Mike Bloomberg said that budget had nothing to do with the screw-up. He also avoided admitting any management errors — even his own, when he hamstrung veteran Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty. He placed Doherty under the control of a new deputy mayor whose nominal assignment — operations — took a back seat to his obligation to trim the budget.
Deputy Mayor for Operations Stephen Goldsmith cut the legs out from under Doherty and destroyed Sanitation Department morale in October by announcing that he would demote 100 supervisors at the end of 2010 and retire 100 more. His edict forced out experienced workers who feared for their pensions. Many supervisors and other retirees didn’t get replaced, cutting the department’s field force head count.
The smaller field force meant that Doherty had no choice but to redeploy office workers into the field to deal with the storm. They didn’t have a clue.
The missing supervisors were the department’s most experienced snow fighters. Now they were gone, or at least, demoralized.
This may have been as important as City Hall’s most obvious error: its delay in declaring a Snow Emergency. Goldsmith, away in Washington, D.C. for the Christmas holiday, says he was not consulted by phone. Had emergency managers declared the Snow Emergency on Saturday, when the storm’s approach was confirmed but before the heaviest snowfall had started, parking would have been banned on major arteries and salt could have been spread to prepare streets for plowing.
But declaring the emergency on Saturday would have meant calling in workers at holiday double overtime rates to mount chains and spread the salt throughout the city. Apparently, without an OK from his budget-cutting boss, Doherty didn’t do it.
By Sunday it was too late. Without salt on most roads, fast-falling snow quickly got compacted into hard ice. Plow blades skidded over it ineffectually. Westminster Road between Newkirk and Foster Avenues in Brooklyn still was packed with a half-foot of ice at this writing, five days later.
John Doherty arguably is the best Sanitation Commissioner New York City ever has had. But Bloomberg placed him under the control of someone whose mandate was to cut costs. It was an unfair contest.