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Waltham councillors want mayor, DPW director to explain poor snow-plow response

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  February 12, 2013 02:30 PM

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As Waltham schools remained canceled today, Waltham city councilors said they want to bring the mayor and the public works director before them next week to explain what councillors see as a poor snow-clearing response to the weekend's blizaard.

"Even with lots of notice, Waltham didn’t do as well a job as other cities and towns, and couldn’t meet residents' expectations," said Kenneth Doucette, council vice president, over the phone today.

The city council voted last night to quiz Mayor Jeannette McCarthy and Public Works director Michael Chiasson as part of an investigation into why city streets and sidewalks were not adequately plowed following the blizzard, which was seen coming for days.

Councilors said that even though the public was warned of the storm, many of Waltham's roads were not properly plowed in the days that followed, and they were also disappointed in the snowy state of the sidewalks around town.

McCarthy blamed private contractors hired by the city to plow the streets and sidewalks. She said that the contractors are paid by the hour, which cuts into any incentive to do an adequate job as quickly as possible. The mayor said she plans to change to a system under which contractors are paid on the basis of the size of the snow storm.

"I am not happy and I am changing the system," McCarthy said. "I want to divide up the town into a quadrant system, and then pay the contractors by inch, not by hour."

City officials said a decision to cancel schools came at 5 a.m. today because sidewalks and parking lots near schools were not clear - even though the city announced Monday night that schools would be open.

McCarthy said around 1:30 p.m. today that she plans to meet with School Superintendent Susan M. Nicholson and Chiasson later today to discuss whether school will be open for Wednesday.

McCarthy said the alternative to using private contractors would be to hire more DPW employees and buy more plows but that could be more costly to taxpayers.

"I understand that it is my responsibility for the snow plowing operations overall," she said. "I got that."

At their regularly-scheduled meeting last night, councilors bashed the city for not properly clearing their streets, Doucette said.

"There was definitely some frustration expressed last night," he said.

Doucette said he would like to see both short-term goals of public safety being met and long-term goals of reassessing the plowing process to streamline procedures for future snowstorms.

"Where the city council comes in, we need to analyze all those and find out where in these storm areas we can improve so this doesn’t happen again in the city of Waltham," he said.

Doucette said he also wants to push for more open lines of communication between city officials and councilors, as well as the general public.

"When you look at other communities around us, Cambridge must have the biggest plowing challenges, but they do a phenomenal job in communication," he said. "We need to improve on that area, there's no question."

McCarthy and Chiasson will speak before the council at their meeting on Tuesday at 8 p.m.

Chiasson will also be required by councilors to research other communities' accomplishments in snow removal by March 31.

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Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at

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