Perhaps you saw a city snowplow truck — blade up — traveling past streets buried in the white stuff, and wondered: What is that about? It may be the driver was headed to one of the 50 or so routes that are part of the city’s plan for snow removal. Which gets to the fury of many residents since the heavy snowfall over the weekend. The city’s plan wasn’t up to the task of the more than a foot of snow in many places.
On Wednesday, Mayor Dan Horrigan apologized to residents for the poor response. In a statement, the city acknowledged “the level of service we provided has fallen short of what our residents rightly expect,” adding: “We have heard your concerns and we will do better in the future.” By the time of the statement, the city had mobilized in a bigger way, tapping private contractors, redeploying equipment, more than 100 trucks engaged in clearing streets.
The snowstorm didn’t surprise. Days before it arrived, forecasters talked about as much as 30 inches. City officials met and prepared. The mayor surely understood this is about city leadership 101, administrations rising and falling in such moments, especially in election years. No matter how ambitious the plans for downtown, or neighborhood business districts, or reversing the slide in population, the smooth delivery of basic services matters more than anything. A city must show that it works.
The mayor often has made this point. It was no less than a centerpiece of his campaign in 2015 — consistently effective and efficient services. Yet Akron wasn’t a city that works during the storm and its immediate aftermath.
That wasn’t due to a lack of effort. The snowplowing has been an around-the-clock operation with drivers putting in long hours. The city fulfilled its longtime arrangement with the Ohio Department of Transportation to clear interstate highways within the city limits, for which Akron receives roughly $1.5 million a year.
What city officials admit is that they failed to pivot from that priority as the work on highways and other major roads delayed plowing in residential areas. Thus, as Amanda Garrett of the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com reported, snowplows had reached just 30 percent of residential streets by Tuesday morning. That meant many people getting stuck, the streets from their driveways practically impassable, leading to understandable frustration and outrage expressed via the city’s 311 line, Twitter and Facebook.
Ordinarily, the long-established plan for snow removal works well, highways first, then major roads and streets, followed by residential areas. This was a larger snowfall, and that is when an adjustment may be necessary, the city shifting its attention earlier to residential streets, showing flexibility as circumstances require. The mayor has stressed the need to rethink the approach, even look at altering the contract with the state, other cities having abandon such commitments.
Part of the equation is the money the city receives from the state. It isn’t something a financially pressed Akron easily can make up. In that way, it bears mentioning that the state and federal cutbacks of the past decade have consequences for cities and their residents. That doesn’t open the door for excuses. The city let down its residents. This is Akron. Winter brings snowfall, even heavy doses, and with climate change, the big storms, when they do arrive, are likely to be more fierce. So, as the mayor pledges, the city must do much better.