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City Council, April 13

Mayor steadfast against carriage tours during Blue Angel flights
Council agrees to televise meetings
Marc Knapp

We would not attempt to fault the Mayor on his dogged opposition to allowing horse carriages on the road during the Blue Angels’ performance this coming weekend. He clearly thought that public safety was a far more important consideration than the lost revenues of the carriage companies. The Mayor proposed a means of letting the operators recoup lost revenues but this was not sufficient for some Council members who continued, though unsuccessfully, to support the recommendations of the Traffic and Transportation Committee. The Committee had proposed a compromise solution which allowed carriages, without passengers, on the street on Thursday when the first flights would occur. If the horses remained controllable, carriages would be allowed to operate as usual over the weekend during the Blue Angel exhibitions.

We did not attend the Traffic and Transportation meeting but apparently it was long. The Committee comprises the Mayor, and Council members Wilson, Mallard, Seekings, and Hallman. The Committee heard comment for the carriage operators, all of whom sought to continue carriage tours during the Blue Angel flights. They argued that the horses were used to noise and were unlikely to be spooked by the aircraft. They also said that they would be the first to take the carriages off the road if they thought there was danger. They had too much to lose if there were an accident. The compromise was suggested, as mentioned earlier, where a trial would be held with passenger-less carriages. At the vote, only the Mayor and Council member Wilson were opposed and were in the minority. The compromise carried.

And it seems that Council cannot override the decision of the Committee. Only the Committee can amend or revoke its decision.

At the Council meeting that followed on the Committee meeting, the Mayor noted that the City’s Police, EMS and Tourism departments had requested the cessation of carriage tours during the flights. City Attorney Andrews also addressed Council on the issue and effectively said that the City was open to a legal suit if an accident with a horse carriage occurred during the Blue Angels’ performance. This was all hard to ignore particularly as the Air Force had also recommended the cessation of carriage tours.

We were impressed by the description by Council member Reigel who has experienced the impact on the ground of low flying aircraft breaking the speed of sound. He said the event is seismic – you feel the thud before you hear the sound. By implication, it was a very physical event. He also noted that at the Shaw Air force base, there was a strip about 10 miles long over which fighter planes traveled for bombing runs and in which there were no horses. Presumably the environment was not conducive to their keeping.

We liked Council member White’s concluding remarks. Maybe the discussion will be moot for when the writers of insurance policies learn that the operators plan to conduct tours, if allowed during the Blue Angels performance, they will restrain the operators.

The Mayor got his way ( sort of ) and Council; despite the opposition by Council members Mallard, Seekings, Gallant and Hallman, voted to request that the Traffic and Transportation Committee not allow carriage tours during the Blue Angel performances. As a compromise, the carriage companies would be allowed to operate beyond normal hours during a period to be defined by the City and the operators, to enable lost revenues to be recouped.

But the final say remains with the Traffic and Transportation Committee.

Council agrees to broadcast meetings
There was remarkable unanimity on the issue of televising Council meetings. The issue was first raised, at least recently, by Council member Gregorie. The Mayor and some other Council members were less than enthusiastic. Only Council member Waring yesterday voted against broadcasting. He said that he feared some Council members would use it as an opportunity for grandstanding.

Council last night agreed to allow the siting of one camera .in Council chambers to broadcast proceedings. Comcast would be the operator but would distribute the tape to the other two cable companies in the City. Comcast would air the tape at 8pm on the Wednesday following the Council meeting and again on the following Friday but at 4.30pm. Council would review the issue again in 90 days after broadcasting begins.

Council was told at earlier meetings that the use of a single camera was not optimal, and that considering the seating arrangements at City Hall, only the back of heads would be shown of some Council members. The alternative was to set up 3 cameras and be able to focus on each Council member when appropriate. This would cost $80,000 to set up but only about $2,000 a year to maintain.

Council members and the Mayor thought the cheaper option was the better. Nobody wanted to spend $80,000 in these tough times and with the City having difficulty balancing its budget. But it seems to us, that a one time cost of $80,000 and minimal operating costs is not a heavy financial burden for a City with a budget near $125 million. If you are going to do a job, do it properly! And to do it properly, there should be three cameras!

Agrees to the Sustainability Committee ordinance
Council last night adopted the Sustainability Committee ordinance. The creation was first suggested by Council members concerned about some proposals in the City’s Green Plan. The Committee is tasked to vet any proposal by the Green Committee that would lead to a change in a City ordinance. The Committee will consist of half the members of Council and representatives of other entities such as SCE&G, the SPA and the Metro Chamer of Commerce. The Council members will rotate on and off the Committee each year.

Council also agreed, as did the Mayor, to provide Council meeting agendas to Council members a day earlier than at present. This was requested by Council member Hallman who thought there was insufficient time presently for Council members to review all material.

I also rose in Citizens Participation to comment on the extremely poor management of the City Storm Water crews. On a number of occasions over the last 2 weeks, I passed a site where a crew was supposedly working. On one occasion, three members of a crew were sleeping in a truck. As a licensed road and utilities contractor, I know the time it takes to perform work. It took 8 City employees and 5 trucks a week to achieve what would have taken 3 of my employees a day. I also commented that I continue to observe that many City employees fail to wear seat belts.

I called the Mayor some days ago on the issues and he was gracious enough after the conclusion of my comments last night to say that he had acted on my observations. He also said that it was strict policy of the City to ensure high safety standards and City employees must wear safety belts.

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