John Mack - Newtown Supervisor
Governance Category

John Mack’s Supervisor Report for October 2018

As I reported in September, Newtown Supervisors prepare for and attend a lot of meetings (read “A Month in the Life of a Newtown Supervisor: Meetings, Meetings, and More Meetings!”). Some of us also spend time doing other things as well, such as having full-time jobs, being parents, and volunteering for other community services.

Admittedly, I have a lot of free time to devote to my Supervisor duties – perhaps more than other Supervisors. I am a retired businessman whose children are adults and sad to say, I do not have any grandchildren to keep me busy, yet! And I am not a golfer! So, for me, I have the “luxury” of devoting as much time to being a Supervisor as I wish. This month, for example, I spent a total of 57.5 hours on official Supervisor-related activities. The following report provides details of how these hours were spent. 

I decided to keep track of my activities as a Supervisor on a monthly basis partly because I want to be accountable to residents, but also to make sure I am making the best use of my time.

What This Report Does Not Include

My log of Supervisor-related activiies does not include the many hours I spend posting to this blog, maintaining my personal website, writing a newsletter, creating and posting video clips from meetings, hosting podcast interviews, summarizing decisions made by the Board of Supervisors (BOS Definition), etc. Also not included is the time I spend posting to my personal Facebook page, Twitter account, and Instagram account. These activities are NOT part of my official duties as Supervisor, but represent my personal views.

My log keeps track of the time spent on the following:

  • Attending “Required” Meetings
  • Preparation for BOS Meetings
  • Attending Optional Meetings/Activities
  • Interaction with Residents
  • Travel To & From Meetings

Meetings

In the month of October 2018, I estimate that I spent about 17 hours attending meetings, which was significantly less than the 34 hours I spent attending meetings last month. BOS meetings are “required” in the sense that I am expected to attend them in order to satisfy my duties as a Supervisor. These include regular bi-weekly public meetings, non-public Executive Sessions Definition, public Work Sessions Definition, and special meetings (see the list below).

“Other Meetings” I attended were optional. For October, 2018, these included:

  1. Planning Commission meetings: October 2 and 16, 2018
  2. Zoning Hearing Board meeting: October 4, 2018
  3. Finance Committee meeting: October 9, 2018
  4. Joint Historic Commission meeting: October 22, 2018

I spent 8.8 hours attending these optional meetings. In total, I spent nearly 33.7 hours in October, 2018, attending all the above meetings, preparing for these meetings, and traveling to and from these meetings. The following chart shows the breakdown of all my Supervisor-related activities for October, 2018:

Interaction with Residents

In my opinion, personal interaction with residents regarding their concerns is an important part of my responsibilities as Supervisor. I want to be sure that I spend enough time reaching out to and responding to residents via personal contact, official email via my johnm@newtownpa.gov account and via my personal john@johnmacknewtown.info account, and via phone and/or Facebook. For October, 2018, I spent approximately 9 hours (16% of my total logged hours) interacting with residents.

What did I discuss with residents? Here’s a partial list (some items are not included for confidentiality reasons):

Disclaimer

When speaking with residents on issues that may come before the BOS in the future for a vote, I never express an opinion as to how I will vote because I may not have all the information. Needless to say, I also do NOT discuss any confidential information that is not in the public domain. These discussions with residents are meant solely to inform me of their opinions, not for me to give them my opinion. Or it is just to listen to complaints/concerns and to forward them on to the BOS if necessary

I spent some time nearly every day of the month in October working for you as Supervisor (see chart below). Not that I’m complaining! It's really an honor to serve the community! I learn something new every day and have met many fine people and volunteers who also put in a lot of time without any compensation at all. Thanks to everyone who help keep Newtown in business and safe.

 

Posted on 01 Nov 2018, 01:41 - Category: Governance

My BOS Meeting Survival Kit

This is how my work area looked at last night's Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting. I call it my BOS Meeting Survival Kit. I especially needed it for last night's meeting, which was pretty boring.

Apart from resident John D., who attends every BOS meeting (kudos to him!), there was not a single resident in the audience aside from a few township officials*. 

At times you could hear a cricket chirp! Some day I will let one loose in the room to really test that. But you COULD hear the air conditioning!

Speaking of air conditioning, it's a little known fact that the Township employs AC and a couple of other things designed to keep Supervisors awake during such sessions.

The temperature in the meeting room is keep pretty low, even in winter months. So low that despite my desire to have a "shirt sleeves rolled up" and ready to work persona, I am forced to wear a jacket to keep warm. I'm told that when the room is full of people it can get pretty heated literally as well as figuratively. I can attest to the latter at previous BOS meetings, but there was no actual audience body heat at last night's meeting!

I've often thought of a better way to keep warm at these meetings: a flask of scotch! That, however, would be too obvious. Some day - and that day may never come - I might just have vodka instead of water in that bottle and no one would be the wiser!

The other means the Township has of keeping Supervisors awake is a bowl of candy in front of every member. Now, I like candy just as much as anyone, but like many people my age I need to keep my weight in check and I must worry about Type 2 diabetes (among other health issues). 

I have tried to wean Supervisors off of the candy by bringing in fruit to share with them. So far my efforts have not paid off and I have not shamed other members into bringing their own alternatives to share with colleagues. But at least 2 or 3 other members enjoyed one of the tangerines I brought in. I do not know, however, if that stopped them from downing a mini Hershey bar or Kit Kat.

Last night's BOS meeting was preceded by a 1-hour Executive Session Definition that began a 6 PM. This was not so boring - we had to discuss some very complicated employee contract and legal issues. TMI! Luckily, we have professionals who know how to handle the nitty-gritty details.

But the Township did not provide any food during that meeting, so I decided I needed to bring in some kind of half-way nutritious Asian-style snack mix. At least it had some fat and dietary fiber to go along with the sugar!

Budget Presentation

In closing, let me say that every Newtown BOS meeting is important - even the boring ones. Possibly the most important BOS meeting of the year is coming up this Monday, October 15, 2018. This is a Special Meeting at which the draft for the 2019 budget will be presented to the Board by the township manager and department heads.

OK, I know, budgets and financial discussions may not excite everyone, but this is an opportunity to learn where your tax money goes. To prepare for that meeting, I urge you to listen to the 2017 Audit Report and the Newtown Finance Committee Report here

The Budget Presentation is scheduled to begin at 7 PM, so you have time to have a quick dinner beforehand! Or you can be like me and skip the heavy dinner and bring your own BOS Meeting Survival Kit.


* I am exaggerating a bit. A young member of Eagles Troop 29 along with the Troop leader and a couple of friends/family members were there at the beginning of the meeting to present a plan for landscaping to beautify the existing Veterans Park sign at the Durham Road entrance. It was when they left that the meeting became a bit boring, at least until Chair Phil Calabro ripped the Zoning Hearing Board Definition a "new one" for postponing a hearing on the Sit-Stay kennel variance hearing.

Posted on 11 Oct 2018, 01:51 - Category: Governance

A Month in the Life of a Newtown Supervisor: Meetings, Meetings, and More Meetings!

My desktop at a recent BOS meeting

In the month of September 2018, I estimate that I spent about 34 hours attending meetings. This includes Board of Supervisors (BOS) meetings that I am required to attend such as Regular bi-weekly public meetings, non-public Executive Sessions, optional public Work Session meetings, and Special meetings (see the table below).

“Other Meetings” I attended were optional. For September, these included:

  1. Joint Zoning Council monthly meeting
  2. Newtown Fire Association monthly meeting
  3. Technology Committee monthly meeting
  4. Planning Commission bi-monthly meeting
  5. Bucks County Association of Township Officials Annual Fall Dinner
  6. House Democratic Policy Committee on EMS Recruitment and Retention Problems (read “Perry Warren & PA House Democratic Policy Committee Look at Ways to Recruit and Retain EMS Volunteers”).

One special “optional” meeting was actually a series of several meetings where I sat in on interviews with candidates for Newtown Police Chief. These interviews were done by outside consultants and Supervisors were invited to attend for observational purposes only. That was a whole day’s worth of meetings totally over 7 hours! Not every Supervisor can attend these kinds of meetings because they have outside jobs. I am able to attend these very important “optional” meetings because I am retired.

In addition to attending meetings, I also must prepare for meetings and spend time traveling to and from meetings. The following chart shows the breakdown of these activities for September:

In total, I spent nearly 60 hours in September attending meetings, preparing for meetings, and travel to and from meetings! It was a busy month. Not that I’m complaining – after all, I DO get paid about $345 a month before taxes!

Under “Activities” that are not meetings, I included time spent writing and answering official email from my johnm@newtownpa.gov account and interactions with residents and reporters in person or via phone and/or Facebook discussing official township issues.

What This Does Not Include

The above estimates do not include the many hours I spend keeping the public informed. I post information to this blog and website, for example. This includes writing a newsletter, creating and posting video clips from meetings, hosting podcast interviews, summarizing decisions made by Supervisors, etc. I also have a Facebook page, Twitter account, and Instagram account that I post to on a regular basis. I also curate content from local media that is of interest to Newtown area residents (see here). I estimate I spend about 2 hours every day on these activities!

Was September an unusual month? That remains to be seen. Coming in October is budget season, which I am told requires a lot of time and effort. Stay tuned – I intend to continue to keep a record of my activities and report back to you every month.

In conclusion, I must say that it's really an honor to serve the community! I've learned a lot and have met many fine people and volunteers who also put in a lot of time without any compensation at all! Thanks to everyone who help keep Newtown running and safe!

Posted on 29 Sep 2018, 01:02 - Category: Governance

Dennis Fisher Appointed to Replace Jen Dix on Board of Supervisors

In a 3-1 vote on July 25, 2018, the Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) appointed Dennis Fisher to fill the Board vacancy that resulted from the resignation of Jen Dix. Kyle Davis, the sole Republican Board member voted “nay.” Mr. Davis made 3 previous motions to appoint Gerry Couch, Jerry Festa, and Jo Vlastaris, but all failed to be seconded.

Mr. Fisher – who was elected Auditor in 2017 – has served the Township for more than a decade as a member of the Planning Commission (2006-2017) and a voting member of the Environmental Advisory Council from 2015 to 2017.

Professionally, Mr. Fisher has had a long career in the mental health field and is currently Program Director of a behavioral health training organization that provides training and orientation for mental health and substance abuse treatment staff in Philadelphia.

During his interview by the Board on July 11, 2018, I asked Dennis how he might improve communications between the BOS and residents. One idea he suggested was to have regular “meet-and-greets” with residents at local coffee shops much like “Coffee With a Cop” meetings.

Fisher also cited social media and email as ways for Supervisors to “get the word out to folks.” He said he is willing to learn how to best use social media to improve communications. To which I say, “Yes young grasshopper, I will teach you my ways but it will take much discipline.”

He will be sworn in at the August 8, 2018, Supervisors meeting and will have to hit the ground running regarding the proposed Arcadia Green development (see public notice).

Posted on 30 Jul 2018, 01:02 - Category: Governance

Meet the 8 Applicants Vying to Fill the Vacancy on the Newtown Board of Supervisors

As reported previously (here), Supervisor Jen Dix resigned her position on the Newtown Board of Supervisors effective June 30, 2018 and the Supervisors have until July 30, 2018, to appoint someone to fill the position. The person appointed will serve as a member of the Board of Supervisors until the reorganization meeting in January 2020.

The deadline for accepting letters of interest and resumes was 4:30 PM on Monday, July 2, 2018. The Town received letters of interest and resumes from eight people interested in being appointed to fill the vacancy. The applicants will be interviewed by the Board at a special public meeting on July 18, 2018, beginning at 5:00 pm.

Meet the Applicants

Presented in the order of their scheduled appearance before the Board:

Kierstyn Zolfo

Interview time slot: 5:00-5:15 pm

Excerpt from letter of interest: My husband and I moved to Newtown Township in 2005. Shortly after moving here I began part time work in an administrative/technical role for a law firm that exclusively handles cases helping disabled people get Social Security benefits. This task has given me a facility with understanding technical and legal text and conveying the crux of the issue presented in a manner designed for quick comprehension. I would imagine there is some translation between this task at my place of employment, and the Board's work reading through proposed development plans, ordinances and resolutions.

I had always hoped to find some way to serve our community that would best utilize my skills and experience.

John D’Aprile

Interview time slot: 5:30-5:45 pm

Excerpt from letter of interest: You all know me, I come to MOST meetings, I am up on all current actions of the Board, and would not miss a step in communicating with the other members. In brief here are my Qualifications:

  • President of my HOA cluster, Ravens View II
  • Member of Newtown Grant Master Board
  • Vice-Chairman Newtown Township Veterans Committee
Joe McAtee

Interview time slot: 6:00-6:15 pm

Excerpt from letter of interest: Because of my affinity for this town, I've recently made it a point to become a consistent attendee of the Board of Supervisor meetings. Since I've been attending these meetings, I am consistently struck at just how important and engaged the board is in the vitality of our community. Knowing what I can bring to the betterment and sustainability of our town, it would be my passion, and my privilege, to give back to the community and serve on the Board of Supervisors.

As a Computer Engineer, who has worked the last 10 years in finance, my profession has trained me to solve problems, analyze data and improve outcomes.

Jo Vlastaris

Interview time slot: 6:30-6:45 pm

Excerpt from letter of interest: I have been a Newtown resident for the past 10 years, and have been a member of the Technology Committee for the past 3 years. I currently chair the Technology Committee.

I am very keen on contributing to initiatives that would continue to make Newtown a great place to live while weighing in residents' concerns. I am fair, considerate, level headed, analytical, thorough, and can reach decisions after carefully collecting data and evaluating possible outcomes.

Ben Connolly

Interview time slot: 7:00-7:15 pm

Excerpt from letter of interest: Are you looking for a Township Supervisor with:

  • Knowledge of the latest technology?
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills?
  • A passion to learn and to increase his skills?

If so, then you need to look no further. You will see from my enclosed resume that I meet all of these qualifications and more.

The current President… has challenged existing forms of political communications. I am seeking a position to enable a response to that challenge. Change is a constant. We the people need to become smarter not just about what we message but how that message is delivered. We have the tools. There is a line in the Declaration of Independence that roughly translates to mean that those who have the ability to act have a responsibility to act.

Jerry Festa

Interview time slot: 7:30-7:45 pm

Excerpt from letter of interest: NA

Dennis Fisher

Interview time slot: 8:00-8:15 pm

Excerpt from letter of interest: I believe I am uniquely qualified to seek and be granted the appointment to the open seat on the Township Board of Supervisors. I have served the Township for more than a decade as a member of the Planning Commission since 2006. I was also a member to the Environmental Advisory Council since 2015 (as well as PC liaison to the EAC from 2006 to 2015). Since 2007 when I ran for election as Supervisor, I have maintained an interest in the township financial status and I have reviewed township budgets annually. I have been active (on an ad hoc basis) with a core group of the Swamp Road Residents Group to monitor Penndot activity on Swamp Road. Additionally, I was elected Township-wide, as Auditor in 2017.

Gerry Couch

Interview time slot: 8:30-8:45 pm

Excerpt from letter of interest

I have recent experience as a Town Supervisor and worked well with Jen when we both served for nearly two years [during which I]

  • [helped improve the] Township’s relationship with Newtown Volunteer Fire Dept with the help of Supervisor Dix.
  • worked on Brixmore redevelopment at Eagle Road with the board to assure a great outcome.
  • worked with residents and developer to attempt to resolve development issues in Newtown Crossing

Posted on 03 Jul 2018, 12:11 - Category: Governance

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