The Columbus City Council on Monday approved Mayor Andrew J. Ginther’s executive order issued last week banning mobile food trucks and carts from operating in the Short North entertainment district after midnight for the immediate future in what the city says is an effort to get control of recent gun violence there.
The move wasn’t needed for Ginther’s order to be valid, but was meant as a vote of confidence in the mayor’s effort to reduce a rash of violent crime that has broken out after bars close there for the night, said Michael S. Brown, City Council’s chief of staff. The move also could legally bolster the city’s defense if the order were to be challenged in court, Brown said.
Council President Shannon Hardin stressed after the 6-0 vote (Council member Lourdes Barroso de Padilla was absent) that officials hope the earlier closing requirement would be lifted shortly. But with the onset of summer looming, city officials are trying to check the rise in late-night violence, while recognizing that small businesses need to be supported.
Businesses will suffer more if people don’t feel safe on the streets at night, Hardin said.
“We believe that that effort is a short-term effort,” Hardin said. “We also saw that (it) worked this last weekend.”
But Karim Ali, 49, a Short North resident, told the City Council that the mayor’s early closing order targeting food trucks as the answer to crime in the arts and entertainment district seemed arbitrary, without any evidence that such a move would work. He said it also lacks any due process for the vendors whose livelihoods would be affected.
“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “It’s the height of arbitrary action.”
Ali — who said he was speaking solely as a citizen who had no financial interests in any food trucks — noted that it was just in March that the city completed a multi-month process that determined that the trucks could operate until 2:30 a.m., a half-hour before the previous closing deadline of 3 a.m.
“That was a fair process,” Ali told The Dispatch after the meeting. “People were involved, made decisions, there were some tradeoffs. The people who were impacted were given an opportunity to be heard. The restrictions were fair. It was reasonable.
“That was just two months ago. And then two months later you’re going to decide: Well actually, the stuff that we negotiated with you, we’re going to change it.”
In addition to Ginther’s order against mobile food vendors because the city controls their operating licenses, the city also asked businesses to voluntarily close early (most did not comply); flooded the area last weekend with police in cars, on bikes and horses and on foot; and banned parking from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. along North High Street. After the crackdown went into effect last weekiend, Columbus police say serious crime was down two weeks after 10 were wounded in a police shootout in the Short North neighborhood immediately north of Downtown.
In another safety matter Monday, the council passed legislation to provide the Department of Public Safety with $550,000 to continue renting 25 portable cameras and seven portable light towers that are currently deployed in city parks. The cameras and lights were installed in the wake of three homicides and shootings in city parks in May 2022.
The equipment has been deployed at the parks continuously since July last year, according to Glenn McEntyre, assistant director of the Department of Public Safety.
The city is again renting the lights and cameras from the same company, Street Smart Rentals, that it used in 2022 for $500,000. This year’s legislation provides $500,000 for rent plus $50,000 for needed repairs or replacement because the owner is not responsible for repairs, according to McEntyre. If the repair funds are not used, they will be returned to the city’s general fund, he said.
Columbus police Lt. Kyle Scholl said at a media event Monday afternoon that police did not have data on hand to show what effect the cameras and lights in the parks had last year, but said they were an important tool in deterring and solving crime.
“The lighting alone provided a sense of safety, and then the cameras provided different views for (police to) look at as things occurred within the park,” said Bernita Reese, director of the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department.
Lights and cameras are at Barnett Park, Far East Community Center, Blackburn Park, and Nafzger Park, Westgate Park and others, but can be moved if the police and her department sees greater need elsewhere, according to Reese.
For the second summer in a row, the city has agreed to pay police officers double time to voluntarily work overtime on special assignments. That’s a 33% pay increase over the regular time-and-a-half rule for overtime worked past any given eight-hour shift that is currently spelled out in the police union contract.
Council signed off on the temporary memorandum of understanding with the police union on Monday, with city officials saying it will give Chief Elaine Bryant and the Division of Police the flexibility to put extra officers as needed in parks, at festivals, or in special details targeting certain crimes or locations citywide.
“When there is a need that arises, they will have the opportunity to get resources in those areas,” said Council member Emmanuel Remy, who chairs the council’s public safety committee.
Last year, Bryant told Council the pay increase was needed because the $20 million the Division of Police spent to entice 100 longtime police officers to retire had left the force without enough officers. The Division of Police didn’t give a reason Monday why time-and-a-half pay wasn’t sufficient now to entice officers to work longer hours.
Mayoral Joe Motil said during the public portion of the meeting that the city’s buyout and a general lack of support for police was depleting staffing. Motil said the memorandum to pay police extra for work where needed was part of a bid by Ginther to avoid embarrassment if another major crime event were to occur in the Short North near the Greater Columbus Convention Center during the United States Conference of Mayors, which is meeting there in less than two weeks.
In other action Monday, the council:
- Approved $20 million in grant agreements with various organizations to advance summer youth engagement and employment programs. “This funding will allow every Columbus child attend a summer program or work at one to earn some extra money,” the city said in announcing the agreements.
- Approved multiple ordinances connected to the Healthy Homes Program’s Lead Poisoning Prevention program, which provides childhood lead testing, and follow-up services for children with lead poisoning in Columbus. Services include tap water testing, Hepa vacuum loans for lead hazard clean-up and referral services to landlords, tenants and homeowners.
Dispatch reporter Peter Gill contributed to this report.