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Council schedules special meeting on response to snowstorm

The meeting could be called "Lessons From the Storm."

City lawmakers believe that residents who braved snow-encrusted streets and unwalkable sidewalks following a storm that battered parts of Buffalo earlier this month might have insights to share with experts.

The Common Council will hold a special meeting at 10 a.m. Wednesday, when lawmakers will perform a post-mortem on how city departments and other entities responded to the ferocious storm. Lawmakers will meet with emergency responders from various departments. They also want to hear from residents, especially those who live in the South Buffalo and Lovejoy neighborhoods that were hardest hit by a storm Dec. 2 and Dec. 3.

Claims by one lawmaker that the city "mishandled" some aspects of the massive cleanup prompted the mayor's chief spokesman to issue a biting rebuttal Monday.

South Council Member Michael P. Kearns said he believes the city made some mistakes that could serve as lessons when future emergencies occur.

In an interview with The Buffalo News, Kearns said there are numerous policies that should be reviewed. They range from keeping the city's 311 calling center staffed on nights and weekends during emergencies, to equipping all Council offices with computer software that would let lawmakers track the movement of the snow-fighting fleet via GPS devices that are installed on trucks.

There have also been questions about private plow operators hired by the city who left giant mounds of snow on sidewalks and in intersections.

"To use a sailing analogy, we need to adjust our sails," Kearns said. "We need to learn from this storm."

Mayoral spokesman Peter K. Cutler was quick to respond.

"It figures the Council member would use a sailing analogy in the winter," he said. "Mr. Kearns has a great capability of dealing in analogies. We deal in reality."

Cutler insisted that given the unique circumstances, the city carried out a "systematic and well-planned response" to the storm. One component involved towing 500 vehicles so plows could get down many streets, Cutler said.

The fact that dozens of large trucks exited the Thruway and got stuck on major routes, including South Park Avenue, made the cleanup especially arduous, Cutler said.

Kearns acknowledged that snow-paralyzed trucks complicated the cleanup. He said officials from the Thruway Authority have also been invited to Wednesday's meeting, as have officials from Lackawanna.

"I just think we need to be more proactive in these type of emergencies," Kearns said. "God forbid this [storm] had hit all nine [Council] districts."

Cutler retorted that city crews received high marks for their cleanup during the October Surprise storm in 2006, an emergency that clobbered the whole region.

City public works officials, parking officials and representatives from other departments have agreed to participate in Wednesday's meeting, Kearns said. The session will be held in Council Chambers on the 13th floor of City Hall.

What if a large number of residents show up and want to speak?

"That's fine," Kearns replied. "If we have to stay there eight hours to hear from people, that's what we'll do."

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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