Written by: Heather Clemenceau
Recently, CONA (Carriage Operators of North America) which is supposed to be a professional organization for carriage operators, held their 2014 convention in Atlanta, Georgia. CONA represents the interests of both special events livery operations as well as the hackline carriages in NYC and elsewhere, although now with two NYC Board of Directors, it would seem that the group’s interest is evolving more towards hackline operations. Both Nottingham Shire & Carriage and Fantasy Carriage of Atlanta run curbside operations waiting for fares in downtown Atlanta. Neither carriage operator’s website depicts what the horse and carriage accommodations really look like, and the Fantasy Carriage website doesn’t even show a pic of a single horse. There’s a good reason for that.
Complaints about these two operations include, but aren’t limited to inadequate housing facilities for the equines – terrible windowless dungeon-like accommodations or run-in sheds only, as well as….
- Bad shoeing
- Lame horses
- Paddocks filled with deep mud
- Diaper bags that constantly leak the contents down horses legs
- Horses in downtown traffic
- Driving infractions
- Horses that are retired as unfit being seen on the street shortly thereafter
- Lack of identification for individual horses
- Drivers hired and expected to perform their jobs without general horse knowledge…
- …and a lack of available water troughs anywhere in the city beyond the confines of the stables themselves. (Water supplies having been turned off to prevent homeless people from accessing them – speaks volumes about the attitudes towards the homeless too, doesn’t it?)
But one of the most critical problems with the horse drawn carriage industry in Atlanta is lack of enforcement of the laws that govern the carriages and protect the working horses. In Atlanta, the horse drawn carriage
regulations are supposed to be enforced by the officers of the Division of Taxicabs and Vehicles for Hire, a department headed up by someone who also spoke on behalf of the carriage industry at the CONA convention. Cedric Burse, a public sector employee working in the police force, has delivered a segment on “dealing with annoying animal rights activists.” Here’s how his talk was described in the CONA agenda:
“CEDRIC A BURSE, Director, Bureau of Taxicabs and Vehicles for Hire, City of Atlanta Do you need inspiration when it comes to dealing with annoying animal rights activists in your town? Ever wonder about improving communication with your city and your carriage business? Cedric Burse will be discussing these topics among other subjects as he discusses Stakesholders in Atlanta. Included in his conversation he will be discussing his challenges with animal rights activists regarding the horse drawn carriage industry in Atlanta and his unique approach to address the issues regarding both sides. His experience will help you prepare to handle potential problems that may arise in your town. Burse brings twenty years of leadership and management experience to the Atlanta Police Department’s Taxicab and Vehicles for Hire Section.”
What is a member of the police force doing advising a private group how to handle lawful protesters and possibly, avoid the law? And why not counsel these two members of CONA in raising the standards of living for their animals and putting some decent weight on many of them? Voluntarily fixing a lot of these issues would mean fewer complaints from animal activists, would it not?
Aside from being an all-around bad idea, Burse’s talk appears to be a rather problematic conflict of interest. His impartiality and the impartiality of his department now becomes suspect. In a worse-case scenario, conflict can become misconduct.
Burse holds a position where he may be required to mete out criticism or enforcement to carriage owners, which apparently hardly anyone ever does, because those charged with enforcing the laws are either unwilling or unable to recognize violations or health/lameness issues with horses. Judging by the agenda description alone, Burse’s little talk does not appear to be any sort of “conflict resolution” themed presentation, but one of dealing with people who make justifiable criticisms of their industry. The Atlanta Police do have a code of ethics where they are expected to disclose incompatible interests, even though it is better not to allow such conflicts to present themselves in the first place.
Overall, there seems to be a disturbing amount of confusion as to who has the responsibility of enforcing the ordinances relating to the horse drawn carriages. On multiple occasions, officers of the Atlanta Police Department have ignored or refused to respond to calls if the subject of the call was the horse drawn carriages. The Department of Taxicabs and Vehicles for Hire does not staff an officer at all times the carriages are in operation. On occasions when someone from that department has responded, officers have stated they are not comfortable issuing citations to the carriage drivers because they lack sufficient training and/or knowledge to enforce the ordinances as it relates to equines and/or the equine drawn vehicles.
The issue of enforcement for infractions has been a longstanding problem for Atlanta’s urban horses. Naturally, all public sector officials have a duty to put the public interest above their own personal or private interests when carrying out their official duties. They cannot put the interests or individuals or groups ahead of that of the community, or in the case of Atlanta carriage horses – the animals themselves. If officials have conflicts that are unavoidable, they need to be totally up-front about those conflicts, be they financial, ideological, or personal. Even the appearance alone of a conflict is detrimental to law enforcement activities.