Carriage Deal Riles Many Charleston Residents

April 30, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveSome weeks ago, we suggested that the relationship between the Mayor Joe Riley and Charleston City Council members had reached an inflection point. Council was no longer a rubber stamp of the mayor’s policies but had found its own independent voice.

This past week’s meeting reinforced this observation.

Among important issues before council this past Tuesday: To allow the horse carriage companies to make up time lost when operations were closed down during the Blue Angels’ performance.

The horse carriage issue was complex and it can be argued that no ordinance would have been before council if the mayor had his way early in the issue.

As we’ve said before, we welcome the independence of council. And we also welcome the seemingly greater willingness of the administration to listen the citizens’ comments. But having said that, we suspect some decisions have been shaped not by the facts, but the desire to give the mayor a “bloody nose.”

Scoring off the mayor who has held council in thrall for many years may seem a fun sport. But it does not make for good government. Issues should be judged in good faith and on the facts.

On the horse carriage issue, viewers may recall that the Traffic and Transportation Committee voted the week before the Blue Angels’ performance to allow the carriage companies to make “passenger-free tours” during the practice flights of the Blue Angels on the Thursday before the weekend show.

If there were no incidents, the carriage companies would be allowed to operate during the hours of the show over the weekend. The mayor, as a member of the committee (which consists of the mayor and four council members) opposed this and wanted no tours during the performance.

At the subsequent council meeting, Riley sought approval to request the committee to change its decision. He cited the risk of horses being spooked by the noise of the aircraft and the possibility of injuries, and the liability of the city should there be injuries.

He suggested that the carriage companies be offered the opportunity to make up time that was lost by extending the hours of operation in some period in the future. Council supported him, though the vote was not unanimous.

At subsequent meetings of the Traffic and Transportation Committee and the carriage companies, the latter agreed to take their carriages off the street during the Blue Angel show. But the carriage companies wanted compensation.

They made three suggestions:

  • Payment of $120,000;
  • Extend operations for an extra hour every day during April 2011; and
  • Extend operations 13 hours, the estimated time lost over the three days.

The committee agreed to option No. 2. Council voted during its meeting earlier this week to endorse the deal made by the committee. But it did so over the objections of the neighborhoods through which the carriages travel.

Several citizens rose to protest against any compensation. It was a precedent for further claims from the carriage companies and others. One speaker represented the City’s Neighborhood Consortium and noted that its members voted, with one exception, to oppose any compensation.

He and others said that the neighborhoods were not consulted about any extension of carriage tour hours. It was the citizens who were being inconvenienced. And the cessation of operations during such things as the Blue Angels’ performance was a “cost of doing business.”

King Street retailers did not seek or get compensation when business was impacted by street closures. Citizens received no compensation when streets were closed for bridge runs, tours, etc.

These views were also expressed by a number of neighborhood association presidents.

There certainly was some sympathy for the neighborhoods and Riley even suggested that the city had acted wrongly in the issue. He promised that this was not a precedent and that citizens would be consulted should future and similar issues arise.

But the deal had been struck and it would be bad for the city to renege on its promise to the carriage companies. All agreed except council members Aubry Alexander and Gary White Jr., who sought a deferral.

What wasn’t mentioned last Tuesday was a particular passage in the city ordinance that has some relevance, in our opinion:

Article V. Division 1 Transportation of Animal drawn vehicles Sec.29-202 (5)
City Council further finds that the operation of animal drawn vehicles on the public streets is a privilege and not a right and such operation is for the benefit of the public.

Unfortunately, the views of the public weren’t sought.