SCHENECTADY — Nearly five days after a severe winter storm walloped the city, Jack Underwood still couldn’t leave his Union Street home on Monday, where snow remained hip-deep piled in front of his driveway.
Underwood, 92, canceled lunch at a senior meal site.
“I consider this a very dangerous thing because of my past history and my age,” said Underwood, a stroke survivor. “The mail can’t come. Nobody can get in and I can’t get out.”
City Councilwoman Carmel Patrick recounted having similar discussions with city residents over medical concerns, including someone who needed to transport a family member to a dialysis appointment.
Patrick was among the city lawmakers who pushed for answers on Monday.
For the second year in a row, the city was smacked with over two feet of snowfall, accumulating roughly 30 inches during last Thursday’s storm.
And for the second consecutive year, the city was roundly criticized for its response that left side streets uncleared and piles of snow across the city that kept people like Underwood homebound.
“If I had a stroke, I can’t get out,” Underwood said. “I could die.”
While City Hall doubled-down on previous statements that the storm was larger than forecast and the clogged streets were a matter of snow removal — not initial plowing issues or a lack of equipment — city Commissioner of General Services Paul LaFond acknowledged for the first time manpower hobbled the city’s response.
For the first 16 hours after the storm hit early Thursday, the city had all of its six wing-blades units out.
But workers didn’t want to work after that.
“After that, they sat idle, because the drivers didn’t want overtime,” LaFond said. “At times like that, we need our staff, and we didn’t have them.”
Mayor Gary McCarthy said there is no way to compel union employees to log extra shifts, and Commercial Drivers License-holders are mandated to take cool-down periods after working for 16 hours.
“Under the contract, we don’t have the ability for mandatory overtime,” McCarthy said.
The city also used independent private contractors. But LaFond acknowledged that due to their unfamiliarity with city streets, they pushed piles of snow into sidewalks and driveways despite empty lots or public space being located nearby.
“If it happens, we apologize for it, but we do go in and move it,” LaFond said.
City Council pressed for answers, citing the deluge of correspondence from a steamed public.
City Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas praised the “valiant efforts” of rank-and-file workers, but acknowledged the city “failed” in its overall response.
“My phone has not stopped ringing since Thursday, and we need to do better,” Zalewski-Wildzunas said. “We need to understand what’s necessary to move forward with the next snowstorm.
“A six-inch snowstorm could cripple the city right now.”
McCarthy knocked the City Council for withholding capital funding earlier this spring that would have allowed for the purchase of a new industrial-strength snowblower, as well as deployment of the city’s Wi-Fi network that would allow TransFinder to help better track the city’s snowplow fleet.
Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo pushed back and pinned the anemic response to low morale and manpower issues.
“To spin it around on the Council is just wrong,” Perazzo said. “This is because we don’t have butts and feet in the equipment that we have.”
Perazzo last month said the city workforce is suffering from low morale, citing what she perceived as a higher-than-average number of grievances submitted by union workers who staff the Bureau of General Services.
City Hall, without providing written evidence requested by the Daily Gazette, has contended those numbers have dropped over time, and the city isn’t suffering from a widespread morale problem.
But LaFond said on Monday any morale issues could be attributed to pay-scale lower than other Capital Region municipalities.
“Everywhere else is $6 more an hour,” LaFond said.
Lawmakers wondered if the city could do a better job of pairing snow removal efforts with better communication with the public for when it comes to moving their vehicles and adhering to city policies during heavy snowfall events.
“What are the plans for trying to expand that public education?” Patrick said.
McCarthy said the sheer unpredictability during storms can make advance public outreach efforts tricky and the city takes an education-first approach before enforcement.
City Council tentatively threw their support behind an alternative side parking pilot program in the city’s Bellevue neighborhood, pending more written information from the city’s Signal Department and Councilman John Polimeni, who worked with officials to craft the concept.
Snow removal efforts will continue Tuesday.
Any vehicle parked on the following city streets between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Tuesday may be ticketed and towed:
- Haigh Avenue between Central Park Road and State Street
- James Street between Central Park Road and State Street
- Snowden Avenue between Central Park Road and State Street
- Western Parkway between Central Park Road and State Street
- Van Cortland Street between Norwood Avenue and Altamont Avenue
- Dewitt Street between Vermont Avenue and Altamont Avenue
- Vermont Avenue between Van Cortland Street and Chrisler Avenue
- Pennsylvania Avenue between Santa Fe Street and Chrisler Avenue
- Ten Eyck Avenue between Santa Fe Street and Chrisler Avenue