Reed calls for review of storm response; “I care deeply about you”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed called for a review on Friday of the city’s response to a winter storm that left thousands stranded across the region. And the mayor, who has endured one of his toughest weeks yet in office, laid out an action plan he hopes will help prevent another weather-induced gridlock.

Atlanta will also increasingly encounter icy winter storms like Leon, he said, because of climate change.

But first, Reed reprised an apology he delivered earlier this week, saying his “heart goes out” to drivers who spent untold hours in their cars and to children stuck in schools overnight.

“I am deeply sorry and regret terribly the pain and anguish many people felt beginning Tuesday afternoon into Wednesday,” he said. “… I want to make it clear to every single person who was impacted by this storm that I care deeply about you and about everything that happened to you.”

The mayor delivered his remarks to a host of reporters and politicos at a long-scheduled Atlanta Press Club event, where he announced a number of changes to his administration’s storm response plans in the wake of Snow Jam 2014.

Among them:

  • A review of the city's response.
  • A task force on weather preparedness, that will include developing a protocol for dismissal of students and workers.
  • Recruiting an Atlanta emergency management executive to coordinate with regional leaders.
  • Asking the Atlanta City Council for funds to buy additional vehicles capable of pre-treating and de-icing roads.

Reed has also asked The Weather Channel to participate in the task force to help Atlanta “become a weather-ready city.”

The mayor struck a markedly different tone than he did in a round of media interviews earlier this week, some in which he appeared fatigued and combative. A conciliatory Reed addressed the audience Friday, many of whom gave him a standing ovation at his introduction.

The mayor praised the city’s first responders, saying they worked in a “noble tradition.” He repeated that no Atlantans died during the ice event. He noted Atlanta streets were pre-treated by 9 a.m. Tuesday and 80 percent clear in about a day. He again asserted that the city performed better than it did in 2011, when streets were impassable for days.

Following that storm, the city spent $2.5 million on plows and spreaders. This time, he said, the city was able to return to work sooner.

“I can put up a lot of evidence Atlanta did learn its lessons (from 2011),” he said, but later acknowledged, “But it doesn’t help me to say ‘We were bad, but we were less bad.’”

The mayor even cracked a few jokes Friday, including that he was grateful his re-election was last fall (unlike for Gov. Nathan Deal, who faces his own re-election bid this November).

Reed noted there was one good outcome from the media storm that followed the winter storm: recognition of the region as an national economic player.

“About the only thing I was happy about the weather coverage is that they kept saying this is the ninth largest metropolitan area in America,” he said. “I was like, man, I had to get snowed on to have that.”

His reputation took a “severe hit” this week, he said, but vowed that Atlanta, which saw its gridlock splashed across newspaper and TV headlines across the country this week, would survive the national mocking.

“In terms of reputation nationally, I think we can earn it back day by day,” he said.