Thursday, August 10, 2000

Rules confuse vendors, enforcers

Mayor Luken says situation an embarrassment for city

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When it comes to prohibiting ticket sellers and vendors around Cincinnati's riverfront, the police department has been enforcing the laws one way.

        City solicitors have been interpreting laws another way.

        And the economic development department has been issuing vending licenses with its own set of guidelines.

        The overlapping rules came to light Wednesday, when a group of angry merchants met with city officials to protest what they callled selective enforcement of laws that they say are driving them out of business.

        Mayor Charlie Luken called the situation an embarrassment. The police chief called it confusing. City solicitors called it conflicting.

        Vendors don't know what to call it. They say despite buying vending licenses from the city, they are being arrested, taken to jail and told to have the court sort it out.

        “I apologize to you,” Mr. Luken told the vendors. “We don't know what we're doing. ... For these people to suffer the consequences of that is absurd.”

        The meeting Wednesday was supposed to be about a series of emergency ordinances adopted by council last week that would restrict vending and ticket sales throughout most of the riverfront. But that issue was nearly lost among vendor concerns and city administrators' confusion.

        “I'm confused beyond belief,” said Police Capt. Vincent Demasi, who promised to help vendors cited or arrested under the wrong ordinances.

        Officials from other de partments agreed ordinances and policies leave questions over the definition of a licensed vendor and about where they can operate. They agreed to meet next week and draft a single vendor policy.

        That wasn't good enough for the mayor and Councilman Todd Portune, who are now calling for a special council session on Aug. 18 to reconsider the emergency ordinances.

        “This gets more bizarre by each passing minute,” Mr. Portune said. “We have been misled by city staff.”

        The new ordinances broaden existing restrictions around Cinergy Field to an area south of Third Street between Gest Street and Broadway. They were adopted last Wednesday after the police chief stressed concerns about traffic and limited access into the new Paul Brown Stadium.

        In a memo to council, the city solicitor told council the ordinances were requested by the Bengals in preparation for the Aug. 19 opener at the new stadium. But team officials say their request was only for the area immediately around the stadium.

        While vendors have questioned these safety concerns — when they've been doing business in the same area throughout the baseball season without incident — most seemed willing to comply.

        But they also said it would be business as usual when it came to setting up outside of the Third Street construction area. To that end, they said, the meeting didn't accomplish much.

        “Nothing came out of this,” said Farnk Randle, a licensed ticket seller who was arrested by police for working in an area where he said the city's economic development department told him was OK to operate. “I had to get my friend to bail me out.”

        Queen City Novelty owner Mark Gatherwright said he wants to work with police to open up access on the riverfront, even if it means setting up his display racks on private property.

        “We didn't get much done,” he said. “But they are telling me they are going to work with me.”

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