Demonstrators applaud as council approves independent study of operations
Fed up St. John’s residents applauded — literally — council’s approval of a review of its snowclearing operations, but left city hall disappointed all the same.
© — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
The Take Back the Sidewalks and Streets of St. John’s group held an information session Monday afternoon at St. John’s City Hall about what it called “dangerous conditions in St. John’s due to lack of snowclearing on St. John’s city streets.” About 40 people showed up to the session at the second floor Great Hall and then attended the regular weekly public city council meeting. Coun. Jonathan Galgay accepted a petition from the group and forwarded it to city public works director Paul Mackey. Among those taking part in the session were Chris Mullett and Margaret Howell.
About 40 residents fed up with the state of snowy sidewalks and streets in St. John’s filled the public gallery in council chambers Monday evening, following a rally in the city hall foyer an hour before the meeting.
Kerry Gamberg said before the meeting she organized the rally to bring attention to the problems people have when sidewalks and streets aren’t cleared.
“Until they implement a bare-pavement attitude towards snowclearing, there are people who are getting hurt, and there are people who are losing income. There are people who are missing appointments. There are people who are housebound. It’s an incredible problem,” she said.
Several people attending the rally slammed the city’s decision earlier in March to proceed as usual with its annual spring reduction of snowclearing staff.
Margie Howell of St. John’s held a sign calling for Mayor Dennis O’Keefe’s resignation. She said her 89-year-old mother has been stuck in her east-end home all winter.
“I want to see the sidewalks cleared, at least one side. Keep the workers on. Don’t lay them off. The roads are terrible,” she said.
Chris Mullett, holding a “Stop Dennis” sign, said the city should put more money into its snowclearing budget, because the roads are “atrocious.”
“Dennis O’Keefe, it seems like he’s not doing a good job sometimes,” Mullett said.
During the council meeting, protesters applauded several times as councillors stood to express their support for the independent snowclearing review, approved at the committee level March 20 and passed unanimously Monday night by council.
Coun. Jonathan Galgay, chairman of the city’s public works standing committee, said the components that will be under review will include — but will not be limited to — resource allocation, budget, equipment, personnel, materials, level of service, priority and policy issues.
Coun. Dave Lane said council and staff started considering a review early in the winter, after heavy snowfall caused problems in St. John’s, especially downtown.
“That was when we really started to take a look and say … even though we have a lot of hard workers and we have a system that we follow, sometimes it doesn’t seem to work as we want it to,” Lane said.
“I would propose that when we’re looking at the consultants that we hire, that they propose, just as the consultants we looked at for the open space and parks master plan, that they look at a consultative process that consults with staff … but also a strong consultation for the public, because this is who we’re doing it for,” he added, prompting applause from the gallery.
O’Keefe said the time has come for the review.
“The time is there now for a full evaluation,” O’Keefe said. “I’m a walker. I walk the streets every single day. I know the feeling of when you have to be very careful of walking into traffic and kind of hop up on the snowbank, and I well know the feeling of being splashed and having to move very quickly.”
During the meeting, Galgay accepted a folder of testimonials from people having difficulty with snow-covered streets and sidewalks from Gamberg, who then asked permission to speak.
O’Keefe began to stop her, but she plowed ahead anyway.
“Put your money where your mouth is, and what is the plan for today?” she said.
Council then approved the review.
Most of the protesters left council chambers after the vote.
Anne Malone, who uses a guide dog to help with her visual impairment, said she wanted the city to say it would rehire snowclearing staff to ride out the winter.
“I don’t think council is understanding the gravity of the situation now,” she said. “We’re expecting between 30 and 50 centimetres of precipitation either in the form of ice or snow tonight. There are people at the end of their tether now.”
Gamberg said she was pleased council members passed the review, but that they’d already announced that.
“They’ve been very open that they are working on a plan. However, my question remains, ‘What’s the plan for today?’” she said. “I’m glad that they’re working towards next year, but there are still people who are housebound, and they did not address that at all.”