Residents, lawmakers call for review of Schenectady snow removal policies

Slow response draws criticism
A Schenectady front end loader dumps snow into the back of a truck at Eastern Parkway and DeCamp Avenue on Wednesday.
A Schenectady front end loader dumps snow into the back of a truck at Eastern Parkway and DeCamp Avenue on Wednesday.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY — The city was hit by a monster winter storm last week.
Now some residents are slamming the City Council with a deluge of criticism over how it handled its response. 

Roger Kisko said it took the city three days to plow his street in Woodlawn. 

“This is a failure of government,” Kisko said. “You need to do your jobs. I don’t need to tell you how to do that job.”

Sharing stories of obscured parking meters, buried streets and hulking snowbanks, a half-dozen residents, many of them visibly emotional, excoriated lawmakers on Monday, contending the city was ill-prepared and needed to revisit its snow removal policies to determine what exactly went wrong.

Schenectady received nearly two feet of snow, which prompted the City School District to close for two consecutive days. 

But no other municipalities in the region appeared to have comparable levels of difficulty in clearing their streets, said Cecilia Bobbitt, who lives on Duane Avenue. 

“The snow removal was a disaster,” Bobbitt said. 

Bobbitt questioned what services city residents were receiving in exchange for their taxes.

“It’s heartbreaking, it’s just heartwrenching — I grew up here. I don’t want to have to leave,” she said.

Robert Saunders called for better planning.

“People in the city of Schenectady do not deserve this representation one bit,” he said. 

National Guard and state agencies assisted with snow removal after the city declared a state of emergency.

Lawmakers acknowledged the city’s response was inadequate, but differed as to the extent and potential solutions.

Councilwoman Marion Porterfield recalled complaints from residents who sent her videos and photos documenting streets that appeared to be bypassed for days.

“The facts are the facts,” Porterfield said. “It does appear there was no plan.”

Outgoing Councilman Vince Riggi ripped into city officials in extended public comments, calling the city’s response a “disgrace.”

Riggi questioned why the city declined to cancel Monday’s trash pickup, a move that led to garbage trucks struggling to navigate partially plowed streets, and its decision to supplement plowing crews with independent contractors using pick-up trucks — not plow trucks. 

“This part of City Council I will not miss, but I will certainly be here again if there are problems,” Riggi said.

Mayor Gary McCarthy indicated last week the city was understaffed:

Some workers declined overtime because they did not want to work double shifts, he said, also citing state restrictions that cap the time period CDL drivers can drive without taking a break at 12 hours.

Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo said she believed workers were refusing overtime because recent policy changes governing overtime led them to take second jobs that limited their availability.

Low morale is also an issue in the workforce, she said, citing discussions with city workers.

“I don’t feel the people of this city feel this was being oversimplified,” Perazzo said, referring to McCarthy’s response to her comments last week. “It was really quite bad.”

Councilman John Polimeni said the City Council can control budget allocations and parking policy.

He plans on spearheading discussion on potentially new alternate side parking restrictions in committee next week. 

“Parking in general is a bigger issue we will need to discuss moving forward,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll have better coordination in future, and we need to have towing, plowing and police coordinated.”

Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas acknowledged last week was “painful” and backed Polimeni’s proposed revisions. 

“I look forward to a conversation on how we can find a resolution.” 

McCarthy defended his administration’s handling of the biggest storm since 1993, citing streets clogged with illegally-parked vehicles and a lack of space to dump snow after it had been plowed. 

City police had towed more than 100 cars by late Thursday.

“We actually did have calls that complemented city staff for cleaning up the streets and getting them plowed to a level of satisfaction,” McCarthy said. 

But, he said, “some of the snow removal was not at the level we all would like.” 

Asked after the meeting if his administration would weigh policy changes as a response of the criticism, he said, “We do that all the time.” 

Ron Suriano said investment in downtown Schenectady by entrepreneurs is a two-way street, and sometimes the city appears inattentive to the needs of the local small businesses who act as engines to attract downtown visitation. 

“What are you guys going to do about this?” he said. “I’m trying to invest in you guys, so invest in us.”

Bobbitt scoffed afterwards at the problems being attributed to illegally parked vehicles.

“It has nothing to do with moving cars,” she said.

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