John Mack - Newtown Supervisor
Residents Say YES To Hybrid In-Person/Online Public Meetings

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

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