Most of the snow from last weekend’s storm has melted, but taxpayer questions about how the city handled the extraordinary event continue to pile up.
Mayor Dan Horrigan — whose administration issued a public apology for clogged roads that trapped many in their homes for days — said Wednesday he planned to review what went wrong and have some answers by Friday.
That didn’t happen.
Horrigan and other officials found themselves mired in a different crisis after someone hacked into the city’s computer systems and attempted to hold Akron digitally hostage for money.
Horrigan on Friday called a news conference to talk about the cyberattack and how the city is trying to combat it.
The mayor was unavailable both Friday and Saturday, however, for a phone interview with the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com about how the city failed to quickly clear a foot of snow.
While surrounding cities and townships experienced the same amount of snow, most had cleared all of their roads and side streets by Monday or Tuesday.
Akron’s major streets remained perilous at the time, and most of its residential streets were not touched by a plow until Wednesday or Thursday.
Horrigan — who told a Beacon Journal reporter on Wednesday to call him Friday for some answers about snow — did answer some questions by email through a spokeswoman, who said the city’s postmortem review of storm response is ongoing.
Among other things, the city is reconsidering how its plow routes are designed and deployed, its levels of equipment and staffing, road salt policies and the 5-inch rule, which only triggers citywide plowing of residential streets after 5 inches of snow are on the ground.
Officials are also reconsidering a contract the city's had with the Ohio Department of Transportation for more than 20 years. The state pays Akron about $1.6 million to plow and patch potholes on most of the freeways within the city limits.
Because of this responsibility, city officials have said they were about two days behind cleaning most of their own streets after the storm — the worst in a decade — because plow drivers first had to continually clear Interstates 77/76 and U.S. Route 224.
Whatever the reasons for the snow-clearing delays — which have been widely reported by the Beacon Journal, television news stations and on social media — the trouble comes as the city aims to lure back thousands of suburban residents to live in both downtown Akron and throughout its neighborhoods.
When asked if publicity about Akron’s slow response cleaning streets could hurt that effort, Horrigan said by email that many choose to move back to cities like Akron “because of the proximity to entertainment, employment, amenities, and robust public life that urban centers have to offer.”
“One bad snow event does not define our community or city government,” he said.
Q&A with mayor
The Beacon Journal sent questions to the mayor raised by readers about the city and its response to the snowstorm. Here are some, along with the responses. (Unless in quotation marks, the questions and responses have been edited for brevity.)
Q: Is any of the money from the recent income tax hike being spent on snow removal?
A: Not yet. About 1/3 of Issue 4 funds in 2018 went toward repaving city streets and public works vehicles. Officials are now reconsidering whether some should be aimed at snow removal operations. (Other money from the levy was spent on the police and fire departments.)
Q: The Beacon Journal heard from many new and longtime residents who questioned whether they wanted to remain in Akron because they pay more in taxes than other communities but believe they have subpar snow removal. How do you address their frustrations?
A: “We apologized for our inadequate snow removal response to this extraordinary winter storm, but it won’t be repeated, and it simply does not define us.”
Q: Why do some plows drive down unplowed city streets with blades up?
A: There are several possible, legitimate reasons, including: Drivers are on their way to other routes and they’d never reach them if they started plowing on the way; the plow could be broken and returning for service; plow trucks at times are only used to salt; if the salt in the back of the truck is running low, it can be dangerous to lower the plow because it throws off the weight of the vehicle and can cause a crash.
Q: Several people said they saw few plows on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. How many worked?
A: Everyone worked, and there were no staffing shortages due to the holiday.
The city put off answering some questions until next week, including those involving a contractor brought in midweek to help with snow removal and how the city uses GPS to track its snowplows.
And one question apparently will go unanswered.
“Some told the Beacon Journal snow removal after [a] major event was better under longtime former Mayor Donald Plusquellic’s administration. Others told the newspaper snow removal has always been a major problem in the city. What's your take AND had the snow-removal plan evolved between the two administrations before last weekend's snowfall?”
City spokeswoman Ellen Lander Nischt on Saturday replied in an email:
“Who is this question directed to? I find this question offensive.”
Beacon Journal reporter Doug Livingston contributed to this report. Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @agarrettABJ.