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Former Binghamton DPW Commissioner responds after being let go

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. - The former Binghamton Department of Public Works Commissioner, Terry Kellogg, is responding after being let go by Mayor Rich David on Wednesday.

Kellogg, as well as First Deputy Commissioner Jon Yeager, were asked to tender their resignations after their response to last week's major winter snow storm.

In a news conference held on Wednesday, David said the personnel change was just one part of a planned overhaul of the DPW.

Kellogg released a 4 page written response to the media early Thursday morning.

In it, he defends the efforts of Yeager and himself as well as many of the city employees who worked long shifts to clear the streets.

Kellogg faulted the Mayor for not granting his prior requests for additional and updated snow removal equipment and for not investing surplus funds from DPW back into the department.

Kellogg also says David did not consult him when he ended the travel ban early Wednesday morning and that the ensuing traffic made snow removal more difficult.

You can read the full letter below:

On Wednesday, March 22nd, Mayor Rich David asked that First Deputy Commissioner Jon Yeager and I tender our resignations effective immediately.  The reason given for our dismissal was the inadequate response provided by the Public Works Department during the recent blizzard that left nearly three feet of snow blanketing our City. 

Normally I wouldn’t respond to such criticism in a public forum, but in the interest of full disclosure and in response to the Mayor’s March 22nd press conference, I feel the need to make the following statement.

Despite what may be said about our performance, we did everything within our capabilities to return this City to normal as quickly as possible.  On top of our regular snow removal duties on City streets, we worked tirelessly with the County Emergency Operations Center staff, the Arena Manager and the NYSDOT to get the downtown area and the NYSEG Stadium parking lot cleared in time for the NYS Boys High School Basketball Championships – the event’s inaugural visit to Binghamton – which started last Friday morning. 

The Mayor himself used adjectives such as “historic”, “epic”, “unprecedented” and “once in a lifetime” to describe this recent storm.  Unfortunately, our snow removal capabilities were impaired by far fewer employees and larger plow trucks than even ten or fifteen years ago due to the fiscal constraints we face as a City that has lost half its population, but still has to maintain the same number of miles of City streets.  In addition to fewer budgeted positions within DPW, our equipment is not replaced as often as I would like and more breakdowns occur as a result of this.  The DPW, under our leadership, had a nearly one-half million dollar surplus in 2016; however, the Mayor chose to use this budget surplus in other areas.  To achieve the nominal tax cut the Mayor desired in 2017, the Public Works Department was, again, denied the purchase of any new equipment in the 2017 budget despite my requests for new plow trucks, new garbage trucks, and a new Bobcat with a truck-loading snow-blower for snow removal after heavy storms.

During this most recent storm, abnormally high numbers of  employees failed to report for duty due to calling in sick, some submitting previously unplanned vacation requests after the storm began, and others submitting emergency personal day requests which, contractually, can’t be denied - just when we needed these people the most!  In addition, accidents and equipment damage (over $40,000.00 in damage over 48 hours) occurred due to the extreme conditions under which we were working.  At some point late Tuesday, the men and women (the City’s true heroes) who did report to work were simply overwhelmed by the magnitude of the snowstorm and abandoned the side streets in hopes of keeping the emergency routes open.  We continued through the end of the week and last weekend working around the clock plowing and hauling snow until all the streets were opened up.  First Deputy Commissioner Jon Yeager and I were in constant contact with each other, with our Superintendent of Streets Bernice St. Clair, and with the four Supervisors executing the snow cleanup plan throughout the entire weekend.  In many cases, most of those employees plowing snow worked in excess of 60 hours over a 7-day period only to go home and have to shovel out their own driveways and clear their own rooftops before returning for another 12-hour shift.         

After reviewing video from the press conference held by the Mayor earlier this evening, I would like to respond to some specific points as follows:

I agree with the Mayor that there have been long-term deficiencies in the Department of Public Works.  Over a year ago, I brought to the Mayor’s attention deficiencies in our workforce, equipment, and training.  The City of Binghamton did not have the resources to handle a storm of this magnitude.  Therefore, the storm did expose those deficiencies.  Although the Mayor stated there were long-term deficiencies, he dismissed myself, and Deputy Jon Yeager, both of whom have recently joined the department after the Mayor’s successful election and it was us who brought the above stated deficiencies to his attention.

The Mayor made the statement “all plows were deployed”.  This statement confirms that all available resources were in use, and further shows a lack of available resources for a storm of this magnitude.  In regard to the inquiry made questioning city vehicles being seen outside of the city limits, it should be noted that all vehicles have GPS, and management is notified if those vehicles leave the city.  No such notifications were received during this event.  In regard to the lack of resources, it should be noted that the DPW budget had a $500,000 surplus at the end of 2016.  The purchase of any snow removal equipment was denied by the Mayor and this surplus was used for other various initiatives outside our department.  Moreover, my requests for additional equipment were denied for fiscal year 2017 as well. 

The Mayor also stated the equipment used by DOT was more effective than the F-550 trucks the city had that kept getting stuck.  This further shows that Binghamton does not have the equipment needed to handle a storm of this magnitude.  He now wants to address the equipment, but perhaps the request for additional equipment should have been approved when initially requested and the financial resources were available to accommodate my requests.

The negative impacts from the Mayor lifting of the City-declared State of Emergency and Travel Ban at 6:00 AM on Wednesday, March 15th cannot be overlooked.  The Mayor stated in his press conference, that he retrospectively continues to believe he made the best decision in lifting the City travel ban 6 hours before the County Travel Ban was lifted.  In my opinion, the Mayor’s premature lifting of the Travel Ban ultimately stemmed from a lack of communication between the Mayor and DPW as well as a lack of communication and coordination between the Mayor and the County.  The decision to lift the Travel Ban, which I questioned was even legal to do, was made solely by the Mayor without prior consultation with myself or First Deputy Yeager.  Regretfully, I learned about it via a Press Release I received too late to ask the Mayor to reconsider – especially since the County and State officials still had their travel bans in place. 

After the first day of this storm, the City of Binghamton’s fleet was reduced to less than half, due to breakdowns, damage, and the ineffectiveness of the F-550’s in deep snow.  At that time, I provided the Mayor with a list of supplemental snow removal equipment needed to open up the remaining streets and requested that the list be forwarded to the County Emergency Operations Center.  The Mayor advised me to hold off on these requests in hopes that we could somehow complete the work without assistance. 

Once the Travel Ban was lifted, it created widespread confusion among our residents, as well as made requesting additional help from the County and State truly difficult.  It made clearing the streets even more difficult for our drivers, and it gave many the impression that all streets were clear when, in fact, over 160 (20%+) City streets had gone unplowed since Tuesday afternoon when they became impassible with our smaller plow trucks that typically perform this work on the side streets and dead ends.

I agree with the Mayor that it is unfair to compare Binghamton to other local municipalities because of the disproportionate number of miles of city streets among the municipalities.  Had the Mayor not prematurely lifted the Travel Ban, there would have been no negative impression since the County and State bans were still in effect, and the remaining work could have been executed in a more efficient manner without as many cars on the road.

I agree with the Mayor’s points regarding downtown parking causing a significant challenge in clearing the streets of snow.  However, a temporary emergency on-street parking ban could have been issued by the Mayor, similar to what was done in other municipalities.  This would have enhanced recovery efforts; however, this was not done by the Mayor.

The Mayor mentioned when he first came into office he focused on police and security.  He provided additional manpower, training, and equipment.  The Mayor now states he is focusing on DPW.  However, instead of providing DPW with the same enhancements in manpower, training, and equipment, he has elected to make further cuts to balance the budget.

In my two-plus years as the Commissioner of Public Works, I am extremely proud of the many accomplishments that our leadership team has made.  We have achieved every goal put in front of us by this administration as well as many goals that we set ourselves to improve the operation.  We finished paving 15 miles of streets last November on a Friday and started plowing snow the following Monday. 

In closing, it should be known that my First Deputy Commissioner, our Superintendent of Streets - the person who actually provides oversight of the day-to-day operations of the Public Works Department, and I all came to the City with many years of private sector management experience and we tried to infuse private-sector strategies and accountabilities into this organization.  Perhaps it was just too much, too soon, and this storm provided a convenient way to change the leadership and revert back to the old way of doing things.   

I am grateful for the opportunity to have served the residents of this great City, but I am disappointed that my work here will be cut short because of one unavoidable natural disaster – the finale to a record-breaking 130-inch-plus  winter season.  As a leader who can acknowledge when my team’s performance fell short of the desired service level, I want to extend my sincerest apology for those who were snowbound longer than they should have been during this storm.  I agree with the Mayor that there were areas that did not receive the best and highest level of service.  However, I can honestly say that I am extremely proud of my DPW team, who worked tirelessly throughout the days and nights following the storm, and provided the best and highest level of service that could be achieved with the resources available to them.

Terry J. Kellogg
Former Commissioner of Public Works, City of Binghamton    

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