This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Wednesday, November 6th, 2013:
Atlantans obviously weren’t paying attention when President Obama flew into town to endorse and promote their mayor in his reelection campaign. If they had been, they would have known something was wrong. He praised the mayor for his
fiscal stewardship of the city, [his] investment in young people, [his] commitment to public safety, and [his] efforts to improve infrastructure and create well-paying jobs and business opportunities in the city and state for all Georgians.
Except and unless you are (or were) a street vendor. In that case you’re out of luck.
Prior to 2008, vendors were allowed to hawk their wares at Five Points in downtown Atlanta and at Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves, without a problem. They were required, under the old law, to pay a $250 annual fee for a permit to do so, and vendors showed up in places all across the city without being hassled.
But in 2008 the Atlanta city council decided to intervene. Council gave Chicago-based General Growth Properties (GGP), in a no-bid contract, exclusive rights to all vending in the city. Under the new law, vendors would continue to have to pay the permit fee but would also be required to use only GGP kiosks and carts, with fees ranging from $6,000 to $20,000 a year for the privilege.
The public interest law firm Institute for Justice (IJ) got involved and sued, claiming that the vendors’ right to make a living was being infringed. Superior Court Judge Shawn Ellen LaGrua agreed with the vendors and vacated the law, leaving the old one in place.
But the mayor – the one, remember, who was praised by Obama for creating “well-paying jobs and business opportunities in the city” – decided, unilaterally, that what Judge LaGrua really meant was that both the old law and the new one were thrown out, leaving the city – horror of horrors! – without any vendor law in place at all, leaving Atlantans at the mercy of the unregulated free market in vending. This couldn’t be allowed! This had to stop!
So Reed ordered his Chief of Police, one George Turner, to arrest any vendor who showed up in his regular place after LaGrua’s ruling. Headlines were made when a hot dog vendor wound up in jail.
LaGrua then issued a “clarification” designed specifically for lawyer-trained Reed to understand: she vacated the new law, not the old one. The old one is still in force. Stop arresting vendors. Start issuing vendor permits, Mr. Mayor.
Reed ignored her. Vendors missed the playoffs at Turner Field.
In October LaGrua decided to get down and dirty, mean and nasty, and deliver a message to Reed, using something called a “writ of mandamus,” which, in clear terms, demanded that Reed and Turner obey the law or face the consequences.
At this point, Reed, if he were truly interested in the public welfare and creating jobs and business opportunities and all that other stuff mentioned by that other hubris-lathered politician, The Great One, would have given it up and let life for the vendors get back to normal.
When a writer for the Atlanta Journal got wind of all this, he dropped the hammer on the mayor, saying, “Where I disagree with Reed is the notion that he has the right to flout the law while he proposes changes [to the law]. His actions will have cost these vendors an entire year of earning a living….”
Reed got mad and wrote a scathing response to the author of the Atlanta Journal article, using personal invective and ad hominem attacks to deride the author and deflect the criticism levied. His response is worth reading, at least in part:
On reading your column it would appear that you are not accustomed to responses from the targets of your frequently inaccurate, and often misleading, editorial columns. Instead, your attacks are typically allowed to pass unchecked….
And then the mayor went on in his response, in a classic case of dissembling and misdirection, to explain the reason he wasn’t following the law or the judge’s demands: he was working on a new law that was better than the old law, and the judge and the vendors would just have to wait until he rolled out the new one:
My administration has consistently promised a best-in-class vending program by the end of the year … that includes best practice recommendations to address [vendor] appearance, … saleable items, permissible locations and enforcement….
We are working to guarantee that by December we [will] launch a fair program that supports our commitment to fair competition and expanded small business opportunities.
The lawyers at IJ threatened a contempt of court charge against both Reed and Turner, and that’s when things started happening, real fast. Reed decided that a contempt charge just might hamper his reelection campaign – just one more thing to worry about – and suddenly moved his nascent “vendor-friendly” bill up from December to the day before his election. When members of the city council met on Monday, November 4th, at 1PM, lo and behold, there at each member’s place, was the new vendor bill, all ready for passing and signing. Which they did, in about 15 minutes. The mayor signed it into law, and, for him, the matter was over, done and forgotten. The city attorney said it well:
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.
With the passage of this ordinance we believe that it is [now] moot that the mayor or [the chief] cannot be in contempt of this court’s order….
We, of course, also assert that we were never in contempt of this order.
The judge’s ruling on contempt charges is due by Friday. The mayor has been reelected. The vendors are suing, again, with help from IJ, that the new bill is just as unfair as the old one. And all just because another self-righteous politician decided he was above the law and the courts.
When the Wall Street Journal picked up the story, its lead began:
For overbearing city government, Northeasterners claim a special expertise. But for sheer hostility to small business, it’s hard to compete with Kasim Reed.
Let’s see how Reed puts his happy face on the pending contempt charge come Friday.
Atlanta Daily World: President Barack Obama Endorses Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed For Re-Election
The Wall Street Journal: Atlanta Hawkers The mayor defies court orders letting street vendors earn a living.
CBS Atlanta: Atlanta passes last-minute vending law
Atlanta-Journal-Constitution: Kasim Reed doubles down on false narrative in street-vendor fight
Atlanta-Journal-Constitution: Reed vs. the vendors
From the Mayor’s Office: Mayor Reed Responds to Second Misleading AJC Column On Public Property Vending
Atlanta-Journal-Constitution: Results: Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed re-elected to second term