Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Tale Of Two Snow Storms

On Christmas, the East Coast got nailed with a blizzard that dumped nearly two feet of snow.  New York City was paralyzed for days.  Mayor Bloomberg, trying to save his political career, came out days after the storm to boast that every street in the city had been plowed and that things were returning to normal.  Many other elected officials saw it differently and pointed their fingers right at Bloomberg.

Bloomberg then took the common defense of blaming the public sector plow drivers for the failure to recover from this storm.  The problem for Bloomberg was that this attempt at shifting the blame didn't work out.  It turned out that the Mayor had first scaled back spending, cutting the number of employees in their Public Works Department.  In addition, in the name of "saving money," Bloomberg had privatized a majority of the plowing services.   When Bloomberg failed to call a snow emergency, meaning the private sector workers never had to come in until the next day, leaving a relatively dew public sector workers to tackle the Herculean task alone.

Now fast forward to Monday, January 31, 2011.

Milwaukee and the rest of Southeastern Wisconsin got hit with a snow event with dropped some six or seven inches of snow.  Public sector public works people from Milwaukee County and every municipality therein went to work and cleared the streets nicely.

However, that was just the warm up.  The next very next night, Tuesday, the real storm hit.  The entire southern part of Wisconsin was clobbered, with the worst of it centered on Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee Counties.  The stormed dumped at least fifteen inches, and up to two feet, of snow overnight in white out conditions with wind gusts up to 50 miles per hour.

The entire region was paralyzed.  All the schools were closed as were most businesses.  Even the local governments told their non-emergency employees to stay home.

Yet the public works people bundled up, buckled up and went right back to work.  They did this despite having already pulled long shifts.  They did this despite being given excessive furlough days by politicians that were using them (and the tax payers) to further their political aspirations. They did this despite being vilified by local talk radio hosts and right wing bloggers alike as well as the local paper.  They went right back to work despite all of these people, including the tea partiers, telling them that they aren't worth the money they get paid.

They went back to work because they are professionals and this was their job.

They went back and continued to put in the long hours.  They put their all into it, dealing with the same miserable and dangerous weather that kept the rest of us snug in our homes.  They dealt with the weather as well as the idiots that, despite snow emergencies being called, went ahead and left their cars parked on both sides of the street.

And if I may say it, they did one hell of a job. This is not surprising, however, since we already knew that they were among the best of the best in the state.

The main roads were plowed at least to be passable by morning.  The city started showing signs of life before noon on Wednesday, just scant hours after the storm had ended, as opposed to the days it took New York City to bounce back.

They did so well, and the storm was so immense, that even those that like to scapegoat public sector workers every chance they get, were forced to say their thanks and respect.

This would be a good chance for our elected leaders, and those who are currently running to be elected leaders, both on a local and the state level, to reflect on their positions when they go on and on about their willingness to privatize public services.  The decision should never, ever be based solely on the bottom line.  Rather, it should be based getting the best value for that dollar spent.  What good does it do the tax payers, or for public safety, to say you saved a few thousand dollars by privatizing a service if they can't or won't do the job as well as the public sector workers?

Furthermore, our elected leaders, on all levels of government, need to remember the truism that was mentioned in the article regarding New York City's debacle:
This is why it's such a bad idea to run government like a business. This isn't a business, it's agovernment. It has to provide basic services, no matter what.

Cross posted at Milwaukee County First


  1. Nice try about New York, but it has been pretty much been shown that many, especially in the manager's union, sabotaged the snow removal "effort" or in reality, lack of effort.

  2. Dan, the only evidence of that is one or two "anonymous tipsters." There is no evidence of that at all that these rumors are true.

    Furthermore, given the percentage of the force which is privatized, their lack of cooperation, had it existed in the first place, would not be enough to cripple the entire city.

  3. Apparently Capper missed the videos of the garbage trucks going down snow covered streets with their plow blades raised.

    I give the guy sleeping in the cab of his garbage truck a break though, he probably had to work double shifts.