Decatur plans to advertise vendor cart opportunities to all local businesses starting in 2020Decatur City Hall
The city of Decatur will advertise opportunities to put a vendor cart on the Square starting in 2020, Assistant City Manager Lyn Menne says.
Menne talked about the city’s plans to expand the vendor cart program during the City Commission’s July 15 meeting. At that meeting, commissioners approved a vendor cart for a local ice cream shop, Butter & Cream. The cart would be placed on the far eastern end of the plaza or the far western end of the plaza.
Menne said that while the city has an ordinance regulating vendor carts adopted in 2017 and a vendor cart pilot program approved back in March, the city hasn’t adopted a formal process for permitting and regulating vendor carts.
“We do have an ordinance you all approved for the city of Decatur,” Menne said. “What has not been done is to develop policies and procedures … That’s what we need to do and that’s what we intend to do for the 2020 season. The deadline I’ve given staff is to have all of this information ready by the first of the year so we can get all of the information out to our local businesses so they know what the policies are.”
Prior to the July 15 City Commission meeting, only one local business received permission to operate a cart on the Square: Steel City Pops. A recent Decaturish investigation revealed that the city took numerous steps to promote Steel City Pops while pushing the company’s primary competitor, King of Pops, out of the Decatur Square.
Decatur gave Steel City Pops exclusive privileges to vend on the Decatur Square and in Harmony Park. 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. Butter & Cream had inquired about putting a cart on the Square previously, but was not invited to submit a proposal when Steel City Pops and King of Pops submitted theirs.
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 people making decisions about vendor carts, Menne, draws a retirement benefit from the DDA.
The 2017 ordinance adopted by the City Commission doesn’t say anything about only giving spots to businesses located in the city of Decatur. The ordinance simply says the city “shall” issue a permit to any applicant who qualifies.
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.”
King of Pops hasn’t threatened the city with a lawsuit.
Prior to the publication of the Decaturish investigation, city officials promised to adopt a proposal outlining the city’s policy of giving preference to local vendors, but no proposal has been presented to the City Commission.
City Manager Andrea Arnold and Mayor Patti Garrett said the city may go back and make changes to the 2017 ordinance.
“That’s part of the reason of having the pilot project,” Arnold said. “As issues have come up during the process, we can use that to inform what we do with the policies and procedures and also make a determination if that ordinance in 2017 needed edits as well.”
Commissioner Kelly Walsh asked Menne if the commission would be asked to approve carts for individual vendors going forward.
“We need to look at the ordinance and see,” Menne said. “We would prefer not to have to bring that back to you all and put you all in that position, that you would authorize through this ordinance that’s in place [to allow] us to do that, that we would talk over the policies and procedures that we’re proposing, but it would be something done administratively.”
Editor’s note: Some information in this story was obtained by viewing a live video stream of the July 15 Decatur City Commission meeting.