Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Aldermen Blast City’s Snowplowing

Just how bad is city's operation? Aldermen allege lies and mismanagement.

By - Mar 5th, 2019 06:07 pm
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City of Milwaukee garbage truck with attached snow plow trying to clear the street. Photo taken February 12th, 2019 by Jeramey Jannene.

City of Milwaukee garbage truck with attached snow plow trying to clear the street. Photo taken February 12th, 2019 by Jeramey Jannene.

The cold weather may have started a cold war inside City Hall.

A series of press releases issued by council members Tony Zielinski, Robert Donovan and Robert Bauman have criticized the city’s snow plowing operations, extension of winter parking regulations and leadership.

Zielinski, who is running for mayor, places the blame at the feet of Mayor Tom Barrett and the streetcar. While the Department of Public Works said the plowing effort was hampered by inexperienced drivers, aging equipment and staff shortages, Zielinski said the problems can be traced back to the mayor’s misplaced priorities.

“The long-term solution is that we do not spend any money on any other capital projects that aren’t core services,” said the alderman in an interview. “That will help us not only with freeing up money, but with the state.” The Hop streetcar system currently has minimal impact on the city’s budget because of a federal grant and sponsorship, but Zielinski contends that it negatively impacts the city’s relationship with the state legislature.

Streetcar or not, the city could have simply borrowed to replace equipment. But neither the mayor nor any council member supported the department’s request for $14.4 million to maintain the plow fleet. The final budget allocated just $6.1 million for this.

Of the 111 garbage trucks used for plowing during a recent storm, DPW operations manager Laura Daniels said 58 reported issues. The fleet has an average age of 9.5 years and the department would like to reduce that to seven.

In response to Zielinski’s suggestion that the streetcar is distracting DPW from focusing on core services, the department issued a statement. “DPW performs snow/ice control on the 1,400 miles of roadways in the City of Milwaukee to maintain safety and mobility for the traveling public whether they travel by car, truck, bus, bicycle, or streetcar. DPW continually adapts to changing snow/ice control needs within the City of Milwaukee and has made some minor refinements to snow/ice control procedures on the 2.1 mile M-Line streetcar route to accomplish the goal. These include a broom attachment and a rubber blade that are attached to already existing equipment in our fleet.”

Backup Drivers

Bauman, who has been highly critical of the plowing effort from his position as Public Works Committee chair, has introduced a resolution to instruct the department to hire retirees to assist in the plowing effort. That proposal, which has the support of Zielinski, is designed to address issues with turnover and inexperience. “Considering the challenges our stretched-thin DPW crews face during a snow event, why not engage a reserve force of plow and salt truck drivers to step in to assist with our round-the-clock operations,” said Bauman in a release.

The alderman, who has pushed the department to bring him data on the reliability of the plow fleet, also has an issue with extending the winter parking rules.

“This action by the Department of Public Works Commissioner to extend winter parking rules to March 15 is a tacit admission that the city’s snow and ice control efforts this year have been very poor,” said Bauman in a press release. “Instead of extending parking restrictions, DPW should be sending out plows and front-end loaders to finish the plowing that was never finished.”

Where Are the Plows?

Donovan has an entirely different concern: He believes his street isn’t getting plowed. “If anyone is wondering whether I just didn’t hear the plow come through overnight, I can tell you that I can definitely can hear the gunshots ring out in the night (I’m a light sleeper) so yeah, I definitely would have heard the plow come through,” said Donovan.

Donovan claims the department was lying when it told him his street was plowed.

“On my way to City Hall this morning I also checked several adjacent blocks in my neighborhood and noticed that plows also did not touch the even side of many other side streets, and snow is still piled across many of those streets,” said the alderman in a press release. “In my view what we’re seeing are symptoms of larger problems, of decisions not made (or not even considered by the mayor) and a lack of foresight.”

The Department of Public Works will get a chance to defend itself in front of the cameras at Wednesday’s Public Works Committee meeting. Bauman has scheduled files on the parking extension, backup drivers, pothole repair and quality control reporting to the public.

Categories: City Hall, Politics

One thought on “City Hall: Aldermen Blast City’s Snowplowing”

  1. grndpakwh says:

    We live on the NW side of the city, two blocks from Wauwatosa. We also own property in Wauwatosa. Our street in Milwaukee was never plowed and still has not been plowed. Two blocks away in Tosa the streets are clear and dry. Our taxes are virtually identical for the two properties we own but the services are anything but identical. I wrote our alder-person reminding her of the fate Harold Washington faced when he failed to plow the streets of Chicago. She never responded. To date I only hear a three aldermen complaining about the streets.

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