A Fulton County judge reiterated Tuesday that the city’s 2008 vending ordinance, which entered into a contract with a private management company and repealed the city’s previous vending program, is null and void.
But whether that means vendors can immediately return to work remains unclear.
Attorneys for Atlanta’s public street vendors and city officials agree that Fulton County Superior Judge Shawn Ellen LaGrua’s December 2012 ruling struck down the city’s agreement with Chicago-based General Growth Properties. But they disagree whether her ruling also dismantled the city’s repeal of its 2003 vending program.
The vendors’ attorneys say her clarification means the city must revert to its former law, which allowed vendors to pay a nominal fee in order to vend on public property.
City officials say it’s not so simple and that her ruling effectively tossed out the entire vending program. They say a new ordinance must be passed before vendors are allowed to sell their wares on public property.
“The judge’s order is clear that there’s a vending law in place,” said Robert Frommer, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which took up the vendors’ cause. “It’s up to (Mayor Kasim Reed) and the council to let these people get back to work immediately.”
City officials, however, interpreted Tuesday’s ruling in their favor.
“Judge LaGrua’s clarification issued today restated her original ruling that the city’s 2008 public vending ordinance was unconstitutional, leaving the city without a public vending program,” city spokeswoman Melissa Mullinax said in a statement.
Mullinax said city officials do not believe the judge’s order means the 2003 law stands. They plan to issue guidelines for a new vending program by the end of the year, one with little resemblance to the at-times-haphazard vending scene of years ago.
“When we go forward with a public property vending program, it will have a dramatically different look and feel than the past,” Mullinax said.
In the meantime, vendors can sell their wares through private property permits, she said.
That’s how Larry Miller, head of the Atlanta Vendors Association and a plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging the contract with General Growth, has tried to stay afloat since the city stopped issuing public vending permits.
Still, he’s seen his income drop by 80 percent, he said.
While Miller saw LaGrua’s clarification Tuesday as a victory, he said he wasn’t surprised city officials viewed it differently. He said he hopes council members act quickly to enact a new program.
“If they say the ruling means nothing, we gotta get the council members to override the mayor and get an ordinance in place,” Miller said. “They need to be the voice of the people.”