John Mack - Newtown Supervisor
Governance Category

Residents Say YES To Hybrid In-Person/Online Public Meetings

A hybrid in-person/Zoom Middletown Township
public supervisors meeting.

Now that emergency measures are no longer mandatory but with COVID variants emerging, the Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) meetings and other public meetings are exclusively live in-person events. Residents, regardless of their age, disability, or susceptibility to COVID, must attend to make their views known.

There is no need to put the public at risk. Many residents overwhelmingly support "hybrid" public meetings that make it easier for them to attend important public meetings such as BOS meetings by giving them the option to not only attend in person but also to attend virtually via Zoom or some other remote technology.

My Petition

As of 15 September 2021, over 191 people - including 151 Newtown Twp residents - signed my petition asking Newtown supervisors to support "any and all efforts to allow remote/online participation of residents in Newtown Township Board of Supervisors' meetings via Zoom or some other appropriate technology."

Download the Petition Signatures or see the signatures embedded at the end of this post.

As a Newtown Supervisor, I strongly believe that hybrid meetings will allow more residents to attend meetings and participate in local government. A well-informed, actively involved citizenry is something that every community needs to aspire to and work to cultivate. Modern technology like Zoom is both effective and affordable to accomplish this.

Public Comment on "Lazy Citizens"

In a comment to the BOS at the 8 September 2021 public meeting, Newtown Grant resident John D’Aprile was of the opinion that the township should not spend money on hybrid meetings so that “lazy” residents can attend. “Why should we cater to someone who is lazy and does not want to come to meetings?,” quipped Mr. D’Aprile.

I was not able to attend this meeting myself because I tested positive for COVID-19 and was under quarantine. BOS Chair Phil Calabro also could not attend because of an undisclosed health issue.

In my opinion, Mr. D’Aprile’s comments are an insult to residents who are NOT lazy such as the elderly, young families with children, the handicapped, and anyone susceptible to COVID infections. 

Remote Access Denied to Disabled Planning Commission Member!
Not only is it best practice for the public to be able to remotely attend and participate in BOS and other important public meetings, commission and committee volunteer members must also be given this option - especially handicapped and/or immuno-compromised members.
Recently, I received this email from Kierstyn Zolfo, a member of the Newtown Planning Commission:

My name is Kierstyn Zolfo, and I live on Greenbriar Lane here in Newtown. For the past three years I have volunteered on the Newtown Township Planning Commission. I also have a chronic medical condition that leaves me immunocompromised. I am under explicit instructions from the specialist who oversees my treatment that I am to avoid indoor spaces with groups of people, especially those with unknown vaccine status. This is why I am not delivering this public comment in person.

During 2020 and the first half of 2021, the Planning Commission held its meeting via Zoom, and I had no difficulty participating. But the return to in-person meetings this year did not go smoothly. The only option the township has provided for those of us on the Planning Commission who must participate remotely is an old office phone equipped with an obsolete speakerphone. This hardware slowly deteriorates in quality as it is used until about 45 minutes into any call, when it stops producing human language and instead emits a stream of unintelligible blurps and squeaks.  It is an inadequate option.

Other, smaller neighboring communities have managed to upgrade their municipal facilities in order to provide hybrid meetings with audio and visual capabilities. We only have an inadequate, broken speakerphone here in Newtown for the Planning Commission. 

Newtown Township has legal obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. But more important than that, as a board, you have a duty to the dozens of volunteers who, collectively, give hundreds if not thousands if hours of their own time each year on this Township's boards, councils and commissions to ensure this community thrives. We deserve better from you than a broken phone... and more from you than months of delay.  

Please implement a phased solution to solve this problem. Please replace the existing, obsolete phone with a new model that is designed for conference call usage to serve as a temporary solution as you determine the technology upgrades needed in this facility to fulfill your obligations under the ADA.

I know I am not the only volunteer who has had to endure this obstacle in the past few months. Please take these take the steps necessary to ensure we can safely continue to give our time to our Newtown community.

Other Local Townships are Doing It!

Middletown Township: Nick Valla, Assistant Middletown Township, PA, Manager, presents an overview of how his township learned to run "hybrid" public meetings that allow the public to participate in person or remotely via Zoom. Listen to this podcast: Middletown Township Hosts Successful "Hybrid" Public Meetings

Doylestown Township: Doylestown's webcasts of BOS meetings show how technology can improve communication between supervisors and residents. The May 4, 2021, meeting was interesting not just because of the passage of a Juneteenth resolution, but because it demonstrates that live meetings can include participation by residents via Zoom as well as in person. Read this blog post: Incorporating Zoom Into Live BOS Meetings

Warrington Township: Fred Gaines, Warrington Township Supervisor, said "Warrington Township has decided to continue Hybrid Meetings as a way of ensuring maximum visibility of Board of Supervisor and Planning Commission meeting.  (We have nothing to hide. ) ARA [COVID relief] funds were used to 'beef up' our audio-visual capability.  Meetings are screened on a local TV Channel and residents can actively participate on the "Zoom" platform.  Many of our volunteer committees including Communications, EAC, Park & Rec., Open Space and Veterans Affairs also take advantage of the facilities and hold their hybrid meetings using Zoom."

Harris Township: Amy Farkas, Harris Township Manager/Secretary/Treasurer, said "Harris Township is doing hybrid meetings. We've worked with our local cable access channel (C-Net) to provide a zoom option and to also live stream our meetings on Youtube. C-Net has a device called an Owl that is a 360 degree microphone and camera. It enables the zoom audience to fully see, hear and participate in the meeting.

"As a side note, we've had much more interest in the Youtube stream, as both our Board and Planning Commission meetings are being watched in real time. It really does add a layer of transparency, as it gives residents the option to come to the meeting, watch Youtube, zoom, stream it after its over or watch it on our cable channel.

"All of the municipalities in the Centre Region and our Council of Governments are doing hybrid meetings. Our elected officials don't want to go back to the old way of doing things."

Petition Signatures

Posted on 05 Aug 2021, 01:21 - Category: Governance

(UNOFFICIAL) 2021 Voting Record of Newtown Supervisors

I've been keeping track of how Newtown Township supervisors voted on motions before the Board. The following is the supervisor voting record to date for 2021, based on the approved minutes of meetings. [Find the 2020 Voting Record here.]

NOTE: This is NOT an official record of votes. Some very minor motions, such as to approve minutes, bills lists, etc., are not included. Please refer to the BOS meeting minutes for the official voting record of each meeting.

See the embedded PDF below or download the file here. The record is updated after each BOS meeting as soon as the official minutes are published.

Posted on 25 Mar 2021, 11:29 - Category: Governance

How I Spent My Time as Newtown Supervisor in 2020

2020 is over and good riddance is all I got to say. The Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) did, however, make some notable decisions last year (read "2020 Accomplishments of the Newtown Board of Supervisors") and I am honored to have been part of those accomplishments.

It took many hours of work, which I documented as I have been doing ever since I was sworn in as Supervisor in 2017. The following is a summary of how I spent my time as a Supervisor in 2020.

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

Hours Per Month

In 2020, I spent a total of 548 hours engaged in official Supervisor activities that included preparing for and attending meetings and interacting with residents. The following chart shows the hours per month I spent on these activities.

The red phase months of the COVID-19 lockdown are shown as red bars in the chart. Similarly for the yellow and so-called green phases. I'm not sure what phase we were in for December, but it felt like at least a mini-red phase, hence the orange color.

You can see that COVID-19 had an impact on my activities as many meetings were cancelled due to the lockdown. In comparison, I spent 713 hours in 2019 engaged in Supervisor activites. In other words COVID-19 was responsible for a 23% decline in my activities as Supervisor.

Breakdown by Type of Activity

I keep track of the time spent on the following activities:

  • Attending “Required” Meetings (BOS regular & special meetings and Executive Sessions; Supervisors are not required to attend Work Sessions)
  • Preparation for BOS Meetings
  • Attending Optional Meetings/Activities
  • Interaction with Residents
  • Travel To & From Meetings

What This Report Does Not Include

My log of Supervisor-related activities 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.

The following chart shows the percentage of time I spent on all these activities in 2020:

Interacting With Residents

Obviously, with fewer in-person meetings, I spent less time traveling back and forth. I also spent a significant percentage of my time (74 hours, 14%) interacting with residents mostly remotely - also because of COVID-19.

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 account and via my personal account, and via phone and/or Facebook.

Probably the biggest change in how I interact with residents is via my Meet Mack Monday meetings. Thanks to COVID-19, I have been able to host more of these meetings using Zoom - usually every month before the first BOS meeting. And more residents are able to join in the discussions. 

My Compensation

Every Supervisor is provided a yearly stipend of $4,125 per year. Thus, I earned about $7.50 per hour in 2020 as a Supervisor. That's more than the $7.25 per hour PA minimum wage (a disgrace!). So, I can't complain.

But it's possible to make a higher hourly wage as a Supervisor. That's because Supervisors only need to attend "required" meetings as noted above. If I only attended required meetings, my hourly wage would be about $60. Not bad at all! If I also include hours spent preparing for these meetings, then my houry wage drops to $17.75. Still decent.

The Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS) - of which I am a member - has been lobbying the State Legislature for an increase in the Supervisor stipend for years without success. No wonder! Even a Supervisor like myself who spends a lot of time on official business and not just attending required meetings makes more than a minimum wage earner in PA!

Of course, I'm not in it for the money. And I'm sure my fellow Supervisors feel the same.

My Voting Record for 2020

I've been keeping track of how Newtown Township supervisors voted on motions before the Board. The following is the supervisor voting record for 2020, based on the approved minutes of meetings.

NOTE: This is NOT an official record of votes. Some very minor motions, such as to approve minutes, bills lists, etc., are not included. Please refer to the BOS meeting minutes for the official voting record of each meeting.

Download a PDF version here.

Posted on 20 Jan 2021, 01:54 - Category: Governance

2020 Accomplishments of the Newtown Board of Supervisors

The following are a few notable accomplishments of the Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) in 2020.

It’s been such a terrible year that a new definition of accomplishment is needed. For example, merely surviving seems like an accomplishment.

Nevertheless, I am proud to have served the community to the best of my ability during difficult times that required difficult decisions to be made to secure the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the township. I am sure my fellow BOS members feel the same. With your support and input, I look forward to a prosperous and safe 2021 New Year.

NOTE: How much do you agree or disagree with the following Board decisions/actions? Please take a 5-minute survey to tell me. DISCLAIMER: This is not an official Newtown Township Survey. It’s purpose was solely to inform John Mack, a Newtown Supervisor, of residents' opinions.

Appointed First Person of Color as Supervisor

Board members voted 3-1 at a special meeting on January 8, 2020, to appoint Democrat David Oxley to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Linda Bobrin.

Oxley, 36, will serve through 2021 by virtue of the appointment but would have to run and win in that year's election to retain the seat.

Mr. Oxley brings to the Board extensive expertise in financial management combined with business development experience and volunteerism, which are perfect qualifications for taking the lead in the Board's effort to work with consultants, residents and the business community to solve the township's deficit spending problem.

Oxley said he will "work hard to keep the township safe, especially for our youth. I want to help keep Newtown Township family-oriented and promote growth, though we don't want to grow too fast."

Appointed Kevin Antoine to Newtown Human Relations Commission

At the August 26, 2020, BOS meeting, supervisors appointed Kevin Antoine, Bucks County Community College’s Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, to the Newtown Human Relations Commission.

Mr. Antoine has more than 16 years of experience in diversity and inclusion, non-discrimination and civil rights compliance with state and federal laws and regulations. "I believe my breath of experience and knowledge will compliment the duties of the commission," said Mr. Antoine in his application letter.

Held the First Ever Police Town Hall Meeting

A the June 10, 2020, BOS meeting, the Board directed Newtown Township Police Chief John Hearn to host a public “Town Hall” meeting where police officers and the community - especially residents who feel they have issues with the police - can get to know one another and have a meaningful dialog. Read more about the meeting in the August 2020 issue of Newtown News Update.

Established a Single Newtown Fire Chief

At the October 29, 2020, BOS meeting, supervisors approved the appointment of Newtown Chief Glenn Forsyth as chief of the all volunteer Newtown Fire Association and the Newtown Township Emergency Services Department (career firefighters) effective Jan. 1, 2021. It is the first step in bringing the two departments together as one. More…

Related Content: “The Volunteer Newtown Fire Association is at a Turning Point

Repaved 3.5 Miles of Roads

Approximately 3.5 miles of roads were repaved in 2020 despite the fact that 1.0 Mill of revenue (approximately $350,000) dedicated to roadwork was diverted to the General Fund in anticipation of a EIT shortfall due to COVID-19 restrictions. The following roads were among those repaved in 2020:

  • Swamp Rd (from the Bypass to Sycamore St)
  • Fountain Farm Ln
  • Newtown Gate Dr
  • Penns St
  • Upper Silver Lake Rd (From Newtown Yardley Rd to Vera Ave)
  • Silver Lake Rd (between N. Penns Trail & L. Dolington Rd)
  • Newtown Yardley Rd (Patch Paving between Tara Blvd & N. Penns Trail)

Rejected Arcadia Development Settlement

At the December 22, 2020, BOS meeting via Zoom, supervisors refused to vote on a settlement offer from Arcadia to build 60 homes on Buck Road and Newtown Bypass. Dozens of residents were able to attend this meeting and make their voices heard.

The appeal against the “Mandamus” decision will move forward and it is hoped that the township will be successful in overturning that decision.

For background, read “Newtown Township Supervisors Say 'No Means No' When It Comes to Arcadia Green III Planned Residential Development.”

Denied Toll Brothers Twining Bridge Road Application

A conditional use application by Toll Bros for a cluster development on 158.07 acres located in the CM Conservation Management district was denied by the BOS at its August 26, 2020, meeting.

Read “In an Unanimous Vote, Newtown Township Supervisors Denied Toll Brothers Conditional Use Application to Build 45 Homes in Conservation District. Residents Ecstatic!

Applied for a Grant to Extend Lower Dolington Road Trail

Although the Township received funding last year for the Lower Dolington Trail (LDT; read “Newtown Township Gets Grants to Build Lower Dolington Road Multi-Use Trail”), it did not receive all of what was requested to finish the trail as planned. Therefore, the Township applied for a DCED Multimodal Transportation Fund Grant, which has a zero percent match. With this money it will be possible to complete the LDT or another trail segment in the Comprehensive Plan.

Approved EAC Comprehensive Plan Recommendations

The Newtown Township Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) prepared a set of recommendations to the Planning Commission for consideration in the development of the next Newtown Area Comprehensive Plan. The Board approved submitting these recommendations to the Joint Zoning Council to consider as part of the new 10=year Newtown Area Comprehensive Plan. See the recommendations here.

Approved E30 “Curative Amendment” to Zoning

At the September 23, 2020, BOS meeting, supervisors approved the E-30 amendment to the Newtown Area Zoning Ordinance that would allow a combination gas station/convenience store use in various locations in Newtown, Wrightstown, and Upper Makefield (the "Jointure"). The amendment imposes several conditions such as a limit on the number of fuel pumps, prohibition of a drive through window, etc.

While this amendment will apply to all new applications for such a use in the Jointure, it does NOT apply to the application submitted by Provco to build a Wawa on the Newtown Bypass. That application precedes the curative process.

Read “Municipal Cure May Not Prevent Developer From Putting a Wawa on the Bypass in Newtown Township.”

Passed “Love is Love” Resolution

At the March 11, 2020, BOS meeting, Newtown supervisors passed a “Love is Love” resolution in support of LGBTQ + minority youth by a unanimous bipartisan 5-0 vote.

Many interested parties were present and made impassioned pleas in support of the resolution, which establishes February 15 as Love is Love Day in Newtown Township. More...

Mastered BOS Zoom Meetings to Allow Resident Participation

On December 9, 2020, the Newtown BOS held its first Zoom meeting that successfully enabled residents to attend and make comments. The December 22, 2020, meeting had over 90 participants. This is an important milestone because the township will be using Zoom for several months to come. In fact, it may be the way to go because more people will be able to attend these meetings than live ones.

Prior to that, the township had been reluctant to allow residents to participate for fear of being "zoom bombed." Read Newtown Supervisor Zoom Meetings Not Open to Residents.

Hosted The Newtown Township Citizens Survey

As part of the comprehensive multi-year financial management plan (see next item), the BOS approved a citizens survey that asked residents how satisfied they were with the township services and to identify the two TOP priorities that the township should focus on for attracting new business. 545 responses were collected, including over 300 open-ended comments.

Almost two-thirds of citizen survey respondents were women and over 70% have lived in Newtown Township for over ten years. Nearly two-thirds (72%) are 45 years old or older. Half report that their annual household income is over $100,000 and 75% have a bachelors or higher education degree. Only 18% work in Newtown. See the survey results here.

Developed a 5-Year Financial Plan

At an August 17, 2020, Work Session, Steve Wray of ESI provided the BOS with a 144-page detailed report and presented a slide summary of that report that explained the purpose of the Strategic Management Planning Program.

Wray reviewed the services Econsult performed along with key findings and recommendations, projections, financial history, a revised financial forecast and a recommended approach for developing the 2021 budget.

Related Content: VIDEO: “A Critique of ESI Financial Report

Established The Economic Development Committee

On June 10, 2020, the BOS approved the appointment of 7 applicants to establish the Economic Development Committee (EDC).

Soon afterward the EDC began looking to identify specific industries (life sciences, biotech) to attract to Newtown Township. Supervisor David Oxley has taken the lead in talking to Bucks County officials about attracting biotech firms to Newtown.

Related Content: PODCASTS: “Ideas for Bringing New Businesses to Newtown

Approved a “Contentious” 2021 Budget

Passing a budget without a tax increase was definitely considered an accomplishment in 2018 and again in 2019.

These budgets, however, continued a trend of deficit spending according to the Newtown Finance Committee (see VIDEO: "Thoughts on Newtown Township's Deficit Spending"). If that trend continued, warned ESI consultants, the township’s reserve fund would be depleted by 2022.

Faced with that possibility, on December 22, 2020, the BOS approved the 2021 budget, which includes a 3.99 mill increase in municipal property taxes (about $160 per year for the average homeowner). This decision ensured a healthy reserve fund, which is a definite accomplishment in terms of the financial health of the township. It also keeps Newtown's municipal property tax among the lowest in the region (see chart).

Some expense items were cut from the preliminary budget, including hiring a new code enforcement officer, one police vehicle, and a new police building study. The final approved budget, however, includes hiring 3 new police officers and continues full funding for Parks & Recreation programs, including summer camp, among other things.

View the Approved 2021 Budget here.

May the new year bless you with health, safety, and happiness.

Posted on 29 Dec 2020, 01:35 - Category: Governance

(UNOFFICIAL) 2020 Voting Record of Newtown Supervisors

I've been keeping track of how Newtown Township supervisors voted on motions before the Board. The following is the supervisor voting record for 2020, based on the approved minutes of meetings.

NOTE: This is NOT an official record of votes. Some very minor motions, such as to approve minutes, bills lists, etc., are not included. Please refer to the BOS meeting minutes for the official voting record of each meeting.

Download a PDF version here.

Posted on 14 Sep 2020, 01:36 - Category: Governance

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