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Atlanta Council Gives Mayor 2 Weeks to Get Vendors Back in Business

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration has two weeks to come up with some solid proposals to get sidewalk vendors back to work.

The apparently frustrated members of the Atlanta City Council’s Public Safety Committee voted unanimously Tuesday for a motion calling on Reed’s staff to deliver by May 14 a solid recommendation for a vending ordinance.

“We are dealing with the actual human element of people losing their livelihood because of the inaction of the city,” committee Chair Michael Julian Bond said. “I don’t believe it is difficult to resolve this issue.”

The vote followed a presentation by David Bennett, a senior policy advisor to the mayor. Bennett said there was “no way to predict” when the administration will deliver a recommended vending ordinance.

Bennett said the administration expects to take the first step toward resolution in May, by delivering a plan to handle the ownership of kiosks left over from the city’s former vending program. That vending program, approved in 2008, involved a contract with a retail manager to oversee the vending program. A Fulton County judge invalidated the program in December.

Councilperson Ivory Lee Young Jr. likened that deal to servitude for the vendors.

“Anyone raised in the South knows what sharecropping is all about,” Young said. “And that’s what General Growth really was.”

General Growth Properties had the contract that was invalidated last year. The company is a national real estate investment trust that runs shopping centers. In metro Atlanta, the company runs Cumberland Mall, Perimeter Mall, and North Point Mall.

As Young’s observation suggests, sidewalk vending is a highly charged issue in Atlanta – both emotionally and politically.

Vendors portray their trade as the noble, first rung of the economic ladder, one that’s accessible to wounded veterans, the handicapped, and the disabled. Vendors – who have the ears of countless voters – are said to have measurable influence in city elections, such as the one later this year when all seats on the council and the mayor’s office are up for grabs.

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