to make sure you know what’s on the agenda so that you don’t waste your time going to a meeting that won’t cover any issue you care about. This lesson will show you how to do that using the Newtown Township website. You can use the same steps to access the minutes and Zoom recordings of previous meetings.

EXTRA BONUS: The steps outlined here can also be used to access approved minutes and Zoom recordings of past meetings.

 
CAVEAT: This lesson, which was created on June 13, 2021, will show you how to get the agenda for any public meeting. If you are following the steps at a later date, what you see may be different than what's presented here, but the instructions remain valid no matter when you access the website. You might find it easier to view the video version embedded at the end of this post.

The first step, of course, is to go to the homepage, which is newtownpa.gov. You should see this nice page that includes a big scrolling video (Figure 1). Kind of cool, right? No other municipal website that I know of dedicates so much of its homepage to graphics.

Figure 1: newtownpa.gov Homepage

In any case, you also see the main sections of the website: HOME, COMMUNITY, BUSINESS, GOVERNMENT, DEPARTMENTS, and CONTACT. Since the BOS is part of the Newtown government, it would be logical to click on “GOVERNMENT,” but I like to first see the calendar. You need to scroll down to see that.

Click on the down arrow and up will pop the bottom of the screen (see Figure 2). Very useful links and information here, but no calendar. You have to scroll further down to see that.

Figure 2: The Homepage Below the Visuals

Further down the page, we see the column of “Upcoming Township Meetings.” Here you will see most – BUT NOT ALL – of the upcoming scheduled meetings. For example, I do not see any Board of Supervisors meeting listed here.

What you have to do is scroll further down until you see the calendar icon near the bottom of the screen. Click on that. Now you will see the “Newtown Township Calendar of Events and Meetings” (Figure 3).

Figure 3: The Calendar Page Showing the Meetings Scheduled
for June 2021.

If you scroll further down this screen you will see that there is a "BOARD OF SUPERVISORS ZOOM MEETING” scheduled for June 23, 2021. When you click on that you will see that this meeting will be on a Wednesday at 7 PM. It says the LOCATION is the Newtown Township Public Meeting Room, but that cannot be correct because this is a Zoom meeting.

There are also links here that allow you to add this meeting to your personal calendar. I don’t like to mess with that. What we want is to find is the agenda for this meeting, but I see no links to get me to that.

Now what?

Maybe we should have clicked on the GOVERNMENT menu item on the top of the page and saved a lot of time! Let’s do that now. Actually, you only have to roll your mouse pointer over “GOVERNMENT” and you will see a menu pop up.

Whoops! I don’t see “Board of Supervisors” on the menu, so I guess we have to click on “Boards & Committees.” Actually, don’t click on it, just roll your mouse pointer over it and ANOTHER menu will pop up and lo and behold there’s “Board of Supervisors” as the number 2 choice.

What you have to do now is carefully roll your mouse pointer over to the second pop-up menu and click on “Board of Supervisors”. This will get you to the “Township Board of Supervisors” page (see the video at the end of this post).

 
BE CAREFUL: When moving your mouse pointer from one menu to a submenu it could venture outside the menu limits. If this happens, the menus will disappear and you will have to start over. This might be a problem for older people with less dexterity or experience with mouses.

On the Township Board of Supervisors page you learn that the BOS meets on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month. This is true, except when it isn’t, such as when a meeting is cancelled for some reason or another.

Anyway, you will see a list of past Zoom meetings and other information such as a link to watch previous meetings and the mission of the Board of Supervisors.

Step-by-Step Guide

OK. Here’s a step-by-step guide on what you need to do to get to the agenda of the June 23 BOS meeting (see the video embedded at the end):

  1. Scroll down further on the Township Board of Supervisors page and you will see “Supervisor Meeting Minutes & Agendas.” This is what we need.
  2. Scroll further down and click on “2021”. There’s an information icon (the letter “i” in a circle) that you can click. But that just tells me when this item was created. Forget about that!
  3. Click on the highlighted “2021” menu item and you will see a number of choices. Again, this is useful non-agenda and non-minutes information such as the “Bills List” item, which will lead you to all the bills paid by the township in 2021!
  4. But we’re interested in finding the agenda for the June 23, 2021, meeting, so click on “Agendas.” You should see a list of  2021 meeting agendas to date.

Unfortunately, the agenda for the June 23, 2021, meeting is not yet available because most agendas are not posted until just a few days before the meeting. Actually, the law requires that the agendas – or at least public notices announcing the date, time, and location of official meetings – be posted no later than 24 hours before the meeting. The Board of Supervisors agendas are usually posted at the close of business on the Friday before the meeting. Thus, the agenda for the June 23, 2021, meeting will not be available until June 18.

Let's find a meeting that is closer to our search date (June 13, 2021). If we go back to the Calendar we see that there is Planning Commission meeting scheduled for June 15, 2021. Let’s try that.

First, click on “PLANNING COMMISSION ZOOM MEETING” in the Calendar. You will see the time and location – correctly noted as “Zoom” – for this meeting, and other “Event Details,” but no direct link to the agenda.

Let’s go to the Planning Commission page and see if we can find the agenda for the June 15, 2021 meeting there. Click on “Planning Commission page” under EVENT DETAILS in the Calendar. Unfortunately, you’ll need to roll you mouse pointer over items like this to realize that they are clickable.

The Planning Commission page looks very similar to the Township Board of Supervisors page. However, if you scroll down you do NOT see a “Meeting Minutes & Agendas” list as with the Supervisors page. This is true for every committee page.

Darn!

Here’s My “Secret” to Finding Meeting Agendas

In order to find agendas for upcoming meetings of any committee other than the Board of Supervisors, we need a different way of doing it. I’ll let you in on my secret way of accessing more information about upcoming meetings including agendas and minutes of past meetings PLUS the agenda of the next scheduled meeting (if we are lucky).

  1. Go back to the top of the page and open/click on the GOVERNMENT menu.
  2. Click on “Minutes & Agendas.” This is the door to the magic kigdom of agendas and minutes!
  3. Scroll down the list until you find the board, committee, or commission you are interested in. In this case, click on “Planning Commission.” It may require two clicks before it works.

Now we can follow the same procedure we followed with the Board of Supervisors:

  1. Pick the year you are interested in; i.e., 2021. Click/double click on that.
  2. You now should see just 3 folders: Agendas, Minutes, Zoom Meetings. You might think to click on the latter, but don’t unless you want see the archive of PAST Zoom meetings. Click on “Agendas.” BONUS: Obviously, from here you can also access approved minutes and Zoom recordings of past meetings.
  3. Aha! There it is at the bottoem of the list! It's a file titled “06 June 15.pdf”  (ignore the “06” in the name – it’s a mystery). Click on that and you finally see the agenda, which you can download to your computer (see the video at the end of this post to see how to do this). It may take a few moments to load – have patience. This is a Google function we are working with and who knows what evil lurks there!

Hurray! Success!

Just SIX not so “easy” steps. I’m sure, however, that once you do this 5 or 6 times. It will be second nature!

UNFORTUNATELY, this is the ONLY way you can get the login information you need to join the Zoom meetings, like this one for the Planning Commission. For live meetings, you just show up; i.e., get dressed nicely, drive to the township municipal building, park, and walk in to take a seat.

NOTE: When you attend live committee meetings, try to sit close to the committee members if you wish to hear them. For some reason, only televised Board of Supervisors meetings use the speakers in the room so that members of the public sitting at the back can hear what’s going on.

 

As COVID-19 restrictions are being eased or lifted entirely and as more people are fully vaccinated, townships are planning to return to live in-person meetings or are already hosting hybrid in-person/online public meetings (read "Incorporating Zoom Into Live BOS Meetings" and "Middletown Township Hosts Successful "Hybrid" Public Meetings").

This survey asks your opinion regarding whether or not townships such as Newtown should implement hybrid public meetings where officials meet in person as before COVID-19 but the public has the option to participate remotely via Zoom (or other technology) or in person.

No identifying information is collected via this survey unless you opt-in to provide such information for purposes of follow-up by subscribing to John Mack's email newsletter. After completing this 2-minute survey, you will be able to see a de-identified summary of the results to date.

TAKE THE SURVEY NOW!

DISCLAIMER: This is not an official Newtown Township approved survey. Its purpose is solely to inform John Mack – a Newtown Supervisor – of the public’s opinion regarding this issue.

View the Video

An Easier Way

Now that you know my secret, let me tell you another secret. I do all this work for you so you do not have to. Just visit the “Upcoming Meetings” on my website.

Better yet – subscribe to my email notification/newsletter service. I sent out notifications of upcoming meetings once or twice a month depending on activity. Subscribe here.

Posted on 13 Jun 2021, 11:09 - Category: Communication

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 Townshipís 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

Some Ideas for Improving Township Communications with Residents

One positive outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic is the increased use of technology like Zoom to improve communications between Newtown Township and residents primarily because many more people are attending Zoom Board of Supervisors (BOS) meetings than in-person public meetings. In fact, 94 people attended one contentious BOS Zoom meeting! That's probably more than can fit into the public meeting room even if social distancing restrictions were lifted.

Despite the use of Zoom technology - which may not continue after COVID - there is a long-term need to improve communications between the township and residents. This is something that the Newtown Finance Committee (NTFC) asked for at the recent March 15, 2021, BOS Work Session. Shelly Howland, NTFC Chair, presented a plan for how the NTFC would like to work with BOS to improve the budgeting process. She mentioned the need for a public information/communication plan to support the NTFC as well as the Economic Development Committee (EDC) in reaching out to the public. Listen to her comments here (beginning at  the1 hour 13 minute timestamp).

Some Suggestions

I was asked by EDC member George Skladany to provide information about how the Newtown Twp website compares to other local municipality websites. See below for relevant links to that PLUS other communications ideas I have brought before the BOS and Township Manager in the past.

  • "How Does Newtown Township's Website Stack Up?" - my analysis of a report/study done by the Bucks County Courier Times. NT's website is competitive with the sites of other municipalities. However, aside from the Police and Parks and Rec Departments, NT does not do so well in using social media technology to communicate with residents.

Pull Versus Push

I mentioned to the EDC members the importance of "Push" technology versus the "Pull" technology of websites. Email is the major "push" technology but it is problematic in terms of open rates. My email newsletter service has nearly 600 subscribers, which is excellent. But (1) it takes a LONG time to get this many subscribers! See below for ideas how NT can get email subscribers; and (2) The average open rate is about 33% per email blast. To get a higher percentage (e.g., up to 75%) of subscribers to open email, it is necessary to send out the same email message 3 or 4 times - first to all subscribers then only to subscribers who did not open the previous email. That too is a lot of work!

Mobile is the Best Push Technology

The best push technology these days is mobile texting. Everyone carries their cell phone with them all day and they see all texts. That is why the former Technology Committee and I recommended a service like Savvy Citizen, which pushes out notifications to mobile phone users in any specified area.

The COVID/Zoom Opportunity

Not mentioned above is the fact that since Newtown has been requiring pre-registration for most official Zoom meetings, it has been collecting names and email addresses as part of the process. I've mentioned to township officials that this information should be saved because it can be used to send out email notices in the future. According to privacy laws, one unsolicited email can be sent out to people who may not have opted in to receive it. That email can request an opt-in to a notification service - either an email notification service or a mobile phone service such as Savvy Citizen.

Join the NEW Technology & Communications Committee!

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). It is now the "Technology & Communications Committee."

Currently, 4 people have signed on - they need to be officially appointed by the BOS. Since the committee can have "up to" 7 members, 4 would be sufficient to carry on official business. Technology & Communications Committee can help other committees with implementing ideas for better communication with residents. The first order of business would be to interview NTC and EDC committee members on their communication needs.

If you know of anyone who would like to serve on the Technology & Communications Committee - they don't have to be techies! - please have them submit a letter of intent and/or resume/description to Olivia Kivenko, oliviak@newtownpa.gov

Posted on 19 Mar 2021, 01:03 - Category: Communication

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