Riding with the Snowball Posse

A drive past Shoemaker Elementary School on Regina Road early into Saturday’s snowstorm showed the gate was open and a few cars parked inside.

They arrived in trucks, not on horseback. They came armed with bolt cutters, not six-shooters. But the city councilors who converged on closed city schoolyards Saturday morning were bound and determined to take the law into their own hands and free up off-street parking opportunities for local residents.

The streets got plowed and, thankfully, no reports of serious accidents or injuries were logged during the storm. But the Snowball Posse added a dramatic flair to a city snowstorm response marked by confusion and apparent lack of communication.

Depending on who is doing the accounting, at least three city departments were involved Saturday in the discussion over schoolyard use. Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy’s office got into the act along with councilors, the school committee and the city law department got roped in later.

Acknowledged Snowball Posse member and Ward 3 City Councilor Darren Cyr said the discussion led to a decision to open the schoolyards “as quickly as possible.”

Cyr cited urgency triggered by the snowfall when he declared, “the council did what (they) had to do.” Cyr did not admit to using bolt cutters to snip chains securing schoolyard lots. But a mid-morning drive by the Shoemaker School yard revealed a closed padlock attached to a chain hanging from one of the yard’s open gates.

City Inspectional Services Director Michael Donovan was apparently not involved in Saturday morning’s group huddle. He said no schoolyard locks were cut and said city workers opened the locks and the schoolyard gates.

Cyr and Donovan’s accounts underscore the central question concerning the schoolyards: Why were they locked in the first place and why did confusion surround their use by residents in need of parking?

There is a fairly good chance that question will be answered Thursday night when the school committee meets. Schoolyard storm use is scheduled to be discussed by committee members and member Patricia Capano set the tone for that discussion by stating the committee has not attempted to limit schoolyard parking.

Just to be clear, the thinking behind opening schoolyards during storms is to ensure residents, especially ones living in neighborhoods with two- and three-family apartment buildings and larger residential buildings, have sufficient parking.

They need parking because city Public Works officials wisely decided that the best defense against a major snowstorm is a good offense. Getting plows and road pretreating equipment deployed earlier allows crews to get ahead of a storm. But they can’t do their job if streets are clogged with cars.

As any driver who has experienced the displeasure of getting towed can attest, violating the city parking ban means inconvenience coupled with the high cost of fines, towing and storage fees. The Parking Department in City Hall is not a popular place to work on the day after a storm.

The Snowball Posse had local residents’ interests in mind when they broke into schoolyards. But the bolt cutters and bravado would not have been necessary if city officials, from the mayor down, communicated effectively on storm planning and clearly communicated with the public.

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