Welcome to yet another installment of what is sometimes referred to, not so fondly, as the “silly season,” the period preceding even relatively minor elections like Anchorage’s municipal contests. It’s a place where, all too often, hyperbole shines and facts whither. Nevertheless, we’ll ferret out a fact or two just to keep in practice.
Given this year’s higher-than-average snowfall it’s unsurprising that snow removal has arisen as a campaign issue – almost as significant as the snow banks blocking motorists’ sight lines as they edge out from cross streets. Enter the most noteworthy challenger to incumbent mayor Dan Sullivan, Paul Honeman, claiming that hizzoner’s miserly approach to municipal governance has deprived the citizenry of proper snow management.
That’s something of a stretch – I’ve lived in Anchorage long enough to know that, since the Fink administration slashed municipal services in the 80’s, snow removal is a rare occurrence. Rarer still, when crews are constantly plowing new snow and lack time for snow removal activity. Still, Honeman’s charge clearly got the mayor’s goat, perhaps providing the inspiration behind the administration’s creation of a “Snow Removal Update” page on the municipality’s web site. I’ll let readers decide if that’s an appropriate use of city resources but the mayor didn’t let it go at that.
Instead he has stridently defended his snow removal program at the past couple Assembly meetings, including a claim that particular budget had not been cut. And, in a manner of speaking, that was correct – we’ve spent a lot more on snow plowing & removal this winter than last, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Given the importance of Street Maintenance in Anchorage I’ve developed contacts within that department over the years. Those folks work hard, are responsive and have helped me puzzle through more than a few neighborhood issues. Those communication links are why I know that, where there used to be five dispatchers aiding snow management efforts, budget cuts in the past two years have whittled that number to three. (And those three have been working long hours, seven days a week, and enduring more than a few “salty” calls – they’re plumb burned out.)
This isn’t the first time the mayor has made specious budgetary claims. For example, last fall in arguing against an amendment restoring a cut to Parks & Recreation he asserted the department had found the reduction. In fact, according to P&R staff, the administration found the cut for them – it was imposed from above. That’s why the amendment passed and, later, the Assembly overrode a mayoral line-item veto.
In both cases, and others, I honestly don’t know if the mayor was ignorant of the facts or stretching the truth to conform with his version of reality. In either case, he wouldn’t be the first political official to do such a thing and he won’t be the last. Just grab yourself a grain of salt and move along…
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