City responds to Decaturish investigation by discussing its ‘brand,’ promoting Beach Party
The city of Decatur issued its first public response to a recent investigative series published by Decaturish about the city’s efforts to remove an Atlanta-based popsicle vendor, King of Pops, from the city Square.
The city didn’t dispute any of the facts of the series. Instead, the city talked about its “brand” and encouraged people to attend city events, including the upcoming Beach Party.
To briefly recap: Decatur gave Steel City Pops, which has a brick and mortar store in Decatur, exclusive privileges to vend on the Decatur Square and in Harmony Park. King of Pops operated a cart on the square for years, but the city told the company to leave the square in May of 2018. The city says that this is because there’s a policy that the city should give preferences to local vendors, but no formal written policy exists. The city also contacted festivals and urged them to select Steel City Pops as a vendor in addition to, or instead of, King of Pops. The building Steel City Pops rents is owned by a member of the city’s Downtown Development Authority and one of the key players in this story, Assistant City Manager Lyn Menne, draws a retirement benefit from the DDA.
Experts on government ethics and policy, as well as some Decatur residents, criticized the city’s actions.
Scott Amey, general counsel for the nonpartisan watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, said the building being owned by a member of the DDA raises questions about whether the city is being objective here.
“I do think it raises impartiality questions, because you do have some people that are tied to the city government that have an interest,” he said.
William Perry, with Georgia Ethics Watchdogs, said, “The whole thing just stinks to high Heaven.”
“It definitely all sounds a little too cozy for my liking,” Perry said.
The city may have also exposed itself to a potential lawsuit.
Matthew Maguire, an Atlanta attorney who deals in government contract law, said King of Pops would have grounds to sue the city based on the wording of the 2017 ordinance the city adopted regulating food carts.
“King of Pops has a right to a permit under this ordinance,” Maguire said. “I’m assuming they meet all the requirements and the only reason they’re being denied is because they don’t have a brick and mortar business in Decatur and that’s not spelled out in here as the basis for denying a permit.”
Decaturish made the city aware of the conclusions of its investigation almost a month before the series ran. The city pledged to adopt a formal policy that would codify the city’s policy of giving preference to local businesses and define what a local business is. So far, the city hasn’t done that or discussed any other changes recommended in a recent editorial about this topic.
Local NPR affiliate WABE invited Decaturish to appear on “Closer Look” to discuss the series. WABE reached out to the city for comment prior to taping the show.
City Manager Andrea Arnold provided a response that didn’t address anything uncovered in the story. Instead, the response talked about the city’s “brand” and promoted the city’s upcoming Beach Party.
“Our downtown festivals and special events are an important component of our economic development program providing an opportunity to showcase and support the retail and restaurant businesses located here,” Arnold said. “The local non-profit organizers that organize the larger festivals are our colleagues and our partners. … These relationships have been built over many years and are sustained by mutual trust and respect with a common goal of creating positive, high quality events that support the city of Decatur brand.”
She said, “I am proud of the city’s long-standing practice of supporting local businesses and encouraging their participation at the city events and festivals. I hope that your listeners will visit Decatur soon and experience our special community firsthand.”
Arnold concluded her statement by inviting the public to the Decatur Beach Party on Friday, June 21. She noted the beach party will have “80 tons of sand” and that admission will be free.
Here is her full statement, provided to WABE:
Editor’s note: If you missed our series, be sure to check it out.