I felt bad for the caller, but I was confused by the negative tone that she took regarding the response by the City of Bowie. Sherwood Manor is not within the City of Bowie municipal limits. The residents do not vote in City of Bowie elections, and they do not pay the extra taxes that City of Bowie residents pay for City of Bowie services. Although the caller implied that the City was shirking a responsibility, the City properly informed the woman that Prince George's County is responsible for clearing the snow from her street. I'm not sure what else she expected the City to do.
The City published an alert on its Web site Monday morning that included the following text:
Plowing services are only provided to those residents who live within the municipal limits of Bowie. Neighborhoods such as Fairwood, Camelot and Sherwood Manor are not in the City limits. Your services are provided by Prince George's County. You can reach them at 301-350-0500 or email email@example.com
A short time later, WTOP followed up that story by interviewing Susan Hubbard, the Public Information Officer for the Prince George's County Department of Public Works and Transportation. I was really turned off by the interview, and I thought it was a terrible public relations effort.
Local government must practice a delicate balancing act during weather emergencies. The reality is that there may be thousands of "squeaky wheels" wanting to be greased, but operations can't be redirected every time a citizen calls with a complaint or a request. On the other hand, feedback from the public must be taken seriously, and the people need to know that the government respects them and is working toward a resolution to their problems.
By coming on WTOP, Hubbard's goals should have been to show that she understood the issues facing the snowbound residents, set expectations for when roads would be cleared and provide some transparency into the effort the County is making to clear the streets so that the public could be assured that progress was being made. It was an opportunity for her to reach out to some Prince George's County residents and to possibly reduce the call volume on the Department of Public Works and Transportation hotline.
One of the WTOP interviewer first asked Hubbard how Prince George's County's snow removal efforts were coming along. She replied that the crews were doing a "phenomenal job". If her goal was to connect with the people who couldn't get out of their driveways and people that were concerned about the treacherous conditions on Race Track Road, phenomenal was not the word to use. It is true that the snowplowing crews should be given praise for their long hours and huge efforts, but I thought Hubbard lost credibility with the people that knew that the driving condition on the County roads truly sucked.
Later in the interview, Hubbard said that there is no need to let the County know about streets that aren't plowed. She said that the County already knows which streets are plowed and which streets aren't plowed. In other words, please stop bothering the County with your calls. I suppose it's impossible for the over-tired plow operators to lose track or make a mistake. Contrast Hubbard's statement with the following excerpt from a City of Bowie alert released last Sunday.
Throughout the storm we have had city officials out assessing the progress and directing crews to problem areas or to streets that have not seen a plow since Friday night. We will continue to do that, but you can help us by letting us know of areas that have not been plowed.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can just put your street name and "not plowed" in the subject line. Feel free to add other details in the body of the message.
Given the record amounts of snow that fell from the sky in Bowie and Prince George's County over the last week, it's reasonable to expect that the road conditions will be bad until at least next week. It's also reasonable to expect local government that works with you.
Old Chapel Road on Tuesday morning. The snow cover left by the plows has been packed down by traffic. It's extremely bumpy, and traffic is forced to go slow.