With a steady diet of fresh snow in the forecast over the next five days for Prince George, questions remain unanswered about the City of Prince George's mismanagement of the first major snowfall of the year last weekend.
The Citizen's request to the city for detailed information on where the snow removal crews were from Friday, Dec. 28 at noon to Wednesday, Jan. 2 at 9 a.m. was answered late Thursday afternoon with a non-response response, repeating previous news releases about how many pieces of equipment were on the roads, following city protocol.
Yet a closer read of senior communications officer Michael Kellett's reply is revealing for what it doesn't say.
He lists in detail the amount of equipment on city streets after the snow stopped falling at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 29 but makes no mention of what was happening during the previous 30 hours. Two news releases on the city's website from Dec. 28, one written in the morning and the other in the late afternoon, assure residents that "snow and ice control crews are in full operation..., clearing priority routes throughout the city due to the ongoing heavy snowfall."
Was that really the case?
We still don't know.
An email from Kellett Friday morning stated that "administration is reviewing your specific request and will advise you by Tuesday of next week about the best process for you to acquire the information you seek."
Tuesday would be the day after Monday's regular city council meeting where, based on comments made to The Citizen in today's story by Christine Hinzmann, mayor and council will be briefed on the snow removal effort.
Kellett's answer was in reply to an email The Citizen sent to Kellett, external relations director Rob van Adrichem, city manager Kathleen Soltis and mayor and council at 6 p.m. Thursday. Here it is in its entirety:
"Your response below to my information request on snow removal is unacceptable and frankly insulting.
"I already read the releases the city put out over the weekend and I have already read the city's snow removal policy and protocol posted on the city's website. None of that information comes close to answering my request, which was a detailed breakdown of where and when was the city's snow removal equipment from Friday noon to Wednesday at 9 a.m. What streets did they clear and when? Restating the number of machines working and that they were following the city's priority snow removal procedure isn't an answer, it's a deflection.
"I understand that it might be difficult to provide that information quickly because it may involve getting access to log books and dispatch records, on top of talking to senior staff in public works and streets. The response provided, however, points to either a lack of effort to obtain that information or an outright unwillingness to do so. Both are troubling to me, which is why I have shared this email with all of you, in hopes of receiving some sort of response on Friday.
"If none is forthcoming, I'll file my FOI request next week."
FOI stands for freedom of information. Media outlets and private citizens can file formal requests for information from governments and public sector institutions under the provincial Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The Citizen has filed FOIPPA requests to the city on numerous occasions over the years, most recently in connection with overtime paid to city staff in connection with the 2017 Cariboo wildfires evacuation crisis and, before that, for records to show how the City of Prince George and the Northern Development Initiative Trust offered development funds to kickstart the Courtyard Marriott project (The Citizen won a Ma Murray award for excellence in business reporting for that work).
Short story - we're on it and we'll continue to pursue the answers Prince George taxpayers deserve about snow removal service levels. There are too many people with too many stories (see today's letters) that the city's own standards weren't met.
Going back to last summer, with the revelation of overtime pay collected by salaried administrators during the wildfire evacuations, on top of their soaring wage increases since 2014, there seems to be a common theme emerging from city hall. The city's top managers turn to their communications staff to try to gloss over embarrassing revelations with upbeat spin messaging. In the aftermath, city council is left holding the bag, trying to explain the actions of administration to frustrated residents.
Politicians have enough to worry about with media and public criticism of their decisions and statements without having to justify what their bureaucrats are doing. At some point, this mayor and council will hopefully get tired of being thrown under the proverbial snow plow by their own administration and hold the high-priced managerial help accountable when they get it wrong, rather than just endlessly patting them on the back for their efforts.
-- Editor-in-chief Neil Godbout