On Tuesday, October 27, the Gulfport Merchants Chamber of Commerce called the police on Jesse Lee, a mobile food vendor, who had set up his mobile ice cream cart on Beach Boulevard South near Let it Be Ice Cream shop, during the Gulfport Tuesday Morning Fresh Market.
Once the police arrived, Lee started recording the interaction with Gulfport police and GMC President Barbara Banno; he posted it on Facebook.
In the video, Banno asked Lee to leave the market boundaries. The GMC holds the special events permit from the city for the Tuesday market, and Lee had not applied to participate in the event or, GMC administration told the Gabber, any other GMC events. The city’s agreement with the GMC requires the GMC to allow only vendors who follow the GMC application process to participate in special events.
Lee argued that under the new Florida law, Florida’s HB 1193, he could bring his ice cream cart to Gulfport because the city permitted the market as a special event.
On July 21, Gulfport Council discussed adopting and adapting Florida’s HB 1193, Deregulation of Professions and Occupations. Council debated the possibility of letting MFVs operate regularly within city limits – not only on special occasions.
The new Florida statute says that cities must allow food trucks without additional licensure, registrations, permits or fees. However, the law allows cities to control the location and hours of operation for vendors.
In response, Gulfport Council unanimously passed a new ordinance concerning MFVs on Tuesday, August 4. The ordinance includes some restrictions and, the city says, Gulfport City Ordinance No. 2020-08 doesn’t mean that Gulfport’s streets are fair game for any and all MFVs.
“It was agreed on by all councilmembers that mobile food vendors, who are selling to the general public, will not be allowed to operate on public property, only on properly zoned private property,” City Manager Jim O’Reilly said at the July 21 meeting.
If there is a special event like the Tuesday Morning Fresh Market, only the organization that obtained the special event permit may approve the vendors, and every vendor must apply with the organization that holds the permit. The city does not allow a single food vendor to apply for their own special event permit.
“Vending is included and permitted by the group sponsoring/responsible for the event (required insurance, etc.) who has received city council approval,” O’Reilly told the Gabber in an email. “Special Event applications come from City of Gulfport non-profit organizations in support of their philanthropic/public endeavors. Mobile food vending outside of an approved special event is prohibited on city property and/or city right of way.”
In response to Lee’s claim that Florida law supersedes the city’s ordinance, the city maintains that they can add to, but not take away from, HB 1993, according to O’Reilly.
“State statute provides the applicability of city code,” he said.
The GMC sponsors many of the special events in Gulfport, including First Friday Art Walk, IndieFaire, the Gulfport Tuesday Fresh Market and Gecko Season events.
“There’s no great secret to our selection process,” said GMC Board Member Barry Rubin, who said he believes the events best serve the community when everyone works in tandem. “We believe Lee would be a great addition to our community. I would love for him and everybody to be an active part of our community; he offers food that people want and would enjoy.”
However, Rubin added, “I would prefer that everybody work within the process,” he told the Gabber, “and by the rules.”