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Councilman Critical of Huntsville, Ala., Storm Response

Councilman John Meredith said the only information he had on the status of city roadways came from citizens’ posts on social media and Huntsville Police Department posts listing street closures.

(TNS) — Huntsville District 5 City Councilman John Meredith is calling for a winter weather task force after what he calls a “lack of communication” between the city administration and the council in the aftermath of the winter storm that crippled most of north Alabama for more than a week.

Meredith — who represents the western part of the city — said the only information he had on the status of city roadways came from citizens’ posts on social media and Huntsville Police Department posts listing street closures, “and frankly, the irate citizens who contacted me for information.”

But Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle told the city council at its meeting on Thursday that messages were sent to council members after every meeting.

“Each one of y’all received it, telling you where we were, where we were in opening city hall and what we were seeing,” the mayor said.

But Meredith said he received no communication.

“Citywide stuff concerning city hall was closed, yes, I got that,” the councilman said. “But the determination, what’s the procedure, what are the priorities, which streets were going to be treated first, where we are, that is the information I’m talking about. I’m not talking about city hall being closed.”

Meredith said he was “talking about when I can tell my folks Sparkman Drive is going to receive some attention, when I can tell my folks that Slaughter Road is doing to receive some attention. That’s what I’m talking about.”

But Battle told Meredith “If you have a problem, my phone number is wide open.”

“As we had our group meetings, I’d send out something right afterwards and tell people where we were,” Battled added. “I’m not sure how much more we can do in that. I assure you if you have a question, please give me a call.”

The mayor proceeded to give out his number during the meeting.

City Council President David Little also said he forwarded emails to other council members.

“Yes, some of them were about just about our hours,” he said. “But they did create a winter weather alert page I thought was very helpful. It covered a lot of things. I shared it with as many people as I could.”

Little said he kept in contact with Public Works Director Chris McNeese, Police Chief Kirk Giles and City Administrator John Hamilton to the point where he wondered if they would answer since he called so much.

District 3 City Council member Jennie Robinson also said she texted Giles about road conditions.

“The mayor had his hands full,” she said. “The communication I got from him was plenty.”

The council is expected to receive a detailed briefing on the city’s response to the storm during a meeting in March.

But Little conceded the city wasn’t “ready” for the event because the weather forecast called for four-to-five inches of snow instead of the couple of inches of ice Huntsville actually received.

“I felt like this was a generational event,” the councilman said. “Ice is a completely different animal, but I did learn ALDOT and the city treated roads for snow.”

Little said the chemical used to melt ice “doesn’t work when it was below 20 (degrees) and we had three or four days below 20.”

“It was a very challenging situation, but I felt like I was as informed as I could be,” he said.

“All of us went through a very tough time this last week,” Battle said. “Ice was very hard to handle.”

Meredith said he would draft an ordinance that would create a task force that would provide real time information on what the planned response will be, the ongoing status of that plan, including any necessary changes to that plan and why they are necessary and a communication plan to ensure citizens are kept aware of what their elected leaders are doing to address winter weather emergencies.

City employees, emergency responders praised

While acknowledging complaints about the city’s response, the mayor and council members praised the effort of city employees and emergency responders as the city struggled to recover from the storm.

“We want to thank our police, who were out there in the midst of that in one degree weather for days and days,” Battle said. “Our fire department, who took patients coming out of Huntsville Hospital and took them home so they could open up beds for others. They took dialysis patients to their dialysis treatments.”

The mayor said general services people made sure buildings stayed open to public works employees who were in graders and blade instruments trying to get ice up.

“They even went up hills and started sliding backwards for a couple of days and had to reprioritize and come back into the flatlands and get the flatlands cleared and then they could work on the hills,” Battle said.

He praised hospital workers and emergency management, who he said “did a wonderful job under a pretty dire situation.”

Battle said Huntsville Utilities worked quickly to restore power after outages.

District 4 City Councilman Bill Kling said he was among residents who lost power.

“The only thing that was worse than sitting in the dark was thinking about those hard-working employees out there in the elements,” he said.

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