City of Madison

Former City of Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz

Former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's Blog

It’s Easier on Monday Morning

January 8, 2010 1:34 PM

Between legislators from the Milwaukee suburbs and former mayors, I sure am getting my share of Monday morning quarterbacking over the snow storm we had almost a month ago now.

Sen. Glenn Grothman is a legislative gadfly whose proudest accomplishment is enshrining discrimination into the Wisconsin Constitution. He's not worth responding to, so I won't.

But former Mayor Paul Soglin is another story. In a recent blog, Soglin suggests that we haven't kept up with snow-fighting equipment and funding as the city has grown: I like Paul, and he was a great mayor. I often seek his input and advice and he's usually right, but not in this case.

We budgeted $5.7 million for snow removal in the 2010 budget, up from $4.2 million in 2003 when I took office - a 38% increase. Over that same timeframe, inflation and miles of streets increased a total of 27%. So, there's no question that the City's snow budget has more than kept pace with the growth of our city plus inflation while I've been here.

The same is true for equipment. We have 178 pieces of equipment to throw at a storm compared to the 95 that Paul had to fight the last mega-storm when he was mayor in 1990 - an 87% increase. That significant increase is more than enough to compensate for the 30% increase in street miles since then (both numbers include both City-owned and contractor equipment).

Paul also suggests that we should track how long it takes to clean up after a major storm and that we've somehow weakened our standard. He suggests that in his day it was 12 hours. Well, in my day it's actually 9.1 hours. Since 2006 we've kept track of that through a new management program I launched called Madison Measures. This is a battery of about 100 measures of how well we're doing on providing all kinds of basic services. You can find Madison Measures here:

On page 101, you can find the data related to the average time it has taken to clean up after major storms. You'll find that in the 2008-2009 season the average time to clear the streets was not the 12 hour standard Paul mentions but actually only 9.1 hours, a number that has been decreasing in recent years.

The extraordinary storms, like the one last month, obviously will skew those numbers. But we don't know how long it took to clean up after the record setting storm of 1990 because the city didn't have a management system in place like Madison Measures to track it. Also, that storm was followed by warm temperatures that soon melted the snow, while the recent storm was followed by a strong cold front. Paul certainly had some tough issues to deal with in his time in this job, but he didn't have the snowiest winter on record followed by the fourth snowiest on record followed by yet another snowier-than-average December.

The bottom line is that the City is dedicating more resources - both in terms of funding and equipment - to snow removal today than it did in 1990, even when inflation and growth of the City are taken into account. And we have better ways of tracking our performance.

We can always find ways to work smarter and the excellent report from my Chief of Staff Janet Piraino and Streets Superintendant Al Schumacher (which you can find here: makes a dozen recommendations on how we might improve. It points out that we can make some modest new investments in plow equipment. But in an era of tight budgets, the answer has to be to work smarter.

At least that's the way it looks from those of us who play the game on Sundays.


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