Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Remember Michael Bilandic?

Hard to believe that 1979 is 29 years ago but it is and the memory of Michael Bilandic is dim for some and nonexistant for others.

But if he who fails to heed the lessons of history is condemned to repeat them it stands to reason that ignorance of Bilandic is something that local officials should possess at their peril.

Michael Bilandic was the Chicago alderman who was appointed mayor after the death of Richard J. Daley on December 20, 1976. He was a one-term mayor.

Annointed by the local "machine" Bilandic thought election to a full-term was a slam dunk. But the only think that was slammed and dunked was Bilandic.

January 1979 was a particulary harsh winter in Chicago and the city's response to cleaning the snow off the streets was haphazard and ineffective -- and that's being polite. The public outrage over this led Chicagoans to elect Jane Byrne the city's first (and only) female mayor. She was succeeded by Harold Washington and the "machine" was out in the cold until Richard M. Daley won election in 1989.

Bilandic's indifference to snow removal led to his ouster from office -- and rightfully so.

Hard-working citizens who pay their taxes expect certain services. Most of us don't use all of them, especially if we are hard-working and law-abiding. But liberal, conservative or in-between we all expect to get what he pay for.

So when a municipality does a poor job with snow removal, folks rightly get upset. And those of us who have been though severe midwest winters -- those that were a lot worse than what we usually get these days -- know that you have to get the plows and salters out early and keep up with the storm. Failure to do so shifts the emphasis away from snow and ice control.

And thus I note that yesterday afternoon my Pleasant Prairie street was in horrible shape, virtually impassable. A plow didn't come down until early evening -- and then only one lane was plowed leaving no room for garbage collection or mail delivery. The junction with the arterial street is in poor shape with a mound of snow on that road making it difficult for vehicles, including emergency vehicles, to enter and exit. As of 1:30 a.m. the plow hasn't been back.

Yes, I know it's a major storm -- but we've had worse. And while this is far from the worst job in snow and ice control, it's also not the best. I also know that under these conditions it's often difficult to do a "grade A" job but as taxpayers we have every right to expect our roads and streets to be kept open and passable. This is a minimal expectation and recognizes that the usual "bare pavement" will need to wait.

It's easier to do a great job when conditions aren't so bad but the real test is being able to do a goob job when things are bad.

I have a great deal of respect for the people who work hard and often around the clock to serve us in severe weather. Their job isn't easy but it is appreciated. (And luck is also a factor. If your equipment can't get out of the barn in time to keep ahead of the storm, that can slow things down. Plus I understand that one of the village plows became temorarily disabled during the storm.)

On the flip side, when you can't get to and from work or an emergency vehicle couldn't make it to your home without running the risk of getting stuck, then there's every right to be expect better.

UPDATE: 7:45 a.m. -- Village roads appear open and passable. Plow made another run downmy street and opened the garbage/mail access. Streets are still snow covered and slippery but open. Ice control will be the next challenge.

City streets are in generally poor condition but open. Main roads are snow covered and bumpy (a sign that the city didn't keep up with the storm) and ice control spotty. There are intersections with little or no ice control. Top safe speed in the city this morning: 20 mph.

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