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January 12, 2011


Mayors can get derailed by potholes, snowplows and taxes

by Deena Winter

Now that the snowflakes have stopped falling, it seems like a good time to assess how the city of Lincoln did at pushing it all out of the way.
It’s too bad we can’t just leave all the snow where it falls; it always looks so much prettier before all those brown wheel tracks and footprints show up. But we can’t: We have places to go, things to do.
And the efficiency with which a city gets the white stuff out of the way is more important than you might think. A Chicago mayor lost his re-election bid in 1979 when the city botched its snow removal after a string of storms.
Even the god-like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has faced an avalanche of criticism for the city’s failure to stay on top of a Christmas snowstorm. For some, it was reminiscent of 1969, when New York’s mayor lost the Republican nomination after another botched snow job, but went on to win re-election anyway.
In Omaha, they’re analyzing how the city’s performance during the last storm could affect Mayor Jim Suttle’s recall election.
They’re right: Nothing gets people riled up like snow-clogged roads and potholes. Remember the pothole problem last winter? In recent weeks (before the snow hit) I noticed a lot of asphalt being laid down — you don’t suppose that’s a pre-emptive strike to avoid another Potholegate before the spring municipal election, do you?
People expect city government to do a few basic things: Keep them safe, put out fires, keep the streets from falling apart and get the dang snow off the streets ASAP.
Personally, I think Lincoln waits too long before sending out the plows, particularly on the residential streets. It’s city policy not to send plows into residential areas unless 4 inches of snow falls. Well, by the time 4 inches falls, the snow is compacted and then it becomes an ice rink that’s going to stick around until it gets warm enough for the sun to melt it again.
I think the mayor needs to rethink this policy. You may have noticed schools weren’t in session yesterday; Superintendent Steve Joel told me he based his decision on the fact that
“we had many reports of streets that had not yet been plowed” and the forecast for blowing snow and bitter cold.
Deja vu, anyone? Last year there were several snow days simply because the streets were impassable. Seems to me the city’s snow removal program is cutting into the amount of time kids spend in school.
In Omaha, Suttle has seen the light and during this past storm, he ordered plows into residential areas right away, and the city is getting high marks for its work now.
Will it cost more money? Yep.
Will it cut down on complaints to city hall? Yep.
Will it be worth it to Beutler? That’s his call.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Don Carlson
    Jan 12 2011

    I’ve lived in Lincoln for close to 40 years so I know what to expect, I’ve seen a lot of Mayors and a lot of snow. Does anyone really feel that the snow removal was mismanaged? I had no problems getting to wherever I needed to go and I don’t know about a lot of delays. The city is doing more far more with less money than ever and I’m pretty satisfied with the way that Lincoln has handled essential services like snow removal.

  2. Gene
    Jan 13 2011

    It seemed like the city did a fairly good job on snow removal. If this mayor spends more money on snow removal, people will say that he’s reckless with the city budget (“there’s only eight inches out there and they’re PLOWING!!! OMG! RAWR!”), if he spends less people will say that the snow removal in Lincoln is ineffective.

  3. Nov 13 2011

    Your articles are for when it absolutely, positively, needs to be undeorstod overnight.


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