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In God We Trust. Lower Southampton Supervisors Not So Much!

In God We Trust. Lower Southampton Supervisors Not So Much! | Good Government | Scoop.it

Lower Southampton supervisors agreed to take a further look back at township zoning records including financial records after one supervisor said he learned the former zoning officer reportedly gave some applicants discounts or waived mandatory permit fees and waived escrows without authorization (read “Lower Southampton Zoning Records in Disarray: Is It Just Sloppy Bookkeeping or Something More?").

 

Lower Southampton supervisors agreed to begin the process of a deeper dive into the township’s zoning department operations, including financial records, following an hour of nonstop grilling from residents demanding the board take action Wednesday night.

 

“Somebody should be held accountable,” said John McDermott, who was among more than a dozen residents to speak. “Maybe it’s time to clean house. Maybe this is a wake-up call.”

 

Resident Marge McCurdy urged the board to go through the records of recently retired zoning officer Carol Drioli “with a fine tooth comb.”

 

“The residents of Lower Southampton are tired of corruption,” she said. “Let’s see what else is going on.”

 

One resident, who said he was attending only the second supervisors meeting in 30 years, pulled a dollar out of his pocket, approached Supervisor Westley and asked him to read what was on the back.

 

“In God We Trust,” Westley replied.

 

The man then threw the dollar at Westley and told him to keep it.

 

“Things better start changing,” he said before returning to his seat. “When you guys go home tonight and look at yourselves in the mirror, I hope to God you say, God help me, God help me to do the right thing.”

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A good government is an open government where transparency reigns supreme. These Scoops are excerpts from articles published in local newspapers and other sources. Any opinions and "insights" appended to these article summaries are solely those of John Mack and do not represent the opinions of any other person or entity.
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Truth. Facts. Transparency. It's What Good Government is All About. Know Your Rights

Truth. Facts. Transparency. It's What Good Government is All About. Know Your Rights | Good Government | Scoop.it

Truth. Facts. Transparency. Simple words that shine even more brightly as we celebrate Sunshine Week. This appropriately named week, organized 13 years ago by The American Society of Newspaper Editors and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, helps all of us realize the importance of what freedom of information truly means.

 

Information belongs in the hands of the people, and officials of government should never shield the public from this constitutional right. Making informed decisions and reporting real news starts with receiving the information that we are all entitled to, and this circle can only be completed when government entities comply.

 

The Sunshine Act and Right to Know Law are Pennsylvania’s primary public access laws. These laws guarantee the public’s right to access government information at public meetings and through public records. Public access to meetings and records is fundamental to the public’s ability to understand government actions and hold government officials accountable.

 

On behalf of newspapers across the state, The Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association is working with the Legislature to remove the unnecessary barriers that continue to block Pennsylvanians’ access to basic information from government. We are also advocating for public agencies to record executive sessions, for requiring agencies to provide agendas in advance of meetings — so the public can attend and participate in issues that matter to them, and for keeping Public Notices in newspapers so you know what’s going on in your community, and have a chance to participate in a decision before it happens. Newspapers’ watchdog role makes them ideally suited to ensure that public notices are kept in safe hands.

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johnmacknewtown's curator insight, March 6, 2018 6:51 AM

Citizens from across the country are now gearing up for this year’s Sunshine Week (March 11-17) to once again spark a nationwide discussion about the critical importance of access to public information. To participate in this “event,” I decided to host a PA Right-to-Know Law Quiz. If you have not yet taken my quiz, you may be interested in taking it now. It takes less than 1 minute and no personal information is collected. Click here to take the quiz.

 

I also created the “Improve Communications for Better Government” Facebook Group. Anyone can join and participate in discussions and suggest ideas for how Newtown Township and other local municipalities can keep citizens better informed of the issues and decisions made by their elected officials.

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Bucks County Courier Times Editorial: Shine on, PA Right-to-Know Law

Bucks County Courier Times Editorial: Shine on, PA Right-to-Know Law | Good Government | Scoop.it

[The following is an abstract from an editorial published in the BCCT; the chart above is based on data from Newtown Township - it is an unofficial analysis of the data prepared by John Mack.]

 

Timed to coincide with Sunshine Week, the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records on Tuesday released the results of a statewide survey that sheds light on who is using the state’s Right-to-Know Law, what they’re using it for, and how much time officials are spending each week to fulfill requests.

 

Some people think of the Right-to-Know Law as a tool that journalists use to ferret out information from the counties, municipalities and school districts they cover. At the surveyed offices last year, however, the news media accounted for fewer than 4 percent of the total requests.

 

More than half came from the general public. Commercial organizations made up 30 percent of the requests. Journalists, lawyers, inmates and student researchers combined to account for the rest — less than 20 percent.

 

We hope the people who associate the law only with journalism come to view it more broadly as a measure that gives power to the people to hold the government accountable by striking a blow for transparency.

 

The survey, filled out by more than 1,000 open records officers at various types of government agencies, also showed that the requests generally are not onerous for the agencies to process.

 

Nine out of 10 respondents said it takes less than five hours a week to respond to Right-to-Know requests. Sure, there were exceptions. The County of Bucks submitted a survey saying it takes between 20 and 40 hours a week to process all the requests. Lower Makefield and Falls townships take between 10 and 20 hours per week to handle requests, the survey said.

 

Those that handle more requests often voiced frustrations about what they see as occasions where the law is being abused. In our area at least, the complaints were not about journalists.

 

“We’ve had instances where I’ve had three or four staff members working to fulfill one request,” said an open records officer in Lower Makefield. “We also get lots of sales people requesting information on permits, who then directly contact the applicant trying to sell their product.”

 

Related:

johnmacknewtown's insight:

Newtown Township did NOT participate in the Office of Open Records 2019 Agency Open Records Officer Survey. Why not?

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John Mack's Supervisor Report for February 2019

John Mack's Supervisor Report for February 2019 | Good Government | Scoop.it

The following is a summary of my Supervisor-related activities for February, 2019. I spent only about 26 hours this month on official Supervisor business compared to an average of 50 hours per month in 2018. I attribute this below average number of hours to (1) time off for a vacation in Florida for a few days, (2) the cancellation of meetings due to snow, and (3) very short BOS meetings, including the February 27 session featuring the swearing in a new Police Chief.

 

View the full report here.

johnmacknewtown's insight:

I decided to keep track of my activities as a Supervisor on a monthly basis partly because I want to be accountable to residents, but also to make sure I am making the best use of my time. 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.

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How Does Newtown Township’s Website Stack Up?

How Does Newtown Township’s Website Stack Up? | Good Government | Scoop.it

A recent analysis of municipal websites and their social media pages by Bucks County Courier Times (BCCT) found that most sites succeed as “one-stop shops for information — budgets, agendas and minutes, videos of meetings and planning documents — that residents can access,” but others offer the “bare minimum.”

Where does the Newtown Township website sit on this “spectrum?”

 

Of concern to me are meeting minutes and video recordings of Board of Supervisors (BOS) meetings. I’m primarily concerned about how much detail is included in minutes and how easy (or difficult) it is to search for and find specific information in the minutes or in the video recordings.

 

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Top Ten Most Viewed Blog Posts in 2018

Top Ten Most Viewed Blog Posts in 2018 | Good Government | Scoop.it

The following are the TOP TEN viewed blog pages in 2018 in rank order.

 

  1. Developer and Attorney Present Their Case for a WaWa Superstore on the Newtown Bypass (see #2, #8 and #10); https://www.johnmacknewtown.info/blog/?viewDetailed=201805151057
  2. Residents Present Their Case For and Against a Super WaWa on the Bypass; https://www.johnmacknewtown.info/blog/?viewDetailed=201805171006
  3. Attacking the Root of the Opioid Crisis - Pharmaceutical Companies; https://www.johnmacknewtown.info/blog/?viewDetailed=201707201025
  4. Newtown Board of Supervisors Shoots Down Drive-thru Starbucks (see #9); https://www.johnmacknewtown.info/blog/?viewDetailed=201805101347
  5. Newtown Township Employee Salaries & Wages; https://www.johnmacknewtown.info/blog/?viewDetailed=201806070133
  6. Toll Brothers Twining Bridge Road Proposal; https://www.johnmacknewtown.info/blog/?viewDetailed=201809201517
  7. They Took All the Trees & Put Up a Parking Lot!; https://www.johnmacknewtown.info/blog/?viewDetailed=201807091126
  8. The Newtown Township Planning Commission Stymies Path Forward for Wawa - For Now; https://www.johnmacknewtown.info/blog/?viewDetailed=201810190118
  9. Drive-thru Starbucks is Back on Track!; https://www.johnmacknewtown.info/blog/?viewDetailed=201806291121
  10. Super Wawa Survey Comments; https://www.johnmacknewtown.info/blog/?viewDetailed=201806020715

 

Meanwhile, the Newtown Area Municipal Glossary was very popular. It was accessed 0ver 500 times in 2018 after its launch on October 8, 2018; https://www.johnmacknewtown.info/glossary.html

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John Mack’s Supervisor Report for October 2018

John Mack’s Supervisor Report for October 2018 | Good Government | Scoop.it

Admittedly, I have a lot of free time to devote to my Supervisor duties – perhaps more than other Supervisors. I am a retired businessman whose children are adults and sad to say, I do not have any grandchildren to keep me busy, yet! And I am not a golfer! So, for me, I have the “luxury” of devoting as much time to being a Supervisor as I wish. This month, for example, I spent a total of 57.5 hours on official Supervisor-related activities. The following report provides details of how these hours were spent. 

I decided to keep track of my activities as a Supervisor on a monthly basis partly because I want to be accountable to residents, but also to make sure I am making the best use of my time.

 

Find the detailed report here.

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My BOS Meeting Survival Kit

My BOS Meeting Survival Kit | Good Government | Scoop.it

This is how my work area looked at last night's Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting. I call it my BOS Meeting Survival Kit. I especially needed it for last night's meeting, which was pretty boring.

 

Learn about one other “boring” – BUT VERY IMPORTANT – coming up next week here.

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A Month in the Life of a Newtown Supervisor: Meetings, Meetings, and More Meetings!

A Month in the Life of a Newtown Supervisor: Meetings, Meetings, and More Meetings! | Good Government | Scoop.it

In total, I spent nearly 60 hours in September attending meetings, preparing for meetings, and travel to and from meetings!

 

Find out more details here.

 

Was September an unusual month? That remains to be seen. Coming in October is budget season, which I am told requires a lot of time and effort. Stay tuned – I intend to continue to keep a record of my activities and report back to you every month.

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Northampton Refuses to Release Employee Wages, Then is Forced to Do So by PA Office of Open Records

Northampton Refuses to Release Employee Wages, Then is Forced to Do So by PA Office of Open Records | Good Government | Scoop.it

The names, job titles and total wages paid to all township employees in 2017 were released by Northampton manager Robert Pellegrino on Aug. 3 to township resident Bruce Stamm, who in turn provided them to this news organization. The township was responding to an July 3 a right-know-request by Stamm, who also filed an appeal with the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records before the records were released by the township.

 

Northampton’s files show 238 full- and part-time workers. The records show Northampton’s manager received $169,577 — more than the township managers in neighboring Lower Southampton ($148,841), Middletown ($163,146), Newtown Township ($146,449) and Wrightstown ($92,906), records show.

 

Northampton’s police Chief Michael Clark received $137,092, officials reported. Finance director Robert Armelin was paid $119,942. The township reported 29 police officers with an average wage of $95,526 for the year.

 

The Bucks County Courier Times and Intelligencer in January had filed more than 60 right-to-know requests with local government agencies, seeking the wages paid to all government workers (read “Some Local Governments Reluctant to Release Employee Wages, Some Don't Keep Complete Records!”).

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Falls Wawa Developer Wins Case Brought by Local Service Station But “SLAPPs” a Lawsuit Against Residents Who Spoke Up at Public Meeting

Falls Wawa Developer Wins Case Brought by Local Service Station But “SLAPPs” a Lawsuit Against Residents Who Spoke Up at Public Meeting | Good Government | Scoop.it

The owners of the Plaza Shell service station in Morrisville moved last week to withdraw their appeal from state Commonwealth Court. At question was whether the fuel-selling Wawa counted as a service station and therefore violated the Falls code that requires a 1,500-foot minimum distance between stations. The Shell is about 600 feet away.

 

Falls supervisors made two votes in May 2017, first to allow a Wawa where West Trenton Avenue intersects Pine Grove Road, and then to approve onsite fuel sales. Plaza Shell appealed the fuel-sale vote to county court the next month, accusing the board of violating the township’s requirement between service stations.

 

The board — and Wawa — had argued that Wawa was a convenience store, not a service station, under township code, which defines service stations as “providing for the sale of fuel, lubricants, automotive accessories, maintenance and minor repairs for motor vehicles.” The Wawa would not provide maintenance or minor repairs.

 

The developer’s separate county court complaint, seeking $11 million from residents and business owners it alleges stalled approval on the three stores through opposition at public meetings, remains ongoing as of Monday afternoon.

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johnmacknewtown's curator insight, August 7, 2018 7:15 AM

The last sentence of this article sends a chill down my spine. From May 14, 2018, story

 

“The case also names two Falls residents living near the development site, off Pine Grove Road and West Trenton Avenue, who alongside the business owners spoke up against the proposal at public meetings.”

 

This is an example of a “SLAPP” lawsuit — or a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. According to the Public Participation Project, a national nonprofit, SLAPPs are “damaging” suits designed to “chill free speech and health debate by targeting those who communicate with their government or speak out on issues of public interest.”

 

SLAPPs are effective because even a meritless lawsuit can take years and many thousands of dollars to defend. To end or prevent a SLAPP, those who speak out on issues of public interest frequently agree to muzzle themselves, apologize, or “correct” statements.

 

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Bucks County Courier Times Editorial: No public notice, no government vote - agendas must be published no later than 24 hours before public meetings

Bucks County Courier Times Editorial: No public notice, no government vote - agendas must be published no later than 24 hours before public meetings | Good Government | Scoop.it

One of the ways public officials avoid controversy is to avoid attention. Don’t want citizens screaming at you about a plan to eliminate a school sports program or to build a convenience store with 24 gas pumps at an already congested intersection? Wait until the last minute to stick the issue on the meeting agenda.

This is not an uncommon strategy employed by local officials who don’t have the stomach for public criticism, an interest in open government, or the scruples to do the right thing.

It’s why state Rep. Jim Christiana, a Beaver County Republican, wants to update the state Sunshine Act to require more transparency from local government. Under House Bill 1531, all government bodies, including school boards, county commissioners and local governments, would be required to post their meeting agendas 24 hours in advance. And they’d have to itemize each issue on the agenda to be discussed and voted on.

If an item is not on the agenda, officials would not be allowed to act on it. There would be exceptions for emergencies and minor matters that do not involve spending money or approving contracts. But for the most part officials would not be able to vote on anything they have not publicized at least a day before they vote.

This “is not too much to ask,” says Christiana, who called the proposed requirement “a no-brainer in this technology-driven age.” He’s right about that.

Encouragingly, the House State Government Committee agreed by a vote of 23-2 and sent the measure to the full House for a vote. There is no guarantee, however, that this piece of good government legislation will earn approval in the full House as it should. In fact, this is Christiana’s third try. The measure hit the House floor after its introduction in November 2016 following committee approval, but didn’t survive. This followed a failed effort in 2014.

Commendations to Rep. Christiana for his persistence and also his commitment to open government. Unfortunately, he is leaving the state House after losing in the U.S. Senate Republican primary election. That’s bad news for Pennsylvania, which could use a lot more elected officials like Christiana who are dedicated to open and honest government.

Said Christiana of his efforts to outlaw government secrecy: “This is how relatives get awarded contracts and taxes get raised without being properly vetted.”

We in Bucks County know of what he speaks.

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Some Local Governments Reluctant to Release Employee Wages, Some Don't Keep Complete Records!

Ever wonder what government workers are paid?

 

We did, too.

 

The wages of government workers are the single, largest local taxpayer expense. Last year, nearly $500 million went to pay administrators and attorneys, police and public works, park rangers and prison guards in local boroughs and towns, county agencies and public utilities.

 

Yet, it’s not easy obtaining records that show who those public employees are, what they did, or exactly how much they received in total compensation. Some government salaries are posted in budgets approved at public meetings. But, often, the amounts listed in those publicly advertised budgets don’t match the actual amounts paid by taxpayers at the end of the year. Some workers receive educational incentives, longevity pay, overtime or payments in exchange for not excepting government health coverage, among other benefits.

 

Some towns said it was impossible to provide records showing what their employees earned last year. Some said they had no document showing job titles. Others released that information almost immediately.

 

In 71 minutes, Richland Township Manager Paul Stepanoff released a list showing the names, job titles and wages paid to 26 people.

 

Within one day, records were provided by officials in Doylestown Borough, Upper Makefield, Warwick, Wrightstown and the Central Bucks Regional Police Department.

 

It was another story in Yardley. Borough manager John Boyle said he couldn’t tell us exactly how much his workers got paid last year. Boyle said he didn’t have the staff necessary to comply with our request. Newtown Borough provided a copy of the borough budget, which listed the budgeted salaries for some workers. But, with the documents provided, there was no way to account for any overtime and other forms of compensation received by borough workers in 2017.

 

This news organization submitted a Jan. 3 Right-To-Know request to Yardley seeking “access to records which would show the names of any full or part-time employees, the job titles of workers and their wages.”

 

On Feb. 21, Boyle respond. His letter read: “This Borough does not maintain responsive records that contain all of the requested information. The Pennsylvania Right-To-Know Law does not require a local agency to create a record where none exists.”

 

Bucks County had some trouble with that request. A month after we filed our request, officials in Bucks County told us they did not have a list showing the job titles of all workers who received wages in 2017. Six days later, they provided a list. But the list of workers didn’t match the list of people who got government money. After three months, Bucks County was unable to provide job titles or job descriptions for approximately 300 people who received more than $13 million in taxpayer money last year.

johnmacknewtown's insight:

Newtown is not mentioned in this article, but you can find all the information you need about Newtown's employee wages in the 2018 budget. Read "Newtown Township Employee Salaries & Wages"

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johnmacknewtown's curator insight, June 8, 2018 10:33 AM

Newtown is not mentioned in this article, but you can find all the information you need about Newtown's employee wages in the 2018 budget. Read "Newtown Township Employee Salaries & Wages"

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Sunshine Week: New & traditional ways to approach your elected officials - Opinion - telegram.com - Worcester, MA

Sunshine Week: New & traditional ways to approach your elected officials - Opinion - telegram.com - Worcester, MA | Good Government | Scoop.it
“All politics is local.” This famous quote by Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, the former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and proud son of Massachusetts, is used so often that it often seems cliché. But its frequent usage underscores the profound truth that drives decisions made by those in government, whether it be at city or town hall, the statehouse or the United States Capitol, and even the White House. In this regard it is critical that
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John Mack’s Supervisor Report for April 2019

John Mack’s Supervisor Report for April 2019 | Good Government | Scoop.it

I spent nearly 55 hours this month on official Board of Supervisor (BOS) business, 13 of which were attending meetings. BOS meetings are “required” in the sense that I am expected to attend them in order to satisfy my duties as a Supervisor. These include regular bi-weekly public meetings, non-public executive sessions, public work sessions, and special meetings. Note: There was an optional Work Session on April 15, 2019, that I missed because I was at the annual PSATS Convention in Hershey, PA, participating on the panel "Social Media for Supervisors".

 

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Elcon Hazardous Waste Proposal Needs More Sunshine

Elcon Hazardous Waste Proposal Needs More Sunshine | Good Government | Scoop.it

[Abstracted from an Bucks County Courier Times editorial by Shane Fitzgerald.]

 
According to the website www.sunshineweek.org, The American Society of News Editors launched Sunshine Week in 2005 as a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. The weeklong celebration is held every March to coincide with the March 16 birthday of James Madison, the father of the U.S. Constitution and a key advocate of the Bill of Rights. Participants have included print, broadcast and digital media outlets; government officials at all levels; schools and universities; nonprofit and civic organizations; libraries and archivists; and individuals interested in the public’s right to know.

Thomas Jefferson envisioned what newspapers would ultimately mean. He regarded them as democratic institutions so important that they were the only way to avoid repeated violent revolutions: “This formidable censor of the public functionaries, by arraigning them at the tribunal of public opinion, produces reform peaceably, which must otherwise be done by revolution.”

And while newspapers and their journalists may use open government laws most in the spirit in which Jefferson imagined, we are far from alone in needing our government to be open and transparent as everyday citizens use the laws as much or more than journalists.

Reporter Thomas Friestad shared an anecdote with me that is an all-too-common approach by government entities.

“I requested the land development application Elcon recently submitted to Falls, including the site plans. Falls provided copies of all aspects of the application, including traffic and stormwater reports, but not the site plans,” Friestad wrote to me. “These, I was told, I could make an appointment to view at the township municipal building, but the township could not send me a digital copy, nor could I make copies or take photographs of the site plans during an appointment, due to unspecified Copyright Law.

“Though I didn’t like the idea, I agreed to an appointment conditioned on me not making copies or taking photos of the site plans. And about 30 minutes after that phone call, I get a phone call back from Falls advising that all the Elcon project documents, including the site plans, are about to get uploaded to the township’s website for everyone to see (here). Which, if the township had uploaded the documents in the first place, alongside its Jan. 25 Facebook announcement that it had received the application, it could’ve saved a lot of hassle.”

Much controversy has surrounded the building of the hazardous waste treatment plant, and Elcon is an issue that packed a public meeting room last week (read “A Crowded Meeting Pits Citizens Against the PA DEP Regarding the Elcon Proposal"). Those documents should have been make public much sooner.

This week I will ask you to reflect this week on what open government and a free press mean to democracy. After all, Thomas Jefferson had a theory.

Shane Fitzgerald is executive editor of The Intelligencer, The Bucks County Courier Times and the Burlington County Times.

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Township Supervisors Are a "Rare Breed"

Township Supervisors Are a "Rare Breed" | Good Government | Scoop.it

Those unfamiliar with the role of a township supervisor may wonder: What exactly do we do?

The Q1 2019 Townships Today newsletter published by the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS) was created to educate the public about the job of the township supervisor. Most people don't realize the hard work and sacrifices involved in public service. As Local Government Week nears, this is the perfect opportunity to start building that understanding.

 

Access the newsletter here.

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Municipal Websites Can Bolster Transparency — But If They are Built, Will Residents Come?

Municipal Websites Can Bolster Transparency — But If They are Built, Will Residents Come? | Good Government | Scoop.it

Depending on where you live in Bucks or Montgomery counties, finding information about local government could be a click away.

 

But what information, and how easily accessible it is, largely depends on how plugged in the searcher’s town or county is to the digital world.

 

An analysis of municipal and county websites and their social media pages by this news organization [Bucks County Courier Times] found a wide range of offerings. While some sites serve as one-stop shops for information — budgets, agendas and minutes, videos of meetings and planning documents — that residents can access, others offer the bare minimum.

 

While in Pennsylvania, there is no legislation requiring governing bodies to have websites, all 60 local governments in Bucks and Eastern Montgomery have an online presence. Forty-one of them supplied financial data showing a combined $408,220 spent setting up websites, with data from 42 local governments showing a total $100,955 spent on website maintenance in 2017.

 

The only items state law requires for the websites — if local governments have sites set up — is a Right-to-Know form and contact information for officials designated to receive the formal, written document requests, said Melissa Melewsky, the in-house media law attorney for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.

 

One Bucks municipality that has made its website a priority is Doylestown Borough, which the Suburban Realtors Alliance, a local advocacy group, gave an “Open Book Award” for local government transparency over 238 other Southeastern Pennsylvania municipalities in 2013. A release accompanying the award heralded the borough’s “robust” website, its placement of detailed budget documents online and encouragement of communication between officials and residents.

 

John Davis, the borough’s manager since 1994, said local officials have not rested on their laurels. They upgraded the borough’s website in late December, giving it a sleeker, more user-friendly appearance for people looking for information such as budget documents.

 

“From our point of view, it’s not enough to say, ‘It’s available and you could have looked at it’ (at the borough hall),” Davis said. “We want to put it in front of people’s faces and make it easy for them to do. We don’t withhold any aspect of it.”

 

Davis did note that the site alone is a “fundamentally passive” tool when not used in tandem with borough Facebook and Twitter accounts. Those, he said, went live around July 2012 and garnered larger followings at times when the public’s appetite for official information grew, for example, during an ice storm with power outages that October, or when a murder suspect was falsely reported to be lurking in the area in December 2014.

 

During her time on the board, [Helen Tai, a former Solebury supervisor] successfully pushed for more in-depth meeting minutes, reflecting discussions instead of just final votes, and recording of meeting audio.

 

Tai said a healthy supply of online information benefits local governments in addition to residents, in that officials have to exhaust fewer resources responding to Right to Know requests and can bolster trust in local government, too.

 

 

This news organization mailed Right to Know requests to Bucks and Montgomery counties and 58 municipalities in June; 52 local governments responded to the requests. The inquiries were for information on how much the local governments spent to set up their websites, and to maintain them in 2017, as well as how many visitors those websites received that year [see chart above].

  

It’s not known how well-trafficked, or otherwise, the local government sites were in a majority of the towns that answered the Right to Know requests. Of the 52 respondents, 35 municipalities said they could not access, did not track or had incomplete data for how many people accessed their websites in 2017.

 

The 15 responding municipalities with that information had a combined total of 826,326 visitors to their websites. Bensalem, Middletown and Horsham garnered the most visitors in 2017, at 168,653, 103,795 and 103,260 respective viewers.

  

Social media was more of a mixed bag. Thirty-five local governments had active Facebook pages, while 25 were active on Twitter and 13 had YouTube channels.

johnmacknewtown's insight:

Meanwhile, I am taking up the digital slack of government to provide information to residents. At the 2019 Annual Convention of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors in April, I will be participating in a panel discussion:

 

Social Media for Supervisors – A Case Study & Legal Review

 

When you ran for office you probably had a website and a Facebook page. You may have even published an email newsletter, tweeted, or posted photos and videos to Instagram. But what about AFTER you were elected to office and started governing? The use of social media (SM) by elected officials is very much in the news today – in fact, it IS the news! You cannot ignore the value of SM in informing citizens.

 

In this workshop, Newtown Township Supervisor John Mack describes how he has used social media to keep residents of his township informed about local issues.

 

Topics:

  • Which SM platforms are most useful for Supervisors? • Participating in third-party Social Media Discussions
  • Misinformation vs. Fake Information
  • Legal Implications
  • Sensible Social Media Best Practice Guidelines for Supervisors: a) for posts to Supervisor-owned SM accounts b) for posts to other SM accounts

 

“The use of social media (SM) by elected officials is very much in the news today – in fact, it IS the news! You cannot ignore the value of social media (SM) in informing citizens. Newtown Township Supervisor John Mack describes how he has used SM - Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Blog, Podcasts - to keep residents informed about local issues before the BOS. Topics: Which SM platforms are most useful?, Participating in third-party SM Discussions, Legal issues, Best Practice Guidelines”

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Newtown Board of Supervisors November 28, 2018, Meeting

Newtown Board of Supervisors November 28, 2018, Meeting | Good Government | Scoop.it

Partial Agenda:

 

Public Hearings

  1. Melt Shop, 2822 S. Eagle Road - Conditional Use
  2. Kodikas, 15 Cambridge Lane - Conditional Use
  3. OMD Prospect, LLC - liquor license transfer
  4. JMZO ordinances - for adoption
  • Medical Marijuana Ordinance
  • Fireworks Ordinance
  • Conservation Easement Overlay District Ordinance

 

Reports of Officials

   Solicitor's Report

         Consideration to adopt the anti-discrimination ordinance (see more here: https://johnmacknewtown.info/blog/?viewDetailed=201811201403)

 

Manager

  •  Motion to authorize Inter County Investigations, Inc. to perform the background check for the Chief of Police in the amount of $1,600.00
  • Motion to approve a stipend for the Interim Police Chief to serve as Police Chief in the amount of $1,000 per month
  • Motion to approve the Resolution updating the authorized signers for pension funds to include the Township Manager, Phillip Calabro, and John Mack
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What's Next for Ordinance Amendment to Allow Wawa on Newtown Bypass?... It's Complicated!

What's Next for Ordinance Amendment to Allow Wawa on Newtown Bypass?... It's Complicated! | Good Government | Scoop.it

Newtown Solicitor Dave Sander explains the possible next steps in the text amendment to the OR zoning JMZO ordinance that would allow a Wawa on the Bypass at Lower Silver Lake Road.

 

I also include a "flow chart" in an attempt to visualize the steps involved. The timeline could extend to many months, possibly beyond the 2019 elections!

 

See here for the video and more details.

 

 

johnmacknewtown's insight:

I tried - unsuccessfully - to get the draft amendment into the public domain, but Mr. Sander insisted on following the letter of the Right-to-Know law, whereas if the Board wished, that document could be made public. I agree, however, that sometimes it is best to keep draft documents under wraps until they become final. It's a moot point in this case, because the Planning Commission went through each item in the draft at its Oct 16, 2018, public meeting, which I summarized here.

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BTW, I tried - unsuccessfully - to get the draft amendment into the public domain, but Mr. Sander insisted on following the letter of the Right-to-Know law, whereas if the Board wished, that document could be made public. I agree, however, that sometimes it is best to keep draft documents under wraps until they become final. It's a moot point in this case, because the Planning Commission went through each item in the draft at its Oct 16, 2018, public meeting, which I summarized here.

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Glossary of Municipal Terms

Glossary of Municipal Terms | Good Government | Scoop.it

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 Definition 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 put together a Glossary of Municipal Terms on my website (here).

This is my personal glossary of terms that I believe are relevant to Newtown residents. Hopefully, it will help residents when they read the minutes of meetings or watch Board of Supervisors meetings on Cable TV.

This Glossary is more than a simple list of terms and definitions. It also includes links to related information and resources on this and other websites such as news summaries, blog posts, videos, podcasts, newsletter articles, etc. Therefore, it can also be used as an index to information on this site.

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Civics Lessons are Best Taught by Example

Civics Lessons are Best Taught by Example | Good Government | Scoop.it

[Selected excerpts from a Bucks County Courier Time editorial]  Since civics is no longer a regular subject in school curricula, perhaps with the upcoming November elections this is a good time for parents to create a teaching moment for their children. With all the publicity and advertising that will inundate us, we can more easily create interest to help our future voters understand the system.

 

An understanding of the local level political structure would be useful ... Questions regarding actually getting some key things done apply to not only the Federal system but the commonwealth and municipalities also. Again, why do we have the structure and system that we do? In some cases, do we even know what the elected official is supposed to do (quick: what are the responsibilities of the Prothonotary whom we elect?).

 

And while we are at it, we should include some basic economic principles also since so much budget information, spending plans and money information and misinformation is bandied about. What is the role of money in improving economic productivity? What is the concept of supply and demand and how does it affect the individual? What is the multiplier effect and how does it work? What is the role of profits and losses and investment in the success of our system?

 

What’s that? You want to slow down because you do not feel ready to have such discussions with your children since you are not sure you can answer the above questions or define the concepts involved? But knowing our systems and how they are supposed to function is what allows us to separate out the wheat from the chaff when going to vote. Those running for office will say many things and we need something more than the attractiveness of their families to make a reasoned decision. We need an understanding of what they are supposed to do to make the system function as well as an evaluation of what their proposals will do.

 

This is probably a good time for all of us to refresh or upgrade our memories. We need to get back to an understanding of the basics of our government for without that, we cannot really cast an intelligent vote.

johnmacknewtown's insight:

Involvement with government – especially local government – AFTER elections is also important! That’s the goal of my website, blog, Facebook page, and Twitter account, all of which I have kept active after I was elected as a Newtown Supervisor. To be involved means first being informed and that’s what I try to do whether it be summarizing Board of Supervisors meetings, posting plans submitted by developers for approval, interviewing people in podcasts, or creating short videos of presentations. And don’t forget my biweekly Newtown News Update email newsletter!

 

The best civics lessons children can receive are from their parents who vote and who keep informed about what their elected officials are doing and speaking out when necessary.

 

P.S. The Prothonotary has administrative control over and responsibility for all official documents and records of the civil and family divisions. Such documents include Appeals, Assignments, Commencement of Actions, Equity, Divorce, Complaints, Executions, Final Orders, Judgments, Liens, Name Change Petitions, etc.

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In God We Trust. Lower Southampton Supervisors Not So Much!

In God We Trust. Lower Southampton Supervisors Not So Much! | Good Government | Scoop.it

Lower Southampton supervisors agreed to take a further look back at township zoning records including financial records after one supervisor said he learned the former zoning officer reportedly gave some applicants discounts or waived mandatory permit fees and waived escrows without authorization (read “Lower Southampton Zoning Records in Disarray: Is It Just Sloppy Bookkeeping or Something More?").

 

Lower Southampton supervisors agreed to begin the process of a deeper dive into the township’s zoning department operations, including financial records, following an hour of nonstop grilling from residents demanding the board take action Wednesday night.

 

“Somebody should be held accountable,” said John McDermott, who was among more than a dozen residents to speak. “Maybe it’s time to clean house. Maybe this is a wake-up call.”

 

Resident Marge McCurdy urged the board to go through the records of recently retired zoning officer Carol Drioli “with a fine tooth comb.”

 

“The residents of Lower Southampton are tired of corruption,” she said. “Let’s see what else is going on.”

 

One resident, who said he was attending only the second supervisors meeting in 30 years, pulled a dollar out of his pocket, approached Supervisor Westley and asked him to read what was on the back.

 

“In God We Trust,” Westley replied.

 

The man then threw the dollar at Westley and told him to keep it.

 

“Things better start changing,” he said before returning to his seat. “When you guys go home tonight and look at yourselves in the mirror, I hope to God you say, God help me, God help me to do the right thing.”

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Improving Communications Between Newtown Township and Residents

One of my goals as a Newtown Township Supervisor is to improve communications with Township residents. It’s good to know that my efforts have not gone unnoticed. Yesterday, for example, a member of the Nextdoor community website - where I often post information of interest to Newtown area residents - sent me a personal note: “I think your (sic) a terrific Supervisor to keep us informed!” That person made my day.

More important than posting to my website is the work I have done in conjunction with the Township staff, Technology Committee volunteers, and contractors to improve communications and access to public information. Some of the small steps toward my goal include the following.

I revised the mission statement of the Technology Committee to include “improve communications between the Township and its residents” (Resolution 2018-R-11, March 28, 2018).

Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting agendas previously stated at the top: “Please Turn Off Cell Phones During Meeting”. I thought that would discourage residents from using their phones to record the meetings. Consequently, I requested that this phrase be replaced with “Please Silence Cell Phones During the Meeting.” My request was granted. This should apply to all agendas of public meetings. 

Related to that, at the March 14, 2018, BOS Meeting, I noted – and the Township solicitor confirmed - that residents can video record ALL public meetings, including Zoning Hearing Board meetings. Audio recordings are also allowed.

At the Mar 28, 2018, BOS meeting, I noted that there was an unnecessary delay in publishing minutes of meetings. The process involved approving minutes at the following meeting and then signing the approved minutes two weeks later at the next meeting – a total of more than four weeks after the original meeting. Now, if there are no changes, the approved minutes are signed and posted about two weeks after the meeting. If corrections need to be made, the Township administrative assistant posts a temporary copy of the minutes, which is then replaced with the corrected copy.

Related to that, very early on in my tenure in January, 2018, I requested that the posted minutes be converted to searchable PDF format. This was quickly implemented and every PDF version of minutes going back two years have been converted. Using a PDF reader, you can now search the minutes after downloading. You can also copy and paste sections of the minutes, which I do all the time. See for example the summaries of minutes posted to this blog.

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Where did $13M in public salary go? Asks Executive Editor of the Bucks County Courier Times

Where did $13M in public salary go? Asks Executive Editor of the Bucks County Courier Times | Good Government | Scoop.it

About 100 years ago, journalist Finley Peter Dunne was credited for coining the term “comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable.”

 

So within that context, I’ll say this: Bucks County and Montgomery counties and many of the government entities within them are far too comfortable in accounting for taxpayer dollars.

 

Investigative reporter Jim McGinnis has spent six months tracking down government wages within the two counties. Jim has the unfortunate arrangement where he sits immediately outside my office door. So during this six-month period, occasionally I would hear one side of an almost-comical conversation about why one of our government bodies couldn’t comply quickly with a simple request to provide names, job titles and 2017 compensation. That’s about as public a record as it gets.

 

McGinnis, who is as professional and polite as can be, had to endure questions about his motives. About why he was trying to damage civic employees. About why he wanted to hurt well-meaning people. He had to hear all the excuses of why his open records request was burdensome — despite the fact employees and their compensation should be readily available to anyone responsible for managing a budget. What should have taken 43 minutes (or seconds) to provide took Bucks County 43 days.

 

McGinnis endured the excuses and sometimes legitimate reasons why the wages in the budget didn’t match up with the compensation paid for 2017, which he explains in his reporting.

 

What McGinnis’ painstaking work did — he filed more than 60 Right-To-Know requests to obtain this data — wasuncover that at least $13 million in compensation to more than 300 people who could not be matched up with a list of 2017 employees. Add to that, the fact that Kim Doran, Bucks County deputy controller, asked McGinnis to see his spreadsheets to double check all the names on the list is really quite remarkable. The deputy controller doesn’t have that list?

 
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Newtown Supervisors Authorize Solicitor to Draft a Social Media Policy for Township Employees and Elected Officials

Newtown Supervisors Authorize Solicitor to Draft a Social Media Policy for Township Employees and Elected Officials | Good Government | Scoop.it

The supervisors unanimously approved authorizing township solicitor David Sander to create a social media policy covering municipal employees.

 

“I think that it’s important in 2018 that a social media policy be all-encompassing,” Sander maintained.

 

Currently, Newtown does not have one, and township manager Kurt Ferguson said that it would be useful to have a policy in place when upcoming union contracts are being negotiated with police and fire personnel.

 

The policy will cover how uniformed and non-uniformed employees can use social media for commenting about issues, both as public workers and as private individuals, without impinging on their free-speech rights.

 

In putting together a policy for Newtown, Sander said that his staff will use policies in other municipalities as a template, and also look at the one in neighboring Northampton Township.

 

The supervisors would have to formally adopt the policy before it can take effect.

 

johnmacknewtown's insight:

At this meeting, I noted that I “wrote the book” - actually co-wrote the book - on social media. Although the book is focused on the healthcare industry, the principles and issues discussed are relevant for all industry sectors as well as governmental agencies. See this list of social media guideline resources I put together: http://bit.ly/JM-GL-Resources 

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Op-Ed: As Sunshine Week approaches, still too many examples of government secrecy | Wisconsin | watchdog.org

Op-Ed: As Sunshine Week approaches, still too many examples of government secrecy | Wisconsin | watchdog.org | Good Government | Scoop.it
In my career as a journalist, I have encountered many public officials who respect government openness and transparency.
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