I don’t like polar vortexes and the only place I want ice is in a drinking glass but put me down as one who refuses to blame anybody for a bad week of winter weather. My experience has been that it happens just about every January and makes me appreciate springtime’s jonquils all the more. Sadly, that is not the case for Nathan Deal, the Governor of Georgia, or Kasim Reed, the Mayor of Atlanta.
Believe me, the two have been soundly bludgeoned by the nation’s media after one million people in Atlanta tried to flee Winter Storm Leon – all at the same time – and promptly bumped into one another on the ice-slick streets. Al Rocker, the usually jovial weatherman on The Today Show, got in one of the first licks when he decried “poor planning” but, let’s be honest, neither Deal nor Reed control the sky or what falls from it.
Television’s Matt Lauer wondered if Mayor Reed had “the best information possible” ahead of the storm and the Mayor explained frankly, “It’s not just my call ... the city of Atlanta, the state (freeway system) and the school systems are all separate.”
Governor Deal, trying to get re-elected with three opponents gleefully nipping at him, hardly fared better. “The appropriate thing to do is apologize for the inconvenience. I think we could have done a little better had we acted a bit earlier but it is always a guessing game.”
He’s right. The weather has been a guessing game since Noah’s neighbors laughed at him for building a boat. No one predicted that flurries would turn into an unprecedented “Gridlockalypse” that would strangle the entire South, and to blame the tractor-trailers that couldn’t get traction on the icy roads for the horrible gridlock is equally absurd. It happens all across the country when winter storms occur.
If temperatures are well below freezing, the salt is ineffective and, when they plunge into single digits, the melt promptly freezes again. While we appreciate the sand trucks and when we can steer clear of cars that are stuck, to cast blame on meteorologists or our elected officials for snow and ice is sheer stupidity. Don’t tell that to Mika Brzezinski, an MSNBC Morning Joe anchor who asked Reed on camera, “So who screwed up, Mayor?”
Reed responded, “We all have responsibility in government” and said there should have been “different judgment” on closing the schools earlier, sending children home first. “I’d really appreciate if Al Roker and Channel 11 would differentiate between the city of Atlanta and the state … we do not have responsibility for the interstate.”
The Georgia Department of Transportation oversees the interstate system in Atlanta, of course, but the obvious question was left unsaid: with the massive gridlock, what exactly could the DOT have done? Reed said that after the first 24 hours 80 percent of the roads in Atlanta were passable and that all the children forced to spend Tuesday night at city schools had been reunited with their families.
In coming days Atlanta officials will do the same thing that Birmingham, Chattanooga, Nashville and all other cities do – identify the lessons taught by Winter Storm Leon and learn from them. "People were making a lot of independent decisions," said the mayor. "What we will do in the future is try to coordinate that, and make a strong recommendation about how that should flow."
Governor Deal also asked reporters what would have happened “if” officials had closed the city down and nothing happened. "We don't want to be accused of crying wolf,” he said. “Because if we had been wrong, y'all would have all been in here saying, `Do you know how many millions of dollars you cost the economies of the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia by shutting down businesses all over this city and this state?’”
But the Governor didn’t try to dodge the inevitable bullets and barbs. "I accept responsibility for the fact that we did not make preparation early enough to avoid these consequences," he said at a press conference. "I am not satisfied with the response that was made," he admitted.
"Having said that I'm not satisfied, I'm not looking for a scapegoat," Deal added. "I'm the governor, the buck stops with me."