City names Snow Boss

Michael Kennedy is the city's first Snow Boss.

Said Kennedy, "Minneapolis should be a leader in snow plowing. That was one of the main impetuses in putting this [job] together."

Public Works Director Klara Fabry asked the City Council to create the position -- officially called the Director of Winter Operations -- earlier this year. She said she wanted to give a stronger focus to winter-related services to improve public safety and neighborhood livability.

Fabry went inside the Department for the first hire.

Kennedy started working for the department in 1990 as a staff engineer, he said. Most recently he worked as director of field services, overseeing approximately 500 employees working in street and bridge maintenance, sewer construction, paving and materials testing.

Kennedy's staff will research better trucks, more efficient plow routes, better deicing materials and other new technologies, he said.

He recently returned from the annual North American Snow Conference, a confab of Public Works officials working in snow-belt states. He learned the city of Philadelphia has a new automated phone service to alert residents when the city calls a snow emergency -- "a sort of reverse 911 system," he said.

Minneapolis and St. Paul are looking at the system, Kennedy said.

"People have talked about it for a long time, but the technology wasn't there," Kennedy said. "We don't know if it will work or if we can get it in play this year. Now with the ability to focus time and effort into it, we have a lot better chance."

Public Works staff has already begun planning for the next winter; already ordering road salt, Kennedy said. Still, winter planning is not a full-time summer job.

Kennedy also will oversee the approximately one dozen special service districts and do emergency response planning.

Property owners create special service districts to coordinate enhanced services such as holiday lights, banners or street sweeping. For instance, Nicollet Mall and the Uptown area have special service districts.

Typically, special service districts include a focus on snow and ice removal -- making them a logical fit for Kennedy's division, he said.

Kennedy also will respond to the increasing expectations the Department of Homeland Security has for Public Works departments, he said.

Historically, Public Works has had a secondary roll in emergency response -- anything from helping with traffic control and road barricades to providing loaders and staff for cleanups, he said.

Upper management has received emergency response training from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Plans are underway to train front-line management, foremen and drivers, and operation staff for larger scale emergencies, Kennedy said.