Public officials tasked with clearing snow in Akron this week have apologized for falling short.
"First, an apology. We have failed to provide a timely level of service to all City streets in response to this storm, and we are sorry," read the statement, which city spokeswoman Ellen Lander Nischt said is a "collective response from everyone involved" at the planning and management level.
Mayor Dan Horrigan said he was busy digging his neighbors out as the snow fell Saturday. By Monday, he noticed while driving in Fairlawn that Akron's road conditions were worse than other communities in the area.
He said the size of Akron made it difficult to keep up with the snowfall, which totaled about a foot.
Since Monday, Horrigan's cabinet members have been discussing what went wrong and how to do a better job next time.
During an interview Wednesday, Horrigan put the blame on planning and execution, and not the efforts of workers driving plow trucks in 16-hour shifts.
"We're breaking down our process," he said. "We in no way think this was a successful effort."
The city emailed its public apology to the media and posted on Facebook at 1:26 p.m. Wednesday, about a half-hour before the city's email system shut down. Residents using ATT and Verizon were unable to reach the 311 customer service line for unknown reasons.
The city also turned to Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday afternoon to apologize, relay its next steps and announce that a citywide parking ban would remain in effect until light snow showers end this weekend.
As Akron awoke Sunday morning to the last of a heavy winter storm, residents went online or began to dial 311, making some 1,100 requests for help that first full day buried by snow. Complaints poured in from residential streets that would not be cleared until Wednesday, when temperatures warmed and the mayor asked nine private companies to help with neighborhood streets.
All 51 city-owned snowplow trucks, plus a dozen pickup trucks, have been in service since Saturday, taken off the road only for temporary repairs, Nischt said. All sewer, water and public works employees not driving the trucks were called in Wednesday to clear stormwater drains as melting snow and heavy rain threatened to flood streets, which could ice over as temperatures plummet again Friday. The National Weather Service says a second storm should bring little to no accumulation.
The city's email system went down for several hours Wednesday afternoon and callers had trouble using 311 all day. As city staff met at 3 p.m. to discuss the situation, Nischt could not immediately say what was behind the technical lapse in communication at a time when access to city services was top of mind for many residents.
Many said they remained trapped in their homes, unable to get off their streets. Others wondered why streets and roads in surrounding towns and townships were not only clear of snow, but dry while much of Akron remained buried.
Residents on Tuesday said they missed work again because their streets weren't clear or had been blocked by snow plowed off main streets. A Kenmore woman said she was fired after failing to reach her job at a pizza shop.
Trouble from the uncleared snow and ice on roads continued Wednesday when Akron schools opened for the first time since the weekend storm. Fourteen school buses became mired in the snow as some children and crossing guards had trouble navigating the leftover snow. Two Metro RTA buses also got stuck — the No. 3 at South Hawkins Avenue and Diagonal Road and the No. 5 at Seventh Avenue and South Arlington Street, the agency said.
Mobile units from RTA responded and service was not interrupted, the agency said.
On Tuesday, city officials largely blamed the delay in slow removal on a longstanding contract with the Ohio Department of Transportation, which pays the city about $1.6 million each year to clear snow and maintain parts of Interstates 77-76 and U.S. Route 224 through Akron. Prioritizing the highways delayed snow removal on most city streets by two days, leaving 70 percent of the city's roads untouched after a full day of plowing.
If there's less than 5 inches of snow accumulation, the city's policy is to clear main roads, service the ODOT contract and ignore residential streets unless a resident calls. Over 5 inches of snow, all roads are put on the plow list and handled by order of traffic volume. Calling does nothing to speed up the process.
The city knew as the storm hit that more than 5 inches would fall. Still, it continued to post a link to its 311 service with routine updates on Facebook. Council members advised residents to call if their streets remained in bad shape. Hundreds of residents asked for help each day despite the public service department not taking individual requests.
The city "could have communicated that more clearly," said Nischt, who recognized the "frustration" of people who called for help that would not come for days.
Confusion and frustration and worry about what's to come with thawing and freezing continued Wednesday.
"I called the 3-1-1 number this morning and my road still has not been plowed," one resident said in response to the apology on Facebook. "I'm sure they will get around to it, but tonight's weather is going to be bad so who knows."
The city has planned a postmortem analysis of what went wrong these past few days, from how roads were plowed to which roads were plowed to the decision not to salt roads in cold weather to how the city communicated with the public.
Horrigan said he wants the analysis completed by Friday.
The mayor said he is considering everything from whether plow blades should be down at all times to whether the contract with ODOT is in the city's best interest.