Warren council seeks clarity on ‘snow alert’ policy

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published February 14, 2020

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WARREN — Winter’s not gone yet, and snow emergencies — or “snow alerts” as they’re referenced in Warren’s code of ordinances — were a topic of discussion among officials at the City Council’s first regular meeting in February.

Councilman Jonathan Lafferty requested that the item be placed on the agenda Feb. 11, and he asked the Warren Police Department for clarification on the city’s “snow emergency policy.”

Deputy Police Commissioner Robert Ahrens outlined provisions of the ordinance, took questions from council members, and summarized recent actions taken by Warren police during the last snow event, declared by Warren Mayor Jim Fouts on Jan. 17.

Per Warren’s ordinance, the mayor has “the authority to declare a snow alert, prompting the removal of parked cars, trailers and other motor vehicles from city streets.”

The ordinance goes on to state, “The city of Warren engages in various efforts to subdue the risks caused by inclement weather by reducing or eliminating the accumulation of snow and ice from public roadways. The primary and most efficient method by which the city engages such efforts is through use of snow plows and salt trucks. Motor vehicles which have not been removed will cause portions of the streets to remain unplowed or slick. Therefore, the streets need to be clear of parked motor vehicles and trailers for the city to effectively reduce or eliminate hazardous conditions.”

According to the ordinance, a snow alert can be implemented whenever the mayor finds the forecast or weather conditions make it necessary for traffic to be expedited. The ordinance states that the mayor can “put into effect a parking prohibition on some streets, all streets or parts thereof.” The ordinance indicates that the mayor is to announce the snow alerts and the lifting of them through the media and through the city’s website and local access government television channel.

The prohibition takes effect immediately upon declaration of the snow alert and remains in effect until any street covered by the prohibition has become “clear of snow and ice from curb to curb for the entire length of the street.” Ahrens said that applies to both sides of the street.

All vehicles and trailers must be removed within six hours of the snow alert declaration. After that, vehicles can be ticketed, removed and impounded. Violations carry a $155 fee.

Ahrens said Warren police issued 500 warnings and 300 tickets during the snow alert in January.

“We get as many calls saying, ‘I can’t believe I got a ticket,’ and lots of people calling about neighbors not getting tickets,” Ahrens said. “They (the officers) are placed in a tough situation. Citizens are demanding tickets, and the ones that receive them aren’t very happy as well.”

Lafferty questioned whether more could be done to better communicate with neighbors using new technology. He suggested a system that uses comprehensive GPS tracking to pinpoint plow trucks and automatically text alert notifications to residents.  

He said he was contacted by one family with a student home from college who moved her vehicle off the street and then parked on the street after the plow had passed, only to be ticketed anyway.

“I believe we’ve got people caught in a flawed system,” Lafferty said. “I want to make it right.”

Councilwoman Mindy Moore said Warren plow trucks already have GPS technology, but that the information is not made available to the public.

Councilman Eddie Kabacinski inquired about the actual duties of the Warren City Council’s Snow Emergency Committee, of which he serves as the president and Lafferty as the vice president.

“Maybe this is a reason to call that committee and have further discussion on it,” City Council President Patrick Green said.

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