John Mack - Newtown Supervisor
My BIG Idea: Openness, Transparency & Better Communications

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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