John Mack - Newtown Supervisor
Communication Category

Newtown Parking Sarcasm in Letter to the Editor of Bucks County Courier Times

In the January 28, 2020, edition of the Bucks County Courier Times (BCCT), a letter to the editor (LTE) titled "Newtown parking joke is on all of us" states that the "board of supervisors just announced a decision ... All of the new restaurants [in the Village at Newtown shopping center] would be opened as drive-through only" (see image).

Obviously, as you read on, this is an attempt at sarcasm. Matthew Allen, the author, suggests, for example, the Iron Hill Brewery would have overhead hoses that could pour you an IPA at a drive-through window, but ONLY if you were cool enough.


Here's my problem with this. Some people might actually believe such a decision was made by the Board. After discussions with many residents I have learned that many people do not actually know who makes what decisions in Newtown. We have the Board of Supervisors (BOS), the Planning Commission, and the Zoning Hearing Board. Sometimes I am confused as well!

But worse than that is the lack of adequate communication with residents about actual decisions made by public officials. Sure, you are welcome to attend public meetings or watch the BOS meetings on TV (when the equipment is working) or via streaming video on the Township's website (yes, there is a website, but NO Facebook page or Twitter account). Other meetings like those of the all-important Zoning Hearing Board, however, are NOT televised!

In any case, poor communications should not be exasperated by "false communications." Therefore, I would suggest to the editors of the BCCT that they should tag sarcastic LTEs as such, especially when they could unintentionally spread false rumors about decisions made by the Board of Supervisors and other governing bodies. Our work is hard enough without having to defend ourselves against "fake news."

Also Read

Posted on 28 Jan 2020, 01:14 - Category: Communication

Savvy Citizen Presentation

About 87% of respondents to my online survey (N=151) said they would opt-in to a notification service such as Savvy Citizen as long as it was free to them (7% say “No,” 6% “Not sure”). The survey also collected 84 comments from respondents about the types of messages they would like to receive and if they preferred to receive notices via cell phone app, text message, or via email. 

The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors asked representatives of Savvy Citizen to make a presentation before the Board at the September 16, 2019, Work Session and answer questions. Unfortunately, videos of Work Sessions are not available. However, I made an audio recording of the presentation and present some highlights of the presentation - with audio - below. [Also see video at the end of this post.]

You can download the complete presentation PDF here.

Click for audio related to the above:

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Posted on 17 Sep 2019, 13:29 - Category: Communication

What is the Most Satisfying Part of My Job as Newtown Township Supervisor?

I'm often asked "How do you like being Supervisor?" I can't answer that without some kind of qualifier such as "...on a scale of 1 to 10." But even then, it depends.

A better question is "What’s the Most Satisfying Part of My Job as Newtown Township Supervisor?" That one is easy to answer...

By far, the most satisfying part of my job as Supervisor is interacting with residents to keep them informed and to listen to their concerns. If I can help solve residents’ problems, that’s just icing on the cake!

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. On average, I spend about 8 hours per month interacting with residents. It's satisfying because it helps me fulfill my core values, which are best expressed as in the following word cloud.

Every one of those words is applicable to my job as Newtown Supervisor. Every one!

It's even more satisfying to know that my efforts are appreciated. Here are just a few comments I have received from residents recently:

“Outstanding documentation of accountability. This is a very rare to see. Thank you.” – A response to a post on Facebook documenting the time I spend per month on official Supervisor activities (see here).

“I looked at your website. Keep up the great efforts to make Newtown a better place for all.” and “Been living here since '96 and am so glad to see someone take leadership to connect our neck of the woods.” and “Thank you for doing a great job keeping the residents informed.” –  Personal messages from members of Nextdoor where I often post information.

“Great flow chart you created & posted to your blog! Thank goodness you did it since I got totally lost when the Town Solicitor tried to explain it!” – Comment about the process of amending an Township Ordinance to allow for a combined gas station/convenience store (read "What's Next for Ordinance Amendment to Allow Wawa on Newtown Bypass?... It's Complicated!").

“It is amazing, but could not have happened without you, John Mack, bringing this issue to the attention of concerned residents. This could become a model for other townships to follow. :-)” – Comment in response to resident turnout at a Board of Supervisors meeting and engagement in public comments regarding the Township’s Pollution Reduction Plan (read "Residents Comment on Roberts Ridge Park Meadow Plan").

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 07 Aug 2019, 01:24 - Category: Communication

Newtown Township Police Department Adds Nextdoor to Its Social Media Outreach Program

This morning, I was surprised to see this in my email inbox from Nextdoor:

Actually, I should not have been surprised because the Police Department has an excellent FB page as well as Twitter and Instagram accounts! Kudos to Sergeant Lupinetti, who manages these accounts.

About Nextdoor

Nextdoor is a social networking service for neighborhoods. Nextdoor members can post notices, events, and topics for discussion and/or feedback from other members. Members submit their real names and addresses and other information in their profiles. Posts made to the website are available only to other Nextdoor members living in the same neighborhood, hence the name “Nextdoor.”

Typical platform uses include neighbors reporting on news and events in their "neighborhood" and members asking each other for local service-provider recommendations. It can also be used to post events and other notices of interest to members such as this post I made about the impact of the Township’s Pollution Reduction plan on Roberts Ridge Park:

This resulted in residents attending a Board of Supervisors meeting and submitting comments on the plan for the park. As a result, the plan was changed (read “Newtown Revises Pollution Reduction Plan After Hearing Resident Comments”) and a new group, “Friends of Roberts Ridge Park” (see the FB Group) was formed with a goal to plant native trees in the park to augment the well-maintained meadow area approved by the Township.

It’s a shame that Newtown Township does not have any official social media presence. Of the 53 local government websites studied by the Bucks County Courier Times, 35 (66%) had active Facebook pages, 25 (47%) were active on Twitter and 13 (25%) had YouTube channels.

Social Media Used by Selected Local Municipalities

Because Newtown does not have its own Twitter account or Facebook page, it must rely upon the Police Department whenever it would like to reach out to citizens via social media. Recently, for example the NT Police Twitter account posted this notice for hiring a Township Recording Secretary:

Although the NTPD Twitter account has over 3,100 follows, the majority of these followers are other police departments, law enforcement agencies, police officers and their families, school districts, etc. Consequently, posting to this account is not the best way to reach a significant number of ordinary law-abiding citizens of Newtown.

Now that the NTPD is posting to Nextdoor (see the Departments Nextdoor profile and list of posts here), I am sure their messages will more likely be received and read by the citizens they are intended to reach.

Further Reading: "My BIG Idea: Openness, Transparency & Better Communications"

Posted on 28 Jun 2019, 01:36 - Category: Communication

My BIG Idea: Openness, Transparency & Better Communications

You've probably seen the segment "My BIG Idea" on the NBC Nightly News where Democrats running for president talk to Harry Smith about their big ideas, how to pay for them and the impact on voters. At first, I thought this was a bit hokey, but then I got to like the idea and decided to publish my own BIG Idea, which is: Openness, Transparency & Better Communications in local government!

There are several things I would like to accomplish to achieve that goal in Newtown:

(1) The Township should implement a text messaging and social media based “emergency" notification system that can ALSO be used to notify residents of public meetings and other official news from the Township.

I surveyed over 100 people about such a system (e.g., Savvy Citizen which would cost about $300 per month). 82% of respondents said they would opt-in to such a system. Currently, the only such system available to residents is a free service called ReadyBucks, which is pitiful - it only reports such things as flash floods, sever thunderstorms, etc., which is information we all get from a number of other free sources!

See the survey results and more information, comments from respondents pro and con, etc..

(2) Searchable minutes of meetings (DONE!): Very early on in my tenure in January, 2018, I requested that the minutes posted to Newtown Township’s website be converted to searchable PDF format. Searchable PDFs are useful for retrieving documents from a document repository (e.g., computer disk drive) and useful to find the location of words and phrases within documents.

My request was quickly implemented by the Township and now every PDF version of minutes going back two or more years is searchable. For more on that, read "Basic Document Management" in this Blog Post.

(3) Streaming Indexed Video: Just as it is easier to find an item in the minutes if the document is searchable, it is also easier to locate an agenda item in the streaming video of Board of Supervisors (BOS) meetings if the videos are “indexed.”

Here’s how this is implemented in EVERY other local municipality (Lower Makefield, Middletown, Northampton, Upper Makefield, Wrightstown):

The agenda/Meeting Index is displayed alongside the video screen. Viewers can jump to any section of the video that corresponds with an agenda item merely by clicking on the item in the “Meeting Index.” It’s a travesty that Newtown stands alone in NOT having this option even though it uses the exact same video streaming software as other townships! For more on that, read "Newtown BOS Website Video Streaming Improvement" in this Blog Post.

(4) Website Analytics: At the June 13, 2018, BOS meeting, Josephine Vlastaris, former Chair of the Technology Committee, recommended using Google Analytics to monitor traffic and bounce rates for the township website, and make changes to pages as needed (see her presentation here). The Committee suggested that the following reports be created on a monthly basis:

  • Page Views (e.g., the 25 most visited pages)
  • Demographics of Users (Age/Gender distribution)
  • Top 25 Landing and Exit Pages
  • Behavior Flow (where do visitors go from landing pages)
  • Device Categories (desktop/mobile/tablet)
  • Browser source, i.e., Chrome, Firefox, IExplore

This information is critical for making improvements to the site and ensuring easy access to important information. Even though the Township already has a Google Analytics account set up to measure and report on its website traffic (the code is already on every page), the BOS decided against creating periodic reports citing a "lack of need to do so." I should note that it takes about 2 minutes to produce a useful analytics report from Google!

(5) Social Media: Of the 53 local government websites studied by the Bucks County Courier Times, 35 (66%) had active Facebook pages, 25 (47%) were active on Twitter and 13 (25%) had YouTube channels (source: "How Does Newtown Township's Website Stack Up?") . Newtown Township has no social media presence whereas the Police Department does have an excellent FB page and Twitter account!

(6) Glossary of Municipal Terms: MS4, PRD, LST, EIT, SALDO, Liquid Fuels Program, Impervious Surface, Sketch Plan, Conditional Use, Spot-Zoning, etc. These are just some of the acronyms and terms a Newtown Township Supervisor has to learn to do his or her job. Perhaps more importantly, township residents must understand these terms if they are expected to participate in local government. To that end, I have created the first-of-its-kind Glossary of Municipal Terms on my website.

A similar glossary of terms should be available on the Township’s website. Note that many terms link to related information on my website. The Township’s glossary would, of course, link to repeated information on the Township site.

This all relates to the poor use and management of digital assets by the Township, which appears to be living in the 1990’s as far as its use of modern communication tools goes. 


Posted on 26 Jun 2019, 01:48 - Category: Communication

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