This week the weather man promises temperatures as high as 60 degrees which for mid-February in northeast Ohio is a keeper. So lace up those walking shoes and try to get out and catch some fresh air. Actually, from the looks of things you might want to grab a shovel too — it’s been a tough year for sidewalk walking as a lot of the sidewalks have not been cleared of snow. When you get record setting snowfalls it’s understandable to fall behind but hopefully with the warming trend this week Mother Nature will be our BFF and melt off some of our snow bound sidewalks. And if that doesn’t do the trick there’s a group of Kent residents that have been meeting for the past month trying to come up with recommendations for the City to consider to improve both the private and public clearing of sidewalks. Read more.
Why are sidewalks making front page news you might ask, well it turns out that we’ve got a lot of walkers in Kent – from college students to retirees and everyone in between that for either philosophical, life-choice reasons, or practical, that’s all I can afford reasons, needs to walk around town. And that walk has been impeded of late by piles of the white stuff.
So the question to ponder is who can dig our sidewalks out of this fine mess that they’ve gotten themselves into?
Historically, the City has taken the position that shoveling sidewalks is the responsibility of the homeowner. That approach says in the summer the residents cuts the grass on both sides of the sidewalk and in the winter they take a turn shoveling the sidewalk. The sidewalk may indeed be part of the public infrastructure but in the course of day to day living it feels like it’s a part of the home where you live so we adopt it as our own and take care of it. Call it civic duty or better yet, civic pride.
The alternative is to say that since it’s a part of the public infrastructure the City needs to have crews clear it off on behalf of all us city taxpayers. Advocates of this approach argue that sidewalks should receive equal billing with streets and should be cleared by city crews who have expertise in these sorts of things. The City does a great job with clearing streets and no doubt they can do the same with sidewalks. They call that excellent public service.
So there’s the two ends of the sidewalk clearing spectrum. Which we choose is really up to the community. For the moment, the City still operates in the we’re here to cheer you on as you shovel your own sidewalk mode but that being said we did send crews out on overtime the last couple of weeks to try to knock down some of the bigger piles as well.
There’s no question that tensions run high when we have prolonged storm events and as the piles on sidewalks grew with each new inch of precipitation I began to hear more and more people say that the system is broken. Calls started rolling in from residents who wanted the City to get more aggressive in writing tickets and force deadbeat residents (their words not mine) to pull their shovel out of storage and get busy on their front sidewalk.
Technically there are ways for the City to write tickets and there’s been times when we’ve had to get all technical on people but for the most part we rely on good will and peer pressure to inspire compliance. And for the most part that’s worked but the combination of snow and ice over the first 2 months of 2009 have put that theory to the test and there’s definitely been some hiccups along the way.
For the record everyone needs to know that the City crews are proud to be the line in the sand (or snowbank in this case) between safety and harm. Whether it’s the Police, Fire, Water or Streets crews, these employees chose their profession because they wanted to make a difference in the lives of others. That’s the touchstone of everything we do as a City. We’re proud of our track record and we’d be honored to serve as your sidewalk brigade. Just tell us what you want and where and we’ll figure out what it will take to get there.
And that’s actually the sticky point. Do we do all sidewalks or just certain ones? If we can’t afford to do all sidewalks is it ok to pick and choose priority sidewalks? And then once we get over that hurdle we’ve got to find the resources — meaning City employees with shovels or snowblowers — to actually be out in the storm making good on our promise of sidewalk clearing. I’m not trying to sound discouraging but frankly those are bodies and shovels we don’t have today because we’re not in that business today. We can get in it but we’ll have to gear up to get r done.
That’s our longwinded sidewalk tale and fortunately for all of us there’s a group of dedicated volunteers who have offered to sacrifice their Monday nights to meet and script possible different endings to this story. Here’s a glimpse at the first couple of chapters:
Citizens Ad Hoc Sidewalk Snow Removal Committee
Meeting 1: Jan. 19, 2009
Attendance: Heidi Shaffer, facilitator; Andrew Fontanarosa, Dianne Centa, Randy
Ruchotzke, committee members; Peter Paino, Rick Hawksley, audience participants.
Call to order at 7 pm
Ms. Shaffer reviewed the charter of the committee as to research, discuss and make recommendations to council regarding sidewalk snow removal in Kent. Council asked for creative and cost-effective suggestions, keeping in mind the city has limited resources.
Ms. Shaffer asked each member to give a brief bio, and then explain why they are interested in this topic and what issues each wanted to address. She said since the group was small, they could probably have more of a discussion after the introductions.
Mr. Ruchotzke said he walks or bikes to KSU to work every day. He has lived in Ames, IA, Cedar Falls, IA, and Bloomington, IN. He said the comparison of these communities to Kent was striking to him because of the lack of sidewalk upkeep in Kent. When he was younger he worked for a property management company shoveling sidewalks because the city he lived in fined $50 for unshoveled sidewalks and it was cheaper to pay him then to get fined.
Mr. Ruchotzke said that in other places he has lived property owners would shovel because a majority did and that those who did not would not look good. He said it was a matter of civic pride.
Mr. Ruchotzke said he joined the community because he was trying to get the city to respond to his complaints. He said he called the city on a number of properties several times but nothing was ever done. He talked to property owners and wrote letters. He stopped supporting businesses that did not shovel their walks. He said he talked with business managers to tell them he was boycotting their business and also thanked businesses that did shovel. Other businesses that did not clear – and may have made the sidewalks worse.
Mr. Ruchtozke said this is a public safety issue and it also involves kids walking to school. He said that KSU does a good job on their walks.
Mr. Paino, a business owner and Kent resident, attended the meeting to voice his opinion. He said he was frustrated that every year council talks about doing something about the problem but nothing happens. He is here to make sure something comes of this. Mr. Paino said there are other communities that have good ordinances and that enforce them. There should be a penalty for noncompliance or the ordinance is not worth much. He talked to the Code Enforcement Officer about instilling civic pride and said that it is a challenge.
Mr. Paino pointed out that only a few sidewalks on main walkways such as W. Main St. were shoveled and it seemed that owner-occupied houses did slightly better than rental properties. Mr. Paino said that the Health Department could include snow removal as part of the licensing agreement.
Mr. Paino said that the condition of the sidewalks is due to lack of a penalty and community pride. He said he is especially upset about businesses that clear parking lots but do not bother to clear sidewalks.
Dianne Centa introduced herself as a KSU employee and a person who walks as much as possible. She walked to the meeting tonite and her car has not been on the road since the snow began a few weeks ago. She said she had a great deal of difficulty getting to the meeting because she had to climb over big piles and that she has a knee problem. She has to wear a brace when she walks while there is snow everywhere.
She said she is concerned about other people having to climb over piles or walk in the streets.
Ms. Centa said KSU had problems clearing their sidewalks last year but she called them and the problem areas are now taken care of. She said she is troubled by the snow plows that sometimes make things worse at the corners and by putting piles of snow over sidewalks. She did some research about the city of Bozeman, MT, where they give a courtesy notice to people who do not shovel and then fine them if the work is not done in a specified period.
Andrew Fontanarosa introduced himself as a KSU student who is in student government and has an obligation to his constituents. He is from a suburb near Youngstown that doesn’t have many sidewalks so this is a new issue to him. He said it might also be a new issue to off-campus students who may not think about the responsibility of shoveling walks. Mr. Fontanarosa said his landlord specifically discussed the responsibility with him when he signed the lease. There was a shovel at the house that he rents on S. Depeyster St. Mr. Fontanarosa said he is a runner and he goes out even when it is snowy.
Rick Hawksley introduced himself as a walker and an active citizen who is always talking about this issue. He said that most people do not think about clearing snow except on their driveways. He said he thought that snow plow drivers should be given sensitivity training to not pile snow on sidewalks and at intersections.
Mr. Hawksley said this has long been a dream to make lots of recommendations but especially to follow up with what has been done in the past. Mr. Hawksley passed out the snow removal ordinance from Bowling Green, OH, that he said might give us some ideas. He said the City of Kent has taken a “good neighbor” approach but that doesn’t seem to be effective enough.
Mr. Hawskley said that it would be difficult to enforce the ordinance all at once but we might recommend targeting certain sections of the city and rotating the enforcement around. Mr. Hawksley said that the city has few resources but we do have a new code enforcement officer.
Ms. Shaffer said she wondered whether sidewalk maintenance was a part of the property code now or the one we are looking at adopting. Mr. Hawksley said he did not think so.
Mr. Paino asked if we could consider connecting sidewalk maintenance to boarding house licensing.
Mr. Hawksley said it is unconstitutional to treat types of properties differently regarding maintenance code issues.
Mr. Hawksley said he suggested to the City Manager to include attention to sidewalks in parking bans due to anticipated snow accumulation.
Ms. Shaffer said she wondered whether there were some better neighborhoods and some worse neighborhoods and if so, why? Ms. Shaffer asked if the committee members thought if this was a rental vs. owner-occupied issue. Mr. Ruchotzke said in his observations that did not seem to be true. Mr Hawksley said he thought rental properties were slightly less likely to have walkways shoveled. Ms. Shaffer said she thought there may be a tipping point – if most people shoveled, then others would eventually comply. Ms. Shaffer said she saw whole streets that were done by one person with a snowblower.
Mr Hawksley said maybe awards could be given to people who do more than their share. Mr. Paino said maybe the city could shovel sidewalks for hire, especially for businesses. Ms. Shaffer asked if he meant an addition to the city’s revenue stream. Ms. Shaffer said they should research private landscapers who do this work, too. Other committee members said that was the responsibility of the business owners.
Mr. Paino and Mr. Ruchotzke discussed a strategy of shaming businesses for not clearing walkways. They said they planned to draw up a letter and deliver it to businesses that do not shovel as a consciousness raising tool. Ms. Shaffer said maybe they should also have a thank you letter for businesses that did clear walkways.
Ms. Centa said that businesses like apartment complexes hire people to shovel internal walkways but then do not do the public walkways in front of the complex. Is this because they don’t know they are supposed to do it or because they get away with it she said.
The committee discussed the role of the code enforcement officer and said that he could call the property management companies and remind them to clear walkways.
Ms. Shaffer said she heard he was already knocking on doors.
Mr. Hawksley asked the committee to think about the sidewalks as a utility. He said extra maintenance could be done if residents were charged a little bit more on their utility bills. This could support enforcement and the city clearing sidewalks on main routes.
Ms. Shaffer wondered whether people that didn’t walk much could buy into that and said that drivers don’t want to hit pedestrians so that could be a driver issue, too.
Mr. Ruchotzke said he thought the city was divided into walkers and non-walkers and that they may not have the same values.
Ms. Shaffer said she thought good sidewalk maintenance was an economic development issue which is important to everyone. If a person wants to invest in the city the condition of the sidewalks would say that this town doesn’t care about itself.
1) Mr. Paino will draft letter to business owners for committee review via email. Mr. Ruchotzke and other members will take letter to businesses. Need to discuss who will sign the letter and whether it should come from the Committee.
2) Ms. Shaffer will talk with the City Manager and Service Director about how we can do better right now with what we have.
3) Committee members may write letters to the editor and encourage other citizens to discuss the issue.
4) Mr. Fontanarosa will talk with Student Senate about the issue and maybe more students may be interested in coming to the meetings.
5) Mr. Hawksley suggested we ask Troy to do research regarding enforcement in other communities such as Cuyahoga Falls and Cleveland Heights. Mr. Roberts said he will do some research. Committee members are also asked to research.
6) Ms. Shaffer will contact the Law Director, Service Director and possibly Code Enforcement officer to attend the next meeting. Mr. Silver, law director, and Mr. Roberts, service director, said they will participate.
Next meeting scheduled: Mon. Feb. 2, 2009, 7 pm, Council Chambers
Sidewalk Snow Removal Ad Hoc Committee
Meeting 2: Feb. 2, 2009
Committee Members: Dianne Centa, Randy Ruchotzke, Andrew Fontanarosa Audience Participants: Karl Liske, Kevin Gareau, Stacey Carmany, Jim Soyars, Lori Dent, Mary Kenneley, Sean Kaine, Cynthia Krieger, Joan Inderhees, James Buechele, Peter Paino, Rick Hawksley, Rick Fredrick, Robin Turner
Presenters: Jim Silver, Kent Law Director; Gene Roberts, Kent Service Director
Facilitator: Heidi Shaffer, Kent City Council
Call to order 7pm
Ms. Shaffer welcomed the audience and introduced committee. She said she became more interested in the problem of snow-covered sidewalks when she saw a blind woman go into a busy street to get around a pile of snow on a sidewalk last March. Ms. Shaffer said she thought it was not just a matter of convenience, but it was a public safety issue. She said the committee was charged with brainstorming ideas and making recommendations to Council, keeping in mind that resources were limited. Ms. Shaffer thanked the participants for their interest and said that the agenda would permit audience participation after each presentation, once committee members had an opportunity to ask questions.
Ms. Shaffer asked committee members if they had an opportunity to review the minutes. They said they had. Ms. Centa offered a revision from “community” to “committee” pg. 1 paragraph 5. Mr. Ruchotzke moved to approve minutes with revision. Mr. Fontanarosa seconded.
Mr. Silver was introduced and invited to speak. He stated that our city ordinances are misdemeanors and said he doesn’t know of other communities that consider snow removal issues as criminal. In his opinion our ordinance is impractical because the police would have to enforce and that there is not enough time or interest by police to do this. If there was an effort to ticket people they would have to send it by certified mail and it would take too long. The city would have to hire a contractor to clear sidewalks by a bidding process which could cost $300- 500,000 per year which would include billing costs.
Mr. Silver said that the only Ohio city he knows has an enforcement system using tickets is Bowling Green . He stated that it is based on complaints and that the BG law director does not like it. He said it generates many citizen complaints to council members and city administrators.
Mr. Silver passed out the Supreme Court of Ohio case Brinkman v. Ross (1993) and read over the highlighted area regarding the court “rejected the notion that a landowner owes a duty to the general public to remove natural accumulations of ice and snow from public sidewalks…even where a city ordinance requires the landowner to keep the sidewalks free of ice and snow.” Mr. Silver said this meant that we could not make people clear the sidewalks. He said that we have discussed this several times as a community and that it always comes back to a lack of funds to be able to do the work ourselves.
Ms. Centa asked about unnatural accumulations of snow such as piles put on sidewalks by snowplows. She said this seems to discriminate against people who travel on foot. Mr. Silver said that snow has to be put somewhere. He said that the roads were priorities because police and fire need to respond to calls. He said that there were not enough people or equipment to do the sidewalks because the priorities were to clear roads and fix water lines and that Mr. Roberts would be discussing the Service Dept.’s constraints.
Ms. Centa asked if we couldn’t enforce the ordinance regarding piles of snow that are put on sidewalks. Mr. Silver said the action would have to be witnessed (by police) who could write a ticket that might generate $25 down the road which would probably not be a good use of police time. Mr. Silver said this is an ugly problem that is not easily solved and any real solution would require more money such as a tax levy or an assessment district.
Ms. Dent asked if community service workers could be assigned to clear sidewalks. Mr Roberts spoke up to say there is a dependability problem with people that have been assigned by the courts.
Ms. Kennely asked whether if we had more snow removal equipment like the one we have now if the job could be done.
Ms. Shaffer asked if she could hold the question for Mr. Robert’s presentation since he would be dealing with questions of equipment and manpower.
Mr. Paino said we have an ordinance that one cannot shovel or plow snow onto sidewalks. Why not license snow plow drivers to work in the city as part of an enforcement strategy? He said he cannot understand why we can’t enforce this ordinance now.
Mr. Silver said the problem was witnessing and proving which company did the job.
Mr. Hawksley asked why couldn’t the person who paid the bill be required to disclose who did it. He said if the same driver plowed 5 feet of snow into the street would that be enforced?
Ms. Kennely said she talked to a city worker from Ravenna who said that if someone plows snow onto a sidewalk the code enforcement person or service director would call the business. She suggested that maybe next year we could have a system in place to do the same thing with businesses that block sidewalks and to ask them to keep sidewalks clear. She said she didn’t think a fine would be the answer.
Mr. Silver said a criminal citation would not work but maybe work through small claims court. He said the question without fines would be to how to make people do it.
Ms. Kennely said that we could work more closely with businesses – talk to them. She said too much emphasis is on citizens (residents?) regarding possible enforcement such as fines.
Mr. Silver said we should be referring to all “property owners” not just one subset.
Ms. Inderhees asked why the city and the Chamber of Commerce couldn’t work together to communicate to businesses the importance of clearing sidewalks. She said she is familiar with many businesses near campus that do not clear sidewalks and she said she cannot understand why they would have a flagrant disregard for safely of their customers and other pedestrians.
She said that maybe legislation is fraught with problems so maybe shaming would be a strategy to focus on.
Ms. Kennely said she is concerned for people with disabilities such as blind people and people in wheelchairs. She said she couldn’t find a place to let her friend who is in a wheelchair out of the van downtown because of the snow between parking places and the sidewalk.
Ms. Shaffer asked Mr. Silver if the ADA says anything about snow-covered walks and blockages on sidewalks. She said the city went to a lot of trouble to install ADA-compliant ramps at intersections but that people cannot use them when there is snow.
Mr. Silver said that the ADA has not mandated for the state of Ohio regarding this issue. He said that it would be a criminal action to go after plowing companies for blocking sidewalks. He reiterated that the court has determined that snow and ice are normal parts of living in Ohio.
Ms. Krieger told a story about how she slipped and fell in a snow-covered parking lot and was disabled since then with a head injury. She said people need to be responsible for others and that living here is a choice that has responsibilities. She said she doesn’t understand the reasoning behind the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision.
Mr. Buechele said he is a student who lives on S. Lincoln St. where many walks are not clear. He asked how long we have had the ordinance on the books and said he doesn’t see a point to having an ordinance if we don’t enforce it. He said the city should get rid of the criminal ordinance. Mr. Silver said he agrees.
Mr. Turner said he was concerned that pedestrians were 2nd class citizens. He said that he does not drive now and so has to walk. He said he has been forced to walk in the street and has had some close calls with cars because of the conditions of the sidewalks. He said the community needs to have a consensus that this is a safety priority and that we need to look at the high problem areas right now before there is a tragedy. He said there should be a way to alert traffic about pedestrians and to be concerned about accidents with pedestrians. He said if we fail to do something this year we would be pushing closer to peril.
Mr. Hawksley asked Mr. Silver to clarify the differences between civil and criminal actions. Mr. Silver said we already have a civil action in place but we would need to hire the staff to carry it out. He said it would be like Bowling Green where staff are sent out to take pictures and give tickets. Then if it is not done someone would have to be hired to do it. It is labor intensive, he said.
Mr. Hawksley said we should consider ticketing but to hire a contractor quickly to take care of the problem rather than taking too long. He said that compliance is likely to happen once people are notified and that city staff would not have to keep going back. He said this is what happened in Bowling Green according to the article he passed out at the last meeting.
Mr. Fontanarosa asked Mr. Silver to distinguish between civil and criminal penalties.
Mr. Silver said a civil enforcement action would involve saying if you don’t clear your sidewalks the city can do it and charge a fee. The criminal action would involve levying a fine. He said that there was possibly a legal concern for equal protection if the city decided to target just the main thoroughfares vs. the residential neighborhoods for fines or other enforcement.
Mr. Fredrick asked if we could target certain areas but to think of giving an incentive – a carrot rather than a stick.
Service Director Gene Roberts gave a presentation showing that Kent has doubled in land mass since the 1970s and has also increased greatly in land (road?) miles but there has been no increase in staff. Only about half of the staff are available for general work such as plowing snow. In 1974 there were 28 people who averaged 3.74 miles and .43 of cul de sacs. In 2006 there were 20 people who averaged 5.74 miles and 2.20 cul de sac. There are more cul de sacs now and they are more labor intensive (than urban grid streets).
Mr. Roberts said in the 70s there was a CETA grant (federal funding) to hire 8-10 people to clear sidewalks but then the federal funding went away and the city stopped doing sidewalks not adjacent to city property.
Mr. Roberts described the current service department operations: 19 employees available to plow snow. Since 1974 there has been more regulation and so they can only work 16 hours during snow events before taking time off. If there are waterline breaks fresh people need to come in to fix them. Staff are less available than they were in 1974 to clear sidewalks.
Mr. Roberts said that the highest priority roads to plow are emergency routes – St. Route 59 is highest according to safety forces. He said the only place to put snow in some places like St. Rt. 43 is on the sidewalks. In the past they plowed only the center lanes of the street but now they plow the whole street.
Mr. Roberts showed the 2008 Sidewalks Map and said there are 108 miles of city sidewalks. 35 miles of primary sidewalks and 12 miles of St. Rt. sidewalks. With the best machine that can move snow and ice they can clear about 1/2 mile per hour so they could clear the State Route sidewalks in 24 hours per person or 8 hours for 3 tractors.
Mr. Roberts said the equipment they have now (ATV) does an excellent job on 4-6 “ of powder or even wet snow but not ice. He showed a picture of the vehicle and said it had a salt spreader. He said it is effective if they can get it out right after a snow before it gets icy.
Mr. Roberts said he talked with the Ravenna Service Director and they were out clearing after the last snow with a back hoe, 2 John Deere tractors with V-hoes, and a dump truck. The Kaboda (sp?) tractor was stuck. He showed a photo of the sidewalks that were done that still had 4-6 “ of snow on them. He said that Ravenna is also struggling with the work because of how much snow fell.
Ms. Kenneley said that Ravenna uses individuals who do not have CDLs and cannot drive snow plows to clear sidewalks. She said they start when there is 3-5” of snow. She said Ravenna provides this service to residents as a convenience. In response to Mr. Paino’s question, she said she learned the business owners were supposed to clear sidewalks in downtown.
Mr. Roberts said Ravenna pays $5 less per hour than Kent’s minimum classification. He said our equipment would not be enough for the job. Mr. Hawksley asked Mr. Roberts about how KSU does their walks and Mr. Roberts said they have great equipment.
Ms. Shaffer said maybe they could ask someone from KSU to address the committee.
Mr. Hawksley asked if we could plow sidewalks with a blower that would throw the snow off to the side. Mr. Roberts said that there may be problems with different setbacks but a snowblower auger with a discharge would be good to have.
Mr. Paino said that he feels it necessary to try to come up with a plan. He said the city does a great job with the streets so maybe we could do some of the sidewalks, too.
Mr. Roberts said the city is responsible for bridges and city property but if the city does some People’s sidewalks than people will call to complain if their walks are not done.
Mr. Paino suggested that an argument could be made for areas in Kent where the sidewalk is near the street so that ordinary shoveling is impossible.
Mr. Liske said he was a mailman before retiring and that he thought of an idea to make lanes for non-motorized traffic by making more one-way streets year-round. Both lanes would be plowed but one lane reserved for pedestrians. He said maybe something temporary could be done during snow emergencies such as putting out cones to make a pedestrian lane. He said with climate change we were probably going to have more intense winter snow storms and should plan ahead.
Ms. Inderhees said she agreed that January was an extraordinary snow month but what about the ordinary ones where the sidewalks are still not manageable. She said she understands how unusual events press all resources but that we need to have a plan for typical winters, too. She said she walks to work and it is not easy after most snowfalls.
Mr. Roberts said it costs less to clear 12” of snow in one event than several events with fewer inches so that it is probably better to do it for larger accumulations.
Ms. Inderhees said she thought it would be foolhardy for the city to do all of the sidewalks because of the cost. If individual property owners would do their share then the city could focus on just a few areas. She said there should be a stronger focus on the business community to work together on the issue.
Mr. Roberts said the city talked with the Main St. program to try to get an agreement to use 1 snowplow operator for downtown but they couldn’t get an agreement. There is a hodge-podge approach he said. Ms. Kennely brought up school routes and the safety of school crossings and intersections along route.
Mr. Soyars (Director of Business Services Kent City Schools) said he came to represent the school district and came to the meeting especially on behalf of the children who walk to school. He said he has received complaints from parents regarding the safety of the sidewalks. He gave the example of St. Rt. 43 on the way to Roosevelt HS. He said he stopped at a business that had not cleared the walks and left his business card. The next day the walks had been cleared.
(Mr. Soyars gave a letter to the committee outlining his concerns about students walking in streets alongside traffic and getting injured by falling on snow and ice on sidewalks. He attached maps with walk zones for the schools where he said the sidewalks need to be cleared.)
[Students also walk to bus stops outside of the walk zones.]
Ms. Shaffer asked if school newsletters contained information about the necessity of clearing sidewalks for students and Mr. Soyars said that he thought that should be pursued.
Mr. Turner said he likes the “good neighbor” policy that Kent has taken but that he sees a need for government intervention and immediacy of action. He said that priority should be given to areas around facilities where elderly people live and around schools. He said we should either be able to get people onto sidewalks or craft a safer on-road situation like using safety cones. He said we should look at code enforcement efforts to make people more aware of the issue.
Mr. Hawksley asked Mr. Silver if we could reduce speed limits on main streets when there is a snow emergency to help drivers see pedestrians who walk in the street.
Mr. Silver said he is not sure if we have the authority but that the Sheriff’s Dept. can do this county-wide.
Ms. Inderhees asked Mr. Soyars if the bus fleet could be increased to take kids to school during snow emergencies. Mr. Soyars said there would be a lot of logistics to figure out quickly like how to rearrange routes. He said kids who miss school because they have to walk during snow emergencies can be excused for that – like a snow day for walkers.
Ms. Krieger said she wondered what snow intensive states like Maine do? She said we need to put a lot of the responsibility back on the citizens and to counter the sense of entitlement. She suggested courtesy knocks.
Ms. Shaffer asked Mr. Roberts what recommendations he had for the committee.
Mr. Roberts said there could be a potential for a special assessment district or for targeted enforcement districts. He said there was a need for definitions of what was reasonably clear. He said he also thought the city could license plow drivers at no charge to them but that they would be given a rule book to follow including not putting snow on sidewalks or at intersections. He said the city would ask for addresses of where they plow so that they could trace it back to “the guy who turns the wrench”. He said plow drivers have to buy licenses in Cuyahoga Falls.
Mr. Roberts said for plow drivers the easiest place to put the snow is at the intersections. He said he is experimenting with other options such as angle cuts. He said he is looking at equipment that can cut through icy snow piles at intersections. He said a front-end loader would be needed but that he is checking with other communities to see what they do.
Mr. Hawksley said we need to do sidewalks immediately after a snow as it is cheaper and safer. He said we could look at staffing up to do this.
Ms. Krieger said she called the city manager’s office and someone at the office told her that there was a concern over court cases where someone was sued if they cleared their walks.
Mr. Silver said that if people try to clear the walks most courts will say you made an effort and that walkers are at their own risk. He said that was not 100% but that you would probably have to go out of your way to make your walks worse like run water on them before the courts would hold you responsible.
Mr. Hawksley said that city staff probably shouldn’t say that to people (that they could be sued if they cleared their sidewalks).
Mr. Paino said there are the realities of the city services and the budget and economy. It would be unrealistic to get more money out of the city budget. What we should do is modify the criminality to make it a civil offense and use the code enforcement officer. We should register snow plow drivers so they can do a better job on commercial properties. Mr. Paino said it was important that something positive happen from this effort. Mr. Silver said it was up to Council to set priorities.
Ms. Dent said she lives in Indian Valley and she walks with her guide dog around the city. She had to walk on Franklin Ave to get to the post office and she couldn’t get through on the sidewalks on Rt. 43 so she had to walk in the street. She said she can’t go over curbs when they are piled high. She said they are unsafe for everyone, not just disabled people. She said she can’t get out for weeks at a time because of the sidewalks and that she worried about her own safety and the safety for drivers, too.
Mr. Turner said he is concerned about how to deal with private businesses and that government should be responsible for doing more. Ms. Shaffer asked the committee members if they were ready to make recommendations for council. For example, was it a good idea to reduce the penalties from criminal to civil?
Mr. Ruchotzke said he would like to study more before making recommendations regarding enforcement. He said he would like to invite someone from Bowling Green to address the committee to see how their enforcement was working. He said he has never seen a place as bad as Kent and he has lived in several other places. He wanted to look for ways to increase civic pride but he said we might need to reserve mechanisms such as steep fines to change behavior.
Mr. Fontanarosa said he is not sure about the criminal vs. civil penalties and would wait for another meeting with the committee to make up his mind. He said he thought we should prioritize non-legal options combined with the threat of a penalty because there might need to be a backbone. He said there should be at least one more meeting to digest the information but that action should take place soon to keep the momentum going. Even though this is an unusual winter memories fade.
Ms. Centa wondered if Bowling Green makes any money or loses money from the enforcement efforts. She said fines seem logical because of the nuisance created. She said she wants to follow up with Bowling Green and with the Kent code enforcement officer.
Mr. Ruchotzke said he cannot see a difference between responding to the snow on the sidewalks vs. tall grass. He said it would be good to talk with the code enforcement officer, too.
Mr. Soyars said the committee could consider high school students who want to do community service (like “adopt-a-spot”).
1. Ask Service Director or code enforcement officer from Bowling Green to do a presentation (in person or by speaker-phone).
2. Ask Troy Loomis to attend next meeting.
3. Discuss “staffing up” and equipment needs with city manager and council.
4. Encourage citizens to talk to businesses that do not clear sidewalks. Kent City Schools notify mailing/phone list of importance of clearing walks and intersections.
5. Raise issue of licensing snow plow operators with Council. (Heidi and Rick discussed.)
6. Ask City Manager to work with Chamber to notify businesses of their duty to clear sidewalks.