Residents show anger over snow removal, mayor a no-show
People attending a special meeting in Brookline on Feb. 25 were angry and frustrated and City Council member Natalia Rudiak said she felt that way too.
She started her council job January 4 and already she has faced a disaster, she told the audience of more than 30 people who attended a town hall meeting to discuss concerns about the pace of snow removal after heavy storms.
Ms. Rudiak added her own car was buried in snow for a week and she "had to hitch a ride to work."
She is now heading a task force to review the snow removal performance. "Hearing your concerns is the key to solving the problems."
Also attending the meeting were Council members Bruce Kraus and Theresa Kail-Smith, along with former dispatcher Rick Grejda, of Service Employees International Union Local 668. The audience included members of block watches and community councils and the principal of Beechwood Elementary School.
A couple of the residents noted if the mayor was really concerned he would have attended that night. State Rep. Chelsa Wagner, who sponsored the meeting, said he was invited but she did not get a response from his office.
Beechview resident Michael Warren said there should have been better planning prior to the emergency situation and blamed the building inspectors. He said dead trees and faulty awnings and gutters should have been removed so they would not knock down the power lines. Officials responded that the Bureau of Building Inspection is underfunded and is seeking a new director.
Mr. Warren said, citations should have been issued because of lack of snow removal. Ms. Kail-Smith said there was concern that senior citizens might shovel snow in spite of their health issues so citations were not given out.
Mr. Warren said children walking along the streets on the way to school was also a big safety issue.
A Port Authority bus driver said the 41D Brookline bus still "was not on its regular route yet."
Mr. Grejda explained "it is difficult for our folks (dispatchers) when the entire city calls for snow removal." He said calls were prioritized and a UPMC physician determined "who got the EMS first."
Ms. Rudiak said some residents phoned her office but did not leave contact information so they could receive return calls. Ms. Wagner said those calling 3-1-1, the mayor's response line, should note the tracking numbers of their calls.
Mr. Kraus said Wendy Urbanic, director of 3-1-1, slept in a cot in the office as she and others continued to receive calls.
There were complaints about city employees calling off and not reporting for work when the big snows hit.
Officials said the problem was being investigated but they couldn't comment due to personnel issues.
Mr. Kraus said part of the reason for lack of snow removal was "some streets were not on any maps and were considered ‘paper streets.' So those people were forgotten."
He said highways got top priority, then primary and secondary streets, and then finally, tertiary streets, "streets whose name included the word ‘way.'" Mr. Kraus, chair of the public works and member of the task force, said the task force "will see these problems never happen again."
Ms. Kail-Smith said a plan was not in place from 1993, when there also was a terrible snowstorm.
Ms. Wagner said her office received numerous calls and emails about all the problems although the state does not control snow removal. She said she decided to sponsor the meeting because residents "were looking for someone to turn to with their concerns."
Her staff distributed surveys asking specifics about snow removal and the 3-1-1 response line. Anyone who does not receive a response from the city is welcome to call her office at 412 343-2904.
"Our office is here for you. Use us," she said.