Atlanta Mayor's Spat With Street Vendors Goes National

By:  Bob Adelmann
Atlanta Mayor's Spat With Street Vendors Goes National

If Atlanta's Mayor Kasim Reed had just followed the law and the court's ruling, his recent spat with street vendors would never have become national news.

A conservative journalist writing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) on Saturday, October 26, claimed that Atlanta’s mayor blatantly broke the law, and when a court demanded he uphold the law instead, he refused. The issue went national when the spat was picked up by the Wall Street Journal on Monday, the day before Atlanta voters were to go to the polls to reelect him.

It’s a perfect example of perfidy and hubris turning a local issue of little consequence into a national one.

Street vendors in Atlanta had for years been operating under a city council program allowing them to hawk their wares in various public locations, including the highly trafficked Five Points area, considered by Atlantans to be the very center of town, and Turner Field, home to the Atlanta Braves baseball team.

In 2009, the city council rewrote the rules, granting an exclusive contract for all public vending to a Chicago corporation, General Growth Properties (GGP), under which vendors would continue paying their $250 annual permit fee but in addition would be required to use only kiosks provided by GGP at an additional annual cost ranging from $6,000 to $20,000 a year.

The vendors went ballistic and sued the city, claiming that the new law was unconstitutional. In December 2012, Atlanta's Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shawn Ellen LaGrua agreed with the vendors and vacated the law, leaving the previous law in place. The only trouble was that Mayor Kasim Reed didn't see it that way. He claimed that LaGrua vacated both the offending program and the one that preceded it as well, leaving Atlanta with no law at all concerning vendors. And so he ordered his chief of police, George Turner, to start arresting vendors who showed up in their regular places, thinking they were allowed to work under the old law. 

In July Judge LaGrua clarified her ruling to note that only the offending law from 2008 was illegal, not the one that preceded it. Reed and Turner refused to allow vendors to operate anyway, so in early October, LaGrua issued a “writ of mandamus” ordering Reed and Turner to start issuing vendor permits under the old law.

And still they refused.

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