NEW ORLEANS -- Two city taxicab inspectors who regulate the French Quarter walking tour guides have both been disciplined in the past for their performance, according to documents released Wednesday by the city attorney.
An attorney for some French Quarter walking tour groups filed a petition in Civil District Court to force the city of New Orleans to turn over the disciplinary records, two weeks after attorney Tom Shlosman submitted his public records request for the documents.
He submitted the request as part of an investigation into a recent crackdown by city inspectors on the walking tour groups. Four different companies say they plan to file a federal lawsuit against the city related to what they describe as harassment of their guides.
Their inquiry began before a confrontation between tour guide Wendy Bosma and City Taxicab Inspector Wilton Joiner. The altercation over Bosma’s license ended with her pinned up against a car, and her arm bruised by Joiner after he told police she snatched her license away from him as he was trying to seize it.
The Landrieu administration placed Joiner on an emergency suspension as New Orleans police and the city administration conduct investigations into the incident.
Meanwhile, other tour groups began making statements about what they maintain is harassment by inspectors as a perceived crackdown on nighttime tours began in late October.
“One of the clients asked me one night: what's going on? They thought we were criminals because of the way they were treating us on the street,” said Thomas Cook, Owner of Witch’s Brew Tours.
Cook has been battling the city over his tour guide license. He said it was revoked because of a “diluted” drug test result, something he disputes. He recently filed for a stay in Civil District Court to return him his license and allow him to work while he appeals the revocation.
A judge granted the stay, yet Cook said the taxicab bureau refused to reinstate his license. The Landrieu administration would not comment directly on Cook’s case.
It’s another example of recent problems between tour guides and the taxicab bureau. Saturday’s altercation has many of them up in arms.
“Who would batter a lady? It is just ridiculous,” Cook said.
Documents received by Shlosman Wednesday detailed the disciplinary record of the inspector accused of the weekend battery. The records show Wilton Joiner was reprimanded as recently as October 2013 for “unacceptable performance.”
He was also reprimanded in 2012 and placed on emergency suspension in 2011 for allegedly violating the city’s take-home vehicle policy. Tour guides say a second city inspector has also been harassing them since October. And documents received by Shlosman show he was reprimanded in May 2013. Blake was also suspended in 2011 for his alleged involvement in scheme to allow some taxicabs to bypass inspection.
The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute him.
“They need to start over with some people that's professional and they actually need to do some training because they're in serious need of some training in how to treat people. It's ridiculous,” Cook said.
After reviewing the records, Shlosman said, “Both Joiner and Blake have committed serious infractions in the past that were worthy of their termination. When our city officials don't hold their employees accountable and take the proper disciplinary actions, situations like this occur."
Citing the ongoing investigation into the alleged battery over the weekend, city leaders would not comment on whether the head of the Taxicab Bureau, Malachi Hull, is under investigation.
He was at the scene at the time of the incident and cell phone video shows he did not intervene.
When asked whether the city was conducting a coordinated crackdown on the walking tours, Communications Director for Mayor Mitch Landrieu Garnesha Crawford said, “As part of the taxi cab reforms, the City has worked to completely overhaul the Taxi Cab Bureau, so that it provides better service to the industry and the public. For example, the City installed security cameras at the Bureau, moved from cash-only to accepting credit cards, and decreased wait times for vehicle inspections by scheduling appointments. We’ve come a long way, but there is still work that needs to be done.”