Editorial: Putting toothpaste back in the tube
Michael Gold, Editor
HISTORIC CITY NEWS
Ever try to put the toothpaste back in the tube?
Once it squirts out, that’s it — you own it; and, like all the evils known to man that came gushing out of Pandora’s Box, once open, it’s not so easy to put things back the way they were and replace the lid.
The St Augustine City Commission is about to approve a new ordinance, after the nuisance of listening to public comments, that will amend the City Code regulating drinking in public — but the only people who will benefit are the operators of horse-drawn carriages.
St Augustine Police discovered that on Saturday, August 31, 2013, one carriage operator, The Tasting Tours LLC, was illegally advertising and providing alcoholic beverages to customers, and allowing those beverages to be consumed on the public streets, highways, sidewalks, parking lots or public parking lots of the City while they were riding aboard the company’s open-air carriages.
On September 3, 2013, after the incident with police, JoAnna P. Engel, co-owner of The Tasting Tours LLC, delivered a letter to the mayor, and each commissioner, admitting that their company has been doing tours with wine for three years.
“We are asking for help in modifying this ordinance to allow wine on the carriages only,” Engel wrote in her letter. “We feel that this small change will allow us to continue to showcase our beautiful city with our romantic tours.”
In the next sentence, Engle contradicts herself, saying, “Please understand, we are NOT trying to change the open container ordinance, we only wish to allow the carriages to operate under the Limo License and have wine.”
So, which is it? Are you asking for help “modifying this ordinance” and to make “this small change”, or, are you “NOT trying to change the open container ordinance”. Sorry, but you can’t be doing both, since your activity is a direct violation of the City’s Code of Ordinances.
Engle also wrote, “After some research we discovered that the city ordinance prohibits ANY open container with alcohol.” OK, that’s the whole point; it’s why the police stopped your carriage.
“When we opened our company, we were told, by more than one Carriage Company, that their “limo licenses” covered all wine consumption on board,” Engle wrote.
Are you serious? You consulted a carriage company for legal advice? Really? So, now, you are consulting the City Attorney, Ron Brown, and city taxpayers are supposed to provide your business with free legal services? I don’t think so, in fact, I want to know why you weren’t cited or arrested on-the-spot.
“I contacted Ronald W. Brown, City Attorney, and was told that it seems someone has complained and now the ordinance must be enforced,” Engle wrote in her letter. “For years it was just not addressed and carriages were left alone to service the wedding industry and VIP guests with wine or champagne, but now all that has changed.”
Engle goes on to say that it was the City Attorney who suggested that she contact the commissioners and to ask for support to change this portion of the ordinance.
What the hell? You are allowed to openly violate the laws of our city over a three-year period and instead of prosecuting you, we are inviting you to invoke a political solution? If you don’t like the law, don’t obey the law and get the mayor to change the law?
Another concern residents should have is that if you make an exception for horse-drawn carriages, what are you going to tell other travel services vendors like the trains and trolleys? Don’t you think others will want to compete? The reason it hasn’t been done is because it is illegal. Law abiding businesses are working within the law, and it should be applied to everyone equally.
So much for toothpaste.
If you expect local business to abide by our local laws, you should attend the city commission meeting and speak against the expansion of open container laws to pacify a carriage driver. She should lose her carriage license, she should receive a citation, and she should cancel any bookings she has obtained by offering to provide an illegal service.
If you are planning to attend — the regular St. Augustine City Commission meeting will begin at 5:00 p.m. Monday and will be held in the Alcazar Room; on the first floor of City Hall, located at 75 King Street in St. Augustine. It will be broadcast live on Comcast Government TV (Cable Channel 3).