TUPELO – The City Council seems to have an appetite for some kind of food truck regulations, even as Mayor Jason Shelton opposes the idea.
During a Tuesday afternoon discussion, Shelton called for restraint. This discussion followed a request late last year by Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington that the city examine an ordinance to regulate mobile food vendors.
A Democrat, Shelton nonetheless deployed traditionally conservative concerns over the prospect of government interference in the market.
“I haven’t sensed a real need or a desire for an ordinance,” Shelton said. “It seems to me to be creating another level of government bureaucracy and regulation.”
A majority of the Republican-controlled council appear to support some kind of ordinance, though details remains undecided.
A handful of council members pushed several proposals, with a particularly persistent desire to require that food trucks remain a certain distance from brick-and-mortar restaurants.
Noise regulations and concerns about liability issues and food safety also surfaced.
As with brick-and-mortar establishments, food trucks must obtain a privilege license from the city, a state business license and a health permit from the Mississippi State Department of Health.
Shelton and his Chief Operations Officer Don Lewis both noted that food prep facilities used by food trucks fall already under the same regulations that govern restaurants.
However, even as Shelton emphasized that he sees no problems that call our for regulatory remedy, council members voiced a desire to act on behalf of restaurants.
“I just want to make sure the established businesses are protected,” said Ward 7 Councilman Willie Jennings.
Whittington noted that significant revenue is generated for the city by establishments with a permanent physical presence.
“These restaurants are paying a lot of taxes,” Whittington said.
In an interview with the Daily Journal, Whittington said he’s received requests for food truck regulations from restaurant owners, though the councilman went on to say he doesn’t feel mobile food vendors pose much of a competitive threat to traditional eateries.
“I think it’s a perception,” Whittington said.
He affirmed, however, that he views it as “somewhat” appropriate for municipal government to act on behalf of select business interests.
“I think we have to protect some of our taxpayers and high employers,” he said.
Ward 2 Councilman Lynn Bryan offered the view that irresponsible behavior by an unidentified food truck vendor had precipitated calls for regulation.
“All of this came about because one person parked right in front of a restaurant that does the same type thing,” Bryant said. “So not all of them are real smart. Someone got greedy.”
In deference to the desires of the council, Shelton said his administration will move forward with consideration of an ordinance draft.
“If we do enact an ordinance, I think it needs to be as lenient as possible,” Shelton said.
On this point at least, the Ward 1 councilman indicated at least partial agreement.
“It doesn’t need to be burdensome,” Whittington said.