Newtown News Update


Welcome to the June, 2019, issue of Newtown News Update. Back issues and subscribing information can be found here.  If you do not wish to receive further updates, please use the "Unsubscribe" link at the bottom of this email. The opinions expressed here are solely the those of John Mack and do not reflect the opinions of any other person or entity.

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 segment and decided to talk about 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:

Digital Notification System: The Township should implement a text messaging and social media/mobile app 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. See the survey results and comments from respondents here.

Take the Survey Now

Currently, the only such system available to Newtown Township residents is a free service called ReadyBucks, which is inadequate. It only reports such things as flash floods, severe thunderstorms, etc. All these alerts can be gotten from a number of other free sources! More importantly, ReadyBucks does NOT provide any information about Township events, public forums, issues, and other non-emergency notices of interest to residents.

Searchable minutes of meetings (DONE!): Very early on in my tenure in January, 2018, I requested that the minutes of Board of Supervisors (BOS) meetings be converted to searchable PDF format. Searchable PDFs are useful for retrieving specific documents from a document repository (e.g., computer disk drive). and useful for finding the location of words and phrases within documents.

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

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

Streaming indexed video has been implemented in EVERY other local municipality, including Lower Makefield, Northampton, Upper Makefield, Wrightstown, and Middletown (shown below).

Middletown Township Streaming Video Page. The video of Middletown's Board of Supervisors meeting is on the left side of the screen and the "Meeting Index" (agenda) is on the right. Website visitors merely click on an item in the agenda to jump to that section of the video.

IMHO, it is a travesty that Newtown Township stands alone in NOT having this option even though it uses the exact same video streaming software as other townships! Read "Newtown BOS Website Video Streaming Improvement" in this Blog Post.

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 website 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." It should be noted that it takes about 2 minutes to produce a useful analytics report from Google!

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 official social media presence.

Social Media Used by Selected Local Municipalities

Meanwhile, I am making up for the lack of digital/social media communications of our local government by providing information to residents through several digital channels. At the 2019 Annual Convention of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors in April, I participated in a panel discussion where I highlighted my use of social media. Click on the image below or here to access my presentation.

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 in my Glossary link to related information on my website. The Township’s glossary, of course, should link to related information on the Township's website.

Transparency Through Technology!

My BIG Idea, in a nutshell, is to improve the Township's communication with residents through technology. It's time for Newtown Township to enter the twenty-first century! 

John Mack