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As blizzard death toll rises, Fillmore District councilman calls for an official inquiry into the city's response

With two more blizzard-related deaths confirmed Friday, Councilman Mitch Nowakowski calls for an official inquiry in to the city's response to the blizzard.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz confirmed Friday that there were two more blizzard-related deaths in Erie County. 

The death toll, countywide, is now 43. The overwhelming majority of deaths occurred in the City of Buffalo. 

"It's important that after this experience, we look inward," Fillmore District Common Council member Mitch Nowakowski said. "We see what deficiencies happened, what we did good and we formulate a response to be better because there's always room for improvement."

Nowakowski on Friday called for an official inquiry into the city's response to the storm. As part of that inquiry, the Fillmore District councilman sent a letter with 21 bulletpoints worth of questions to Mayor Byron Brown's office. You can read the letter at the bottom of this story. 

Earlier this week, Mayor Brown called announced a study with New York University's Wagner School of Public Service will release that analyzes the city's response. 

In the wake of the storm, Mayor Brown called for patience when it came to ideas about what the city needs to respond to future storms. 

"We don't want to knee jerk reaction to things," Mayor Brown said. "We don't want to act out of emotion, this community does not have the resources to do that."

Mayor Brown then announced a new commissioner position that will report directly to him, a so-called fleet director that will oversee the equipment of the DPW, as well as the fire and police departments. 

This new commissioner be paid an estimated $110,000 to $120,000 per year, according to the mayor. 

Nowakowsi says he and other councilmembers believe the city needs an emergency services manager above anything else. 

"I want to stress to folks that we have small municipalities in comparison to Buffalo, like Hamburg and Amherst, who have a full time emergency manager who not only coordinates but plans and deploys a coordinated emergency effort during natural disasters," Nowakowski said. 

Currently, the responsibility of emergency manager falls upon the shoulders of Fire Commissioner William Renaldo. 

A city spokesperson has confirmed with 2 On Your Side that Renaldo was not in Buffalo during the height of the storm and was out of town tending to a family matter. 

Nowakowski said that the entire responsibility of emergency management shouldn't be the fire commissioners. 

"The fire commissioner has his own duties," Nowakowski said. " When you just add another layer as emergency manager, you really dilute the response of emergency management."

Nowakowski and other councilmembers have expressed they want to see amendments made to the annual snow plan, of which the council approves each year, to include larger snow storms and blizzards. 

WGRZ asked Nowakowski if the council bears some of the responsibility of the city's response to the storm since they were the elected body to actually approve it. 

"Yes, the county council approved a snow plan, but when you're thinking about in the totality of a snow plan, we never lived through a blizzard," Nowakowski said. "So we didn't know, you know, it's it's not fair to say that, we should have put in a blizzard."

"Really, that Blizzard response should be in an emergency response," Nowakowski said. 

The most recent blizzard prior to the one in December 2022, as defined by the National Weather Service, was January 6, 2014. Mayor Brown was just beginning his third term as mayor at the time. 

The next common council meeting is on Tuesday, January 10. 

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