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St. Clair Shores

Published January 31, 2013

Word change to give city leeway on snow events

City Council hopes a simple word change will give city leaders leeway in deciding whether or not to declare a snow event in the future, while making it clear to residents what is expected of them when the flakes begin to fall.

The current ordinance in St. Clair Shores states that, “Each owner or occupant of any premises abutting the sidewalk or walkway shall remove the snow and ice from said sidewalk or walkway within 48 hours of the City declaring a snow event. A snow event shall be declared whenever snow or ice has reached an accumulation depth of two (2) inches or greater. Only the City Manager or the Mayor may declare a snow event.”

But, as seen during the 2012 Christmas holiday, the mayor and city manager use discretion when deciding whether to declare a snow event or not. And in a January study session, City Council said they wanted to make sure that discretion was clearly spelled out in the ordinance. That, members said, could be done by changing the “shall” in the portion of the ordinance that states, “a snow event shall be declared,” to “may.”

“‘Shall’ is a mandatory word,” explained City Attorney Robert Ihrie, and gives “no discretion on the part of the city manager or the mayor. (There are a) number of circumstances that may make it desirable to use discretion.”

Acting City Manager Mike Smith said the ordinance was discussed at length when it was adopted in 2010. He said the proposed change now would give him and Mayor Kip Walby a way to use common sense when declaring a snow event.

“Common sense must be applied (and we) can’t apply common sense if there’s no discretion,” he said.

“I think it’s worked out very well, except for this last snow event,” said Councilman Peter Rubino. “I think we learned from it, so I’m comfortable with the way it is, just changing that ‘shall’ to ‘may.’”

Councilman John Caron pointed out that residents are obligated to clear their sidewalks, no matter what. Declaring a snow event just means the city sends out contractors after 48 hours to check and leave warnings, and then to clear the snow at the owner’s expense, if it is still not cleared after 24 hours.

“People need to be responsible for their own property, need to be a good neighbor for everybody else,” he said.

An amended ordinance will have to come back for council’s approval before it is adopted.

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