The job of mayor involves making choices. Those decisions range from selecting Cabinet members to setting budget priorities, even directing which streets belong on a diet. It figures that amid the many choices, daily, weekly and monthly, some will prove mistaken. That certainly goes for the decision Mayor Dan Horrigan and team made as a foot of snow covered Akron, starting on a weekend in January. They acted too slowly, residential streets still not plowed by midweek.
John Moore, the city service director, told Doug Livingston of the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com what happened: “We did not get into residential areas as soon as we should have. The service department, the service director, made a tactical error in not hiring private contractors immediately during this storm. We should have hired them immediately. We need to take a hard look at our operations and establish a new set of plowing protocols.”
Moore took responsibility, and the mayor apologized for the foul-up, among other things, some residents missing important medical appointments and more than a dozen Akron city school buses getting stuck in the deep white stuff. No matter how strategic, creative and effective a mayor may be otherwise, falling short on the plowing front can turn into a colossal political headache. The miscue amounts to failing at a basic task.
Many residents won’t forget soon, especially in an election year. Many want to see how the city leadership responds, and in that way, the mayor received help last week.
The Snow and Ice Control Task Force, put together by Margo Sommerville, the City Council president, issued its assessment for going forward. For starters, this was a strong group, five council members, five city administrators and five citizen representatives who brought relevant knowledge and experience. Together, they performed the job well.
No surprise that the task force calls for examining the process for hiring private contractors, seeking to ensure quality, clear operating guidelines and preset route assignments. This involves weighing quickly the added expense against the cost of so much inconvenience and disruption for residents. It is logical, too, to re-evaluate the agreement with the state that obligates the city to clear interstates and other highways within its boundaries. That requirement risks delays getting into neighborhoods.
It also follows to invest in new plowing equipment for 10 additional trucks, one devoted to the side streets of each city ward.
The task force framed a staffing challenge. It turns out that many city workers with experience handling similar large snow storms have retired the past decade. So the time is right, as the panel recommends, to look at developing a comprehensive training plan, perhaps in collaboration with other communities. As part of the long budget squeeze, the city has moved toward seasonal employees. When it comes to services such as snow removal, the better option may be more prepared and experienced full-time workers.
The task force rightly advises the city to improve communication with residents during heavy snowfalls, in particular, tapping social media and other digital tools to amplify parking bans and track progress in plowing. It is well worth examining reopening the maintenance facility on Copley Road, reducing travel time for minor repairs to plow trucks, allowing them to get back on the road sooner.
Mayor Horrigan campaigned on a promise to deliver top-notch public services. When the big test arrived, the city got stuck in the snow. Eventually, his administration will get another chance. Does this winter have one more wallop? Now the mayor has a blueprint for getting better. The task force has narrowed the margin for mistaken judgment.