City layoffs not as high as first reported

Bonnie Belec
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St. John’s mayor says some employees were redeployed

There were 100 layoffs at the St. John’s municipal depot Friday, and not 130 as was first reported, St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe told The Telegram Wednesday.

City of St. John’s outside workers Jamie Rideout (foreground),  Bob Kennedy and Doug Whiteaway (in background), clear snow from the steps leading from Duckworth Street down to Water Street by the courthouse Tuesday afternoon following an overnight snowfall of 24 centimetres Monday.

Every year around the end of March, the typically 180-member crew is reduced by the department of public works. The extra employees are hired in November and are mostly responsible for snowclearing-related duties.

As winter winds to a close, the majority are laid off and some are redirected to other departments.

O’Keefe said this year was no different, despite a snowfall of 24 centimetres of snow in the capital city Monday.

The mayor said 100 people who were laid off weren’t called back, but 30 employees who had been redeployed were assigned back to snowclearing operations.

“So, Monday and yesterday we had two shifts of 50 and 30 working, which is on par for our operating procedure in recent years,” said O’Keefe.

The city has borne the brunt of criticism after deciding to reduce the crew ahead of a snowfall warning for Monday, with another storm expected tonight and into Thursday.

According to Environment Canada, St. John’s is expected to get 10 to 15 centimetres of snow and ice pellets, followed by five to 10 millimetres of rain. However, some areas of the province are expected to get up to 30 cm of snow.

“I’ve been in constant meetings with Paul Mackey (deputy city manager of public works) and the city manager (Bob Smart) over the last two days, and we’re monitoring forecasts. … They’re quite confident with the crews they have. They will certainly be able to handle it if the forecast proves to be what it is calling for,” said O’Keefe.

Twitter accounts, Facebook pages and comments on The Telegram’s website have said the city has been irresponsible by laying off staff when bad weather is forecast.

Others have said the crews did a poor job Monday and Tuesday clearing roads given that many side streets were left snow-covered and slippery overnight.

“The city was open for business and streets were cleared yesterday morning as per any operating procedures,” said the mayor.

“I guess some streets did get overlooked and when that was discovered the crews went back and made sure those streets were taken care of and everything was cleared away by yesterday morning,” he said.

 When asked if he felt residents were blowing concerns about the snow out of proportion, he said, “absolutely not.”

“We have a new program of enhanced public engagement and were doing an evaluation of the whole snowclearing procedures based upon the growth and expansion of the city, and we want to hear from the public,” said O’Keefe.

He said he’s been told a Facebook page has been created to let city council know how people feel about its snowclearing efforts and he’s not offended by it.

“I think it’s great. I think it’s absolutely tremendous. We’d like for a group like that to submit suggestions. We are entirely open-minded on it,” he said.

O’Keefe said management will keep an eye on the weather over the next 24 hours, but they are confident they can handle it.

bbelec@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Environment Canada

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  • Really
    March 26, 2014 - 21:25

    It's 10:54 PM and Frecker Drive has 1 cut. Maybe 30 is not enough