Wednesday, January 05, 2011

By All Means, Investigate!

The NY Post is reporting that a federal investigation is being launched as to the causes of the snow removal failure in NYC-and there appears to be a heavy emphasis on the sanitation union's culpability: "The feds have opened a criminal investigation into allegations that city employees conspired to paralyze the city during last week's blizzard by failing to remove the snow, authorities confirmed today. The probe launched by the Brooklyn US Attorney's Office comes in response to City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Queens) revelations to The Post last week that sanitation workers told him they were involved in a work slowdown, sources told The Post. At the same time, both the Brooklyn and Queens DAs offices have started their own investigations into whether there was a work slowdown."

But in our view, if there is to be an investigation, it needs to be a wide ranging one-and simply looking for the union label will lead to a whitewash of the city's management team, from the mayor on down. At the end of the Post's story, however-in a case of burying the lede-we get the following insight: "In the last two years, the agency's workforce has been slashed by 400 trash haulers and supervisors -- down from 6,300 -- because of the city's budget crisis. And, effective tomorrow, 100 department supervisors are to be demoted and their salaries slashed as an added cost-saving move. Sources said budget cuts were also at the heart of poor planning for the blizzard last weekend. The city broke from its usual routine and did not call in a full complement on Saturday for snow preparations in order to save on added overtime that would have had to be paid for them to work on Christmas Day. The result was an absolute collapse of New York's once-vaunted systems of clearing the streets and keeping mass transit moving under the weight of 20 inches of snow."

The NY Daily News refocuses us on where the, well, focus of an investigation should lie-right at the top of the management pyramid: "Someone must have been in charge when the blizzard roared into town last week, but City Hall won't say who.Mayor Bloomberg - who often jets off on weekends, sometimes to a vacation home in Bermuda - refuses to divulge where he was over Christmas weekend. The City Charter says Bloomberg must appoint a deputy to take control when he leaves town, but Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith - who oversees snow clearing and other crucial services - was in Washington. Another deputy mayor, Howard Wolfson, was vacationing in London and said he doesn't know whose hand was on the wheel."

The short answer-no one was; and if the rank and file workers weren't doing their jobs, it was a case of the old, "when the cat's away, the mice will play," scenario. And, as we said yesterday, the mayor's whereabouts is not an incidental in this snowfu: "City Hall stayed mum on which of the city's seven deputy mayors had a hand on the controls as the blizzard was bearing down on Christmas Day. The deputies who could have had the duty - Harris, Robert Steel, Linda Gibbs, Carol Robles-Roman and Dennis Walcott - refused to point fingers, or speak to the Daily News. And officials refused to name a name, dismissing the question as a technicality. "The mayor continues to be mayor. He continues to lead the city," Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser said. If Bloomberg left town before the storm, it's not clear when he returned. A 2:45 p.m. news conference on the storm response was delayed for more than an hour Dec. 26 as top aides, including the sanitation and transportation commissioners, waited for the mayor to arrive."

All of which lead CM Peter Vallone to make an important suggestion: "City Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Queens) says he is contemplating legislation to require the mayor to notify the city clerk when he is leaving town and has put someone else in charge. "We have a command center for a reason, and making split-second decisions, email can only go so far," Vallone said."

As far as the workers' culpability is concerned, Denis Hamill has a different point of view: "They are sanitationmen and - as a whole - they've been portrayed as abominable snowmen responsible for the lousy cleanup after the Blizzard of 2010. But five of them who work out of the Brooklyn District 11 garage - known as BK 11 - want the world to hear the "real" story."

The workers' tales are sobering, and bring a different perspective that should be taken into account by any investigator: "We were short 400 men and we had crappy equipment," said a guy we'll call Strongest No. 1, because the sanitmen don't want their names in the paper. "Forty fewer guys in BK 11 alone than in 2006," he said, noting there are 125 workers left in BK 11, which is based on Bay 41st St. "And Bloomberg didn't declare an emergency right away," Strongest No. 2 piped up."

And then there was the equipment: "BK 11 has about 50 trucks," Strongest No. 5 said. "About 25 got stuck. Know why? Inferior snow chains. They'd snap as soon as you tried to get traction." "The chains kept pulling the tires off my rims," Strongest No. 1 said, displaying a phone photo of his crippled truck, a rear tire missing from the rim. "This is 2011, and the city can't buy chains as good as they got 20 years ago?" "How about the friggin' shovels?" Strongest No. 3 said. "They come disassembled. You gotta put 'em together. The handle into the blade, right? Except what? They didn't have the bolts to fasten them." (read the whole thing)

Now, in the wake of the storm, the garbage is piling up-and our block is being turned into a rat run: "The city resumed limited garbage collection on Monday for the first time following the post-Christmas blizzard, but some elected officials and residents have already begun complaining that Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration has allowed too much refuse to pile up."

So where does all of this leave Mike Bloomberg, the man who only three years ago was being canonized by Time Magazine as a political icon? We'll give Jonah Goldberg the last word on the mayor-whose reputation was snowed in last week, and is now being trashed: "Today, the Big Apple remains immobilized not from partisan politics but by Bloomberg's arrogance. Hizzoner was more concerned with getting salt off New Yorkers' plates than he was with getting it on the snow crippling their streets...Oh, and New Yorkers believe that one of the mayor's top responsibilities is to make sure the snow is cleared so ambulances can reach those in need and so everyone can get to work. Mayors who spend more energy fighting "labels" in our politics than clearing the snow are rewarded with some labels too colorful for a family newspaper."