John Mack - Newtown Supervisor

Supervisors Pass PA Congressional Redistricting Resolution

At the May 9, 2018, Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) public meeting, an anti-gerrymandering, PA Congressional Redistricting Resolution proposed by Fair Districts PA was passed by a 4 to 1 vote. Supervisor Kyle Davis cast the one "No" vote (see below for the entire Resolution).

One issue that was discussed extensively was the creation of a "truly independent citizens redistricting commission devoid of political motivation or partisanship." Mr. Davis was "not clear" on how this commission would be set up. In comments before the BOS, Mare Kremser, who works for Fair Districts PA, explained how members of the commission would chosen (see video below).

After hearing the comments, Mr. Davis said "I do agree that there's an issue. I think the system as it exists might be tweaked. I don't want to see it go from a legislative process to a commission of political appointees."

Chairman Phil Calabro stated that "This is not a commission of perfection...redistricting is a seesaw. It's always changing depending on who's in power. We just want to see better transparency."

Copies of the Resolution will be sent to various government officials (see list at the end of the Resolution).

RESOLUTION 2018-R-15

A RESOLUTION OF THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS OF NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP, BUCKS COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA, IN SUPPORT OF A CITIZENS COMMISSION FOR LEGISLATIVE AND CONGRESSIONAL REDISTRICTING  

WHEREAS, the citizens of the Township of Newtown and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania deserve a fair, fully transparent, impartial and depoliticized process of the decennial drawing of state legislature and congressional districts of near equal population; and  

WHEREAS, legislative and congressional redistricting has at times resulted in gerrymandered districts that favor one political party over others; and  

WHEREAS, such gerrymandering of legislative and congressional districts has worked at times to the detriment of our representative democracy; and  

WHEREAS, the creation of a truly independent citizens redistricting commission devoid of political motivation or partisanship will: ensure a fair, transparent, and accurate legislative and congressional redistricting process that respects political subdivisions; prohibit districts from being drawn to favor or discriminate against a political party or candidate; require the use of impartial and sound methodology when setting district boundaries; require public input; and fully comply with the constitutional requirement that "no county, city, incorporated town, borough, township or ward" be divided "unless absolutely necessary,"; and  

WHEREAS, legislation to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to reform the decennial legislative and congressional redistricting process with the intent of using fairness and sound methodology in a non-partisan fashion is required to ensure these reforms.  

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors does hereby support legislative efforts to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to assign the decennial task of both legislative and congressional redistricting to an independent citizens redistricting commission; and  

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon all those elected officials and party leaders in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania who represent the citizens of the Township of Newtown (see list below) to publicly announce their support of and commitment to work towards passage of such legislative efforts, and that a copy of this resolution be delivered to each of them.

  • Governor Tom Wolf
  • Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack
  • Attorney General Josh Shapiro
  • Acting Secretary of Commonwealth Robert Torres
  • United States Senator Bob Casey
  • United States Senator Pat Toomey
  • United States Representative Brian Fitzpatrick
  • Pennsylvania Senator Charles McIlhinney
  • Pennsylvania Representative Perry Warren
  • Robert G. Loughery, County Commissioner
  • Charles H. Martin, County Commissioner
  • Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia, LCSW, County Commissioner
  • Jack Hanna, Interim Chairman, Democratic Party of Pennsylvania
  • Val DiGiorgio, Chairman, Republican Party of Pennsylvania

UPDATE (June 18, 2018): Newtown Township Manager Kurt Ferguson received a letter from Governor Tom Wolf in response to this resolution. "Thank you for contacting me regarding Newtown Township's resolutions regarding fair congressional redistricting," said Wolf. "Listening to local elected officials and community leaders is the best way for me to understand the complex and challenging issues you each face every day as you strive to build stronger communities and create opportunities for your constituents...I will certainly keep your resolution in mind as we continue to work to remove outdated and unfair policies that make voting too difficult, make special interests too powerful, and make politicians less accountable."

Posted on 11 May 2018, 01:41 - Category: Resolutions



Newtown Board of Supervisors Shoots Down Drive-thru Starbucks

Despite a recommendation for approval of a “conditional use” application for a drive-thru Starbucks cafe by the Newtown Planning Commission, the Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) voted 5-0 against the application at the May 9, 2018, public meeting. The cafe is proposed to be located in the Village at Newtown West at 2896 South Eagle Road - in the entrance to the McCaffrey Supermarket parking lot.

Here's the proposed plan that was presented before the Board. The Starbucks building is shown as "Cafe" and the drive through lane is between the "Cafe" and South Eagle.

I've indicated the path that traffic to and from South Eagle Road would have to take to get in line for a Triple Mocha Frappuccino® or just a plain old Cold Foam Cascara Cold Brew. No wonder Starbucks is "slower than its major competitors in the drive-thru lane" - it takes on average 4.4 minutes to get your order.

Bloomberg says: "Starbucks is still pokey in the drive-thru, and will have to speed things up if it wants to compete with the likes of Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc. and McDonald’s Corp. Getting it right could make or break the strategy that the Seattle-based company is counting on to jump start sales after revenue disappointed analysts in eight of the past nine quarters."

Chairman Calabro commented on the potential traffic problem and Supervisor Kyle Davis said the developer is trying to stuff too many stores into the space. Note that there is also a drive-thru bank located in the same area. I can imagine cars lined up to get access to the drive-thru lanes of the bank and Starbucks. I commented upon the dearth of allotted parking spaces.

Newtown resident Kierstyn Piotrowski Zolfo commented on Facebook: "Agreed that the location for that Starbucks would have been a traffic nightmare, and the number of parking spaces sounded altogether inadequate... especially for a Starbucks, where some people will come and stay for hours. But you do not know they joy that the words "drive . thru . Starbucks" briefly brought into my heart last night... I hope that there is some place in town where such a drive-thru could be opened without the same type of traffic difficulties."

Kierstyn balanced that aginst the fact that at the same meeting the BOS passed a resolution sponsored by Fair Districts in support of a Citizens' Commission for Legislative and Congressional Redistricting. 

Posted on 10 May 2018, 13:47 - Category: Development



Summary of April 16, 2018 BOS Work Session

You may not have the time to download and read the entire minutes from meetings of the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors (BOS), or the approved minutes may not yet be available on the Township website (here), so I created this summary from the April 16, 2018,  Work Session meeting. I also included some links to related information including video clips from meetings. I'll do the same for future meetings. This is not a complete list of items discussed.

Good Government

Anti-Gerrymandering Resolution: Public Comment by Jan Filios: Reviewed Congressional district maps are drawn every 10 years according to the change in census population data. Currently the maps are drawn with the 2010 census. The PA Constitution allows political party leaders to reconfigure the maps. This is a conflict in interest. The worse contortions have been in Southeastern PA and Pittsburgh.

Fair Districts PA and the League of Women Voters is supporting two bills in the General Assembly to amend the State Constitution to form an independent citizens' commission to take over the task of redistricting in time for the next census results in 2020. Some Bucks County municipalities that have passed this resolution representing 39% of the population are Lower Makefield, Buckingham, Doylestown Township, Bristol, and Middletown. Mr. Calabro recommended that State Representative Perry Warren should visit the Board of Supervisors and he thanked Ms. Filios for her information. He would like to have both Mr. Warren and a representative from Fair Districts attend a Board of Supervisor meeting.

Permits

Signs: Most of businesses ask for variances for signs due to Newtown's tight restrictions. Mr. Martin Vogt, Zoning Officer, made a collection of frequent types of variance requests including changes and problems he noticed and created a spreadsheet showing this information. Highlighted items on the report were those not discussed at an earlier meeting.

After the Board decides what they want as changes to ordinances, the solicitor may:

  1. Amend ordinance via the JMZO;
  2. Spin the sign regulations out of the JMZO for Newtown; or
  3. Create the Newtown's own standalone ordinance.

The legal question is if there is a request for sign regulations the Board created, where do they go? Is it the Zoning Hearing Board or go directly to the Board of Supervisors. Two attorneys were asked, and there were two different answers. When the review is complete, it will need to be discussed with Township counsel to amend the JMZO or spin it off from the JMZO to make it Newtown only. The Planning Commission could be given authority to continue to review and give recommendations to the Supervisors. They would have to be given some type of authority to make a decision to accept or reject.

Solicitation: Regarding the topic of solicitation in developments, i.e. window replacements, an HOA as a board cannot take a vote to restrict solicitation unless every member signs off that they don’t want solicitation. Anyone going door‐to‐door is required to go to the Township/Police Department where a background check is completed and a permit is given to them. A resident should ask for their solicitation permit. If they do not have one, they have not gone through the process, and report them to the police. Signs in the development stating “no solicitation” cannot be enforced. What doesn’t need a permit is for political campaigning or non‐profit solicitations.

Traffic

Mill Pond Road: This discussion focused around a request made at the Board of Supervisors' March 28, 2018 meeting by James Downey, President of the Board of Directors of the Newtown Crossing Community Association on behalf of Newtown Crossing and Eagle Ridge, to prohibit parking on Millpond Road. Looking at Millpond Road, for example, it would require an outright parking ban entirely - it couldn't just be a vehicle ban as it wouldn’t affect the typical complaints. Residents are basing the no parking ban on aesthetics and that a tow truck is not attractive to look at and is not necessarily a safety issue. Mr. Ferguson suggested that the Board create a set of criteria to use as a benchmark for safety measures that could be used throughout the Township. The Board decided to receive more information from the Newtown Crossing HOA requesting minutes of their meetings to reinforce the request for no parking on Millpond Road. This information can be in an electronic format provided by the HOA. Mr. Ferguson will follow‐up.

Posted on 10 May 2018, 01:56 - Category: Board of Supervisors Minutes



I Support Steve Bacher for Congress

There is a difference between the three Democratic candidates for Congress representing PA District 1. Steve Bacher is my choice for many reasons, but primarily because of his position on the environment and marijuana. Read his opinion piece published in today's Bucks County Courier Times:

Listen to my podcast interview of Steve. He discusses environmental issues of concern to Newtown residents as well as his opposition to the 287g program, in which local police are trained to act as immigration officers:

Posted on 08 May 2018, 01:05 - Category: Voting



"Pot vs Pills": Dr. Sanjay Gupta Special Report

Dr. Gupta takes an in depth look into cannabis as an alternative to prescription drugs. He tackles the role of cannabis in fighting America's opioid addiction crisis.

In the special, Gupta meets pioneers in the field of pain management as well as addiction research who believe that marijuana is the next best hope for treating both. 

He also speaks with those who have struggled with addiction including an exclusive interview with NFL running back Mike James. In 2013 James suffered a devastating leg injury during a Monday night football game. He was given opioids after surgery to treat his pain, and months later he found himself addicted. Scared and worried, his wife suggested he try marijuana, a drug that is banned by the NFL and could cost any player their careers. 

I've gotten some great feedback on my survey regarding the role of medical marijuana in avoiding opioids for pain management and for help during recovery.

Posted on 04 May 2018, 01:32 - Category: Opioid Epidemic



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