PHOTO BY PAULA MULLER
Danny Balencuela shovels snow off the sidewalk and co-worker Jesus Tavarez runs a snow blower behind him on Liberty Street in Lynn during Winter Storm Helena.
By THOMAS GRILLO
LYNN — City councilors armed with bolt cutters removed chains from closed school parking lots during Winter Storm Helena to open them for parking on Saturday, sources told The Item.
Ward 7 Councilor Jay Walsh didn’t say if he was one of the snowstorm bandits. Instead, he offered: “You can just say we opened the lots. It was the right thing to do. We did it together collectively.”
The action underscored varying accounts highlighting the city’s preparedness in advance of what was the biggest snowstorm in nearly two years.
“What we did was, we made sure through a collaborative effort of everyone to get all the lots open Saturday morning so residents could use them for parking during the snow emergency,” said Darren Cyr, Ward 3 councilor.
Cyr also declined to name the councilors who may have cut the chains.
The city issued notice Saturday that parking was not allowed at the following schools: Aborn, Brickett, Callahan, Cobbet, Fallon, Hood, Lynn Woods, Sewell-Anderson and Washington. But a 1 p.m. an examination by Item reporters found the gates at several of those schools open with cars parked inside.
Schoolyard gates were installed last summer to prevent car owners from parking on the school lots during snow emergencies. In an earlier interview, Cyr said the council came up with alternative parking sites because residents often failed to leave the school property by school start time following a storm.
Cyr said a sense of urgency preceded the move to open lots Saturday morning as snow fell steadily.
“The School Committee, the mayor’s office and the council all talked Saturday morning and decided that we had to get those open as quickly as possible,” he said. “For the concern of the public’s safety, the council did what they had to do.”
But Michael Donovan, the city’s Inspectional Services Department director, offered a different account of the Saturday lot openings.
He said parking was initially banned at all 18 of the city’s elementary schools. But early Saturday morning, he received a call from the city’s law department telling him that parking should be allowed at eight of the elementary school lots.
“By about 11:45 a.m. our people were opening the locks,” he said. “I did not receive a single report of a broken lock.”
Cyr said the school committee had previously voted to allow residents to park in the schoolyards during snow emergencies. He expects the committee to approve keeping the gates open when the panel meets on Thursday.
Patricia Capano, committee vice-chairwoman, said there was some miscommunication among school officials about closing and opening the gates before storms.
“The school committee certainly didn’t make any requests to limit the school parking lots,” she said. “If we need to take a vote to continue open parking lots, that’s what we’ll do. If an owner is there after 6 a.m., as has been in the past, then the responsibility is on the owner, be it towing and ticketing.”
Thomas Grillo can be reached at [email protected]
Gayla Cawley contributed to this report.