Tupelo backs away from controversial food truck regulations. But some on council still playing favorites.

By Aaron Rice
October 23, 2018

The city of Tupelo appears to have backed away from controversial regulations that would have prohibited food trucks from most high-traffic areas in the city.

But some city leaders continue their push for protections for brick-and-mortar restaurants at the expense of food truck operators.

During Monday’s work session, the city released the proposed regulations. According to the Daily Journal, this includes additional licensure and some limitations on parking but lacks the restrictions on setting up on Main and Gloster Streets, the two most prominent retails areas in the city, as originally discussed.

“We have not been protectionist and made any distance requirements between competing business,” Ben Logan, city attorney said.

Mayor Jason Shelton, a Democrat, added, “I want to be pro-business,” Shelton said. “I don’t think we need more restrictions on businesses. I think we need to look at restrictions to take away.”

New regulations have been in the works for some time now, with support for restrictions from both Democrats and Republicans.

Earlier this year, Councilman Willie Jennings said, in proposing the regulations, “I just want to make sure the established businesses are protected.” Another councilman, Markel Whittington, said brick-and-mortar restaurants have requested food truck regulations. While he didn’t feel food trucks posed a ‘threat’ to those restaurants, he believed it was appropriate for government to act ‘on behalf of select business interests.’

“I think we have to protect some of our taxpayers and high employers,” he said.

And even yesterday, Councilman Mike Bryan lobbied for brick-and-mortar restaurant protections, such as a ban on major roads. Another councilman, Buddy Palmer, also indicated his support for a ban.

“I feel like it is not fair to brick-and-mortar businesses to allow food trucks to park in front of their business,” Bryan said.

“I will always be pro-downtown businesses over food trucks,” Palmer said. “I am for brick-and-mortar businesses much more than I am for food trucks.”

When Tupelo leaders began discussing food truck regulations, Mississippi Justice Institute, the legal arm of Mississippi Center for Public Policy, sent a letter to the city warning of litigation if these regulations passed.

“The very regulation Tupelo is discussing—a regulation about how close a food truck should be to a restaurant—was found to be unenforceable just this past December in Baltimore. Food truck regulations around the country have been challenged over and over in court, from Louisville, to San Antonio, to Chicago, and many places in between. Cities ultimately realize that these kinds of cases are very hard to defend,” the letter said.

More recently, the city of Carolina Beach, North Carolina repealed its prohibition on out-of-town food trucks from serving the city after a lawsuit was filed by the Institute of Justice. Under the law that has since been scrapped, only brick-and-mortar restaurants that have been in business for more than one year could run a food truck.

“It is a shame that it took a lawsuit to convince the town to repeal such an obviously unconstitutional law,” Justin Pearson, senior attorney at IJ said. “I’m hopeful that this vote will signal the end to the town’s attempt to use the power of government to favor a handful of established businesses over the region’s entrepreneurs.”


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