Attorneys: City can’t enforce ‘vendors ordinance’

Published 10:15 am Wednesday, August 17, 2011

According to an opinion by Ironton attorneys Bob Anderson and Mack Anderson, the city cannot legally enforce a new ordinance to regulate vendors during special events.

Mayor Rich Blankenship presented the Ironton City Council with a copy of a letter from the Andersons Tuesday evening, less than two days before the start of Rally on the River, during a special meeting of the council.

In a letter dated Tuesday and addressed to Blankenship, the Andersons say that if the mayor or his agents, such as the police department, find a vendor who is required by the city to pay a fee during a special event, that vendor can be told that the ordinance requires the payment of a fee in order to conduct his or her operation.

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“Since the ordinance does not provide for an enforcement penalty, should the individual continue with his or her operation after being notified and failing to pay the fee, there is no immediate enforcement action with which you can proceed,” the letter states.

Blankenship requested the Andersons’ opinion about the ordinance, the letter states.

Some members of council expressed disappointment in the legal opinion.

“I totally disagree with the Andersons’ opinion as to if the ordinance can be enforced,” Councilman Bob Cleary said after the meeting. “If we pass an ordinance, according to the (city) charter, the mayor is obligated to enforce it.”

But Blankenship said that enforcing the ordinance might put the city at risk for potential lawsuits.

“I’m not against the Friends of Ironton,” Blankenship said. “But I’m against lawsuits and I think it’s my job to minimize the risk.”

City council passed the ordinance late last month at the request of grassroots civic organization Friends of Ironton. Friends’ representatives argued that they wanted the ordinance to protect the organization from vendors who set up in the city during their events and sell food or products without paying the organization a fee. The money the Friends make, the organization puts towards projects like the city’s Splash Park, bulletproof vests for the Ironton Police Department and the restoration of the historic Ro-Na Theater.

Earlier draft versions of the ordinance defined the penalties and enforcement guides relating to the rule.

Blankenship had warned the council to take precautions and not to rush into passing an ordinance.

“This is one reason why I cautioned them not to rush into this,” he said. “And now here we are.

“I appreciate what Friends of Ironton do, I really do. But I have to protect the city as well. (The ordinance) doesn’t say how to enforce it. These are issues that need to be worked out and they rushed through it.”

The mayor had expressed concerns with the ordinance the night it was passed. He called the ordinance “vague” but said that he could bring it back to council for amending if issues came up.

Blankenship said because of the 6-1 vote from council showed strong support for the rule, he did not consider vetoing it.

“If it was a 4-3 vote, I would have considered vetoing it,” the mayor said. “With a 6-1 vote it would be a waste of time.”

Even before the Andersons wrote the legal opinion, a representative of Friends told The Tribune he thought the city was not planning to enforce the rule. Dave Smith said Monday because of that, the organization is planning to “take a hard look” at whether or not to continue to host the event in Ironton in years to come.

Reached Wednesday morning, Smith said that the Friends is taking a “dim view” of the city’s not enforcing the ordinance. The organization went to the city for support and ultimately the city did not support the Friends, Smith said.

“We don’t look at it favorably at all,” Smith said.

In other business, the Ironton City Council also:

• Passed an ordinance authorizing and directing the mayor to enter into a $1.5 million agreement with Superior Environmental Corp. to provide the city with Phase II environmental services for the Ironton Riverfront Development and Trails Project. The services will be paid for by a Clean Ohio grant, which the city has already been awarded.

• Passed an ordinance authorizing the mayor to be the primary contact and authorized agent to provide information to FEMA for the Nixon Hill slip.