Council votes on changes to snow removal ordinance

Tuesday, October 6, 2015 - 12:09am

Despite recommendations from the Pedestrian Safety and Access Task Force, the Ann Arbor City Council voted Monday to retain current regulations stipulating the amount of snow allowed to build up on sidewalks — currently set at one inch.

The council did vote to give only one warning per season before issuing a citation for failure to remove snow. Previously, residents were given a warning per snow event. Language will also be eliminated that provided “police discretion” in issuing snow removal citations. Furthermore, while previously residents had 24 hours to remove snow from sidewalks, there will be an 18-hour period before residents are issued a warning or citation.

The council heard the task force’s recommendations during a work session on Sept. 14.

After the task force released an extensive study on pedestrian safety in the city, the authors led the council through the report and outlined potential amendments to current ordinances designed to make Ann Arbor a safer city for pedestrians.

The ordinance regarding snow and ice removal was a particular focus for the task force.

In addition to altering the policy dictating citations, the changes also clarify that property owners are responsible for clearing snow and ice from bus stop and crosswalk approaches.

Some speakers representing the disabled community of Ann Arbor spoke out against the ordinance’s amendments, saying the changes did not go far enough.

“I look at this issue as a human decency issue,” said Ann Arbor resident Daniel Heumann at the meeting. “I’ve lived in weather worse than Ann Arbor. I have to say after living in Ann Arbor, I’ve had the most difficult time getting around here than any other city.”

Heumann said he felt the ordinance was too lenient and neglects not just the disabled community, but everyone in Ann Arbor.

“We need to be a city that allows for all of us to be able to get around easily,” Heumann said. “Despite the fact that winter here is sometimes very brutal, I think this ordinance needs to be reworked in many ways.”

Some individuals also felt that the suggested ordinance violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by making it more difficult for disabled residents to travel about the city.

“I’ve overcome a lot of things, but I cannot overcome ice and snow,” said Ann Arbor resident Ruth Barkan. “During the winter I need a walker to balance and my walker also cannot overcome ice and snow. I’m asking you not to pass this ordinance, it will make my life a lot harder. It is not fair to discriminate against some of us that have no control over the fact that we are disabled.”

Councilmember Sumi Kailasapathy (D–Ward 1) said the ordinance does not violate the ADA because all walkways and public sidewalks must be cleared.

The current ordinance requires one inch of snow to be accumulated before residents are required to remove it.

The suggestion from the task force, which was not approved by Council, specified that snow of greater than one inch and any compacted snow of greater than a half inch must be removed. However, an amendment to the proposal removed the specifications about compacted snow because councilmembers felt it over-complicated enforcement.

“We can’t get compliance with the one inch, so until we can get that, it's going to be very difficult to get compliance on the zero,” Councilmember Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1) said.

Several speakers said that Ann Arbor is one of the only cities where a zero-tolerance rule is not enforced.

Councilmember Kirk Westphal (D–Ward 2) said he was grappling with how to change the ordinance to please the concerns of all residents.

“We’re reportedly an outlier in the way we allow snow on our walkways,” Westphal said. “I think we have the ability and willingness to get to a place where we accommodate a greater variety of users.”

The City Council also voted on a resolution to approve the Council Administration Committee to act as a search committee for a new city administrator.

In previous years, the process of selecting a new city administrator depended less on the Administration Committee and more on smaller search parties. However, in alliance with the Open Meetings Act, which states that meetings of certain public bodies must be open to the public, the process changed.

According to Briere, the committee gave recommended some candidates in years past, but it was up to Council to narrow down their options in a public forum.

“The challenge here is how to involve us all without having a meeting in public that embarrasses a candidate because we don’t choose that candidate to be considered for the next phase,” Briere said.

In August, Current City Administrator Steve Powers announced he was leaving the position. After spending four years in the position, he is accepting a new career opportunity in Oregon and leaving in November. The Council has appointed Tom Crawford, the city’s chief financial officer, as an interim city administrator while the search process is completed.

While the Council will select and approve the city administrator when the time comes, the committee will serve as a search committee for three finalists suitable for the role.