Probe Finds No Evidence of Slowdown During Christmas Blizzard Cleanup

An exhaustive probe by the city's Department of Investigation into the Bloomberg administration's failed cleanup of the Christmas weekend blizzard last year found no evidence of an organized sanitation slowdown.

For a report released Friday, DOI interviewed more than 150 witnesses, including employees from the sanitation and transportation departments. Investigators also reviewed footage from surveillance cameras citywide for 24 hours after the snow began falling on Dec. 26.

DOI found that rumors of workers taking long breaks throughout the city -- some of which were reported in the media -- were in fact scattered cases of trucks that had become stuck in the snow, and not, as theorized, deliberate union actions.

In one case, sanitation workers bought beer and drank it in their truck after they became stuck. In another, workers spent time at a Dunkin Donuts while their trucks were blocked. DOI recommended that the city "review a more efficient way to manage the issue" of guarding stuck trucks, because of the "negative public appearance" that snowballed as New Yorkers saw sanitation workers sleeping, sitting in trucks, getting beer, and lounging about while waiting.

DOI also shed light on the rumor that trucks were driving around with their plows up as part of a union protest. Investigators said camera footage in the boroughs outside Manhattan showed 30 trucks, of 265 total, with plows up. Of those, eight were on streets with very little snow accumulation and 17 were believed to be heading to or from their garages.

DOI found only five trucks driving with plows up for which there was no obvious explanation.

The report laid out several factors that contributed to the city's failure to clear streets quickly, including Bloomberg officials' decision not to call a snow emergency, which might have kept more private cars off the streets, and the lack of proper snow chains on some plow vehicles.

The city also issued a "cease salt order" that DOI said might have been premature; DOI recommended that the city let local sanitation supervisors on the ground make their own decisions about salt, rather than issue an order from headquarters.

The city said it is already working to implement DOI's recommendations.

The report also concluded that the magnitude of the storm, which dumped more than 2 feet of snow in some places, was so massive that the Sanitation Department "simply couldn't keep up with the rate of snowfall."

The 24-page document dedicates several pages to the statements made by City Councilman Dan Halloran, who made claims in the media that there was a deliberate slowdown among city workers as a union action.

Halloran told The New York Post in a story published Dec. 30 that three plow workers and two transportation supervisors had met with him and "were told to make the mayor pay" by slowing down the work of the cleanup.

After interviewing several people involved, DOI said "the statements given to DOI by Mr. Halloran were strongly disputed by the two DOT personnel Mr. Halloran said he spoke with about a slowdown.... In toto, Mr. Halloran's information about city employee statements contributed no actual evidence about a possible slowdown."

DOI also says the supervisors who met with Halloran specifically told him that they knew nothing of a slowdown, only what they had seen in media reports, and said Halloran appeared to be "upset" and "annoyed" that they did not have any information on a slowdown.

One of the supervisors told DOI that as they left a meeting with Halloran, he said "if you don't want to talk, I will find a disgruntled worker who is ready to retire who is."

Halloran responded to the DOI report through a statement, where he cited the "serious deficiencies, mismanagement, and employee misconduct" of sanitation workers.

He vowed to continue to "shed a light on problems and come up with solutions ... even if it makes the powers that be uncomfortable."

DOI spokeswoman Diane Struzzi could not say whether Halloran faces further investigation from DOI, but said the agency has referred its findings to the city and the district attorneys.

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