An 11th hour ordinance from the Atlanta City Council appears to have kept Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed from being found in contempt of court.
One day before Atlanta voters head to the polls in what is expected to be an easy victory for Reed, the Council voted 11-2 to pass a vending ordinance proposed by Reed that allows some of the city’s vendors to return to work. The bill was passed Monday, on the day his representatives were in court to answer to the contempt charge.
The Monday court appearance stemmed from Reed’s refusal to provide permits to local vendors who have thrice challenged the mayor’s ban on public vending in court. Most recently, Superior Court Judge Shawn Ellen LaGrua issued a writ of mandamus to Reed and the city to allow the city’s vendors to renew their business. The writ was issued on Oct. 8, ordering Reed and Atlanta Police Chief George Turner to immediately issue vending permits.
On the same day, the City Council passed an ordinance to allow a number of vendors back to work. In light of the ordinance, LaGrua said she would take the ruling under advisement. Robert Frommer, an attorney from the Institute for Justice, a firm representing the vendors, expects the LaGrua to return with a ruling within the week.
“We’re confident the mayor’s lawless actions merit a finding of contempt,” said Fromer, who also critcized the City Council.
“Today the city council unfortuantely ratified Mayor Reed’s lawlessness,” he added, “despite months and months of the vendors not working, the city council had a mad dash to ram through a new vending bill in two weeks time, to the point that when they introcued the bill it was completely blank. It was all done in the attempt to prevent this court from correctly ruling that Mayor Reed’s actions were lawless in the past and they’re lawless now.”
The ordinance will allow 31 vendors to operate on public streets in downtown Atlanta in its first phase and in its second phase, which city officials say would begin early next year, more than 50 locations for carts across the city, including on the Atlanta Beltline. The ordinance also requires vendors to own a cart of kiosk, which Miller says will prevent the majority of vendors from being able to work.
City officials also said in the ordinance that vendors will not be allowed to return to the downtown Five Points area, which was previously a very popular location for vendors, but prompted complaints from visitors and Atlanta residents.
Reed was represented in court by City of Atlanta Senior Assistant City Attorney Amber A. Robinson, who argued that neither Reed nor Turner should be held in contempt as the recently passed ordinance fulfilled the city’s obligation to follow the writ of mandamus.
“Within the hour the Atlanta City Council has signed a vending ordinance, which was signed by the mayor this very afternoon and is law at this point,” Robinson told LaGrua during the hearing. “With the passage of this ordinance we believe that it is moot that the mayor or Sheriff Turner cannot be in contempt of this court’s order, ordering the city to issue permits under the ordinance produced today. However, we, of course, also assert that we were never in contempt of this order.”
LaGrua said in light of the ordinance’s passage she would need “a week or so” to take under advisement the plaintiff’s motion.
The ruling left a sour taste in the mouth of the Atlanta vendors.
“I don’t feel good at all,” said Larry Miller, president of the Atlanta Vendors Association, told the Daily World exclusively. “I think this is a whole bunch of malarkey… As you see, they passed it on expeditiously, ran it over to the mayor’s office, he signed it and the courier ran it to the court room. It was only to save his butt from contempt.”
The proposal also does not allow vending near Turner Field, though city officials have said that vendors can sell on nearby private property.