Newark councilman: Top official should resign over snowstorm response

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on January 27, 2016

Augusto Amador

 

NEWARK – As public frustration with the handling of the weekend's winter storm continues to simmer, Councilman Augusto Amador has announced his intention to call for the resignation of Director of Neighborhood and Recreational Services Patrick Council.

The longtime East Ward representative told NJ Advance Media he planned to make his demand official at a meeting scheduled for Tuesday, in which Council and other administrators will be invited to explain their response to the record-setting blizzard.

His remarks came after a roughly hour-long session in which Amador and others offered differing opinions on the city's performance. Council is responsible for coordinating snow removal efforts.

"I need a guarantee that (Council) will appear before us, in a public forum, to discuss the reasons why we had the problems that were manageable to a certain extent," Amador said.

"Other towns and municipalities and other cities larger than the city of Newark handled this matter in a better way than we did....someone dropped the ball on this."

Despite widespread anger from residents, Mayor Ras Baraka has continued to defend the city's response, as well as Council and other appointees, often noting urban areas up and down the eastern seaboard have struggled to deal with the unique challenges presented by the historic snowfall.

He took exception to Amador's resignation call, saying it was unfair to single out anyone for a situation created by snowfall that doubled what was predicted by many forecasts.

"I don't blame Pat Council for what happened here. I think that Mother Nature hit us harder than we expected," he said. "It's not the time to begin blaming people for what happened."

In a statement, Council maintained that he followed a comprehensive plan designed to deal with the more moderate storm predictions, and passed off control of all removal operations to emergency management officials after a state of emergency was declared early Saturday morning.

"It was only after the snow began to fall that we found that we were in a blizzard," he said.

At-Large Councilman Luis Quintana took issue with the city's communication both during and after the snowfall, saying he was falsely led to believe many North Ward streets would be plowed by early Sunday afternoon. He also criticized NJ Transit what he said was a failure to clean up bus stops, contributing to massive traffic delays.

"The plan has to be all nine of us, and all of us should be periodically told what was going on. We need to have eyes and ears on top of (employees)," he said.

"We can talk and blame everyone here today. Everybody can be blamed. We have to have a better plan."

Other council members took a more sympathetic view, noting that the total pile-up of 28.1 inches over the weekend was, quite literally, something the city had never seen before.

"There was zero emphasis on our equipment for snowstorms over the last eight to10 years....we dealt with that with a decimated department," said South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James, who described seeing contracted plows and other trucks with bald tires, stuck spinning in the piles of snow.

"In times like this we need to work together instead of playing politics."

West Ward Councilman Joe McCallum also cautioned against any rash action, saying his visits to the city's command center had led him to believe that neither Council or Emergency Management Director Dorian Herrell were atop the organizational heap that coordinated operations.

"I didn't see them really at the table. I think it went a little higher than them," he said.

Severe weather events have helped bring down city officials before. In 2010, council members berated neighborhood services director James Souder over his handling of a blizzard that dropped 24 inches of snow on the city.

Frustration grew after Newark suffered significant damage during Hurricane Irene, leading then-South Ward Councilman Baraka to propose a vote of no confidence. The call never officially came, however, as Souder resigned over allegations he sent a lewd photo to a City Hall staffer he was romantically involved with.

Though they acknowledged deficiencies in the city's strategy during and after the blizzard, it is unclear whether councilors other than Amador feel it might warrant Council's exit.

Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins issued a statement calling for a special committee to review what she called a clear "breakdown" in how the city handled its cleanup, but made clear it purpose was not to "point fingers or lay blame."

"Our goal should be to review what went wrong this time and develop a better plan so this doesn't happen again," she said.

Baraka said he would be more than happy to cooperate with any such review.

"We're going to do that anyway. After every emergency event that the city has, we have to do that," he said. "It's time for us to regroup, reassess.

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