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Carriage Horse Committee November 15

Final ordinance likely by early next year
Public allowed to have another equine vet make a presentation
Warwick Jones

Committee member Tom Doyle was right. Progress in shaping the ordinance to protect carriage horses has been slow. We can't comment on the whole of the three years that the new ordinance has been in the making, but he is certainly right about the last few months. The draft ordinance placed before the Committee today was little different from that of some months ago.

Committee reluctant to pull the trigger?
There are probably differing views as to why there has been slow progress. From comments by members and a vote today, it would seem the Committee holds the public responsible - the public has been allowed too much say at the meetings. Our take is something different. We feel the Committee is reluctant to pull the trigger on the major thresholds of temperature, humidity and loads beyond which horses cannot work or pull. The thresholds demanded by the carriage operators are high and leave some members of the Committee uncomfortable. At the same time, the public has been vocal and has sought lower thresholds. So in the last few months, the Committee has been "treading water" and waiting for a life raft.

Did Dr Merriam really endorse the draft Ordinance?
The Committee probably hoped that the life raft would be thrown by Dr Merriam, an equine vet who was called in to speak to the Committee last month. He has lots of experience and was recommended by the American Association of Equine Veterinarians. The Committee must have been encouraged when he said he endorsed the draft ordinance when asked by Committee member Doyle. The public also wondered how Dr. Merriam could endorse the ordinance when he called the Temperature Humidity Index (THI) threshold of 180 and the temperature threshold of 98 degrees too high. He preferred 140 and 95 degrees respectively. He also thought that the NOAA-determined Heat Index was a better measurement of heat conditions than the THI

No change in draft thresholds
So having listened to Dr Merriam last month, it is understandable that the public was surprised to see that the draft ordinance had no changes in relation to these thresholds. And the public said so. And despite the protests of Committee member Doyle, the Committee agreed to allow an equine veterinarian of the public's choosing to make a presentation to the Committee at its meeting next month. Committee member Doyle also stated that he wanted a veterinarian of his choosing to also make a presentation. This was approved by the Committee.

We expect that after the presentations of the veterinarians, the Committee will move to turn the draft into a final. Whether that takes another 2 or 3 meeting we don’t know. But it shouldn't be much more. And there is no excuse why it should be much more.

Public comments to be limited
As has been evident from their comments, some Committee members have been upset by the degree of participation of the public that attend these meetings. If it were a fault, and we don't think it was, then it lies with the Committee members and the Chair. They should have insisted on specific times for public input. The Committee voted today to limit public comment to 10 minutes, at the beginning and end of meetings. Two opportunities for the public to speak at a meeting is generous by the standards of other City bodies. But if people are not allowed to speak because the overall time limit has been exceeded, it will be the harshest. We hope the Chair is judicious in limiting the time for all citizens to speak. We are unaware of any Board or Commission in the City that has stopped a citizen from speaking during the public participation period. Speeches have been limited to 3 minutes or so, but always every citizen has been allowed to speak.

We also note that the body is a Committee, not a Board or a Commission. It reports to the Tourist Commission. It has the task of developing an ordinance and therefore ought to seek public participation. Despite the feeling of some Committee members, the participation of the public in discussion has not held up progress, in our view. It may have contributed to the length of meetings but it has not interfered with the decision making process.

But public is left confused
Another decision by the Committee left the public puzzled and wondering whether it is being punished. Some months ago, the Committee at the instigation of Committee member Long asked that documents relating to issues that citizens planned to raise, be sent to members before a meeting. This would give time for members to study the issues. There was an about-face today when the City attorney told the public that they may be wasting their time. All documents should be submitted at the meeting, she said. Confusion followed.

Committee members need to prepare for meetings
We also note that the public has often come better prepared to meetings than Committee members. We expressed surprise today when some Committee members asked basic questions about the Heat Index. This was the Index that Dr Merriam recommended a month ago for determining heat and humidity thresholds. One could have reasonably expected with the ordinance in the last furlong that Committee members would have made some effort to learn about the Heat Index. Some didn't. It was up to the public to tell them that Mr. Doyle's suggestion of a Heat Index threshold of 130 would allow horses in Charleston to work in the "extremely dangerous" category on some days, and many days in the "dangerous" category as defined by NOAA.

Temperature, humidity and load are the main issues that need to be resolved but there are others. They relate to stall size, rest periods, and some other measures of a horse's physical condition. The Committee wrestled with a few of these issues today but the final resolution lies in the future.

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