In the days following Hurricane Irma, few restaurants were able to open because of their lack of power and food, and folks would eat pretty much anything they could get their hands on. Here in South Florida, the only places open immediately following the storm were Duffy’s and McDonald’s, and I’m pretty sure the entire community was concentrated in those two places. This scarcity was rampant all over the state, and Jack Roundtree drove his food truck into downtown Jacksonville to hand out free hot BBQ to the town’s residents the day after Irma hit the city. However, he ran into an obstacle: the local government told him that he wasn’t allowed to give out that free hot food.
Since those hungry people were obviously gravely concerned with whether or not Roundtree had obtained a permit for his food truck, the city manager of Green Cove Springs, Florida ordered that police force Roundtree to stop serving food. City mayor Mitch Timberlake said that he did not consider the efforts a “Good Samaritan situation,” and graciously offered up that if Roundtree had just gone to city government and asked for permission to feed his neighbors in need, then they would have directed him to a designated location where utility workers were in need of food. The city only offers permits for food trucks a few days per year, like celebrations or festivals.
“He is a commercial food truck operator, and he knows the local ordinances for food truck operation and had a responsibility to reach to the city to get a permit for what he wanted to do,” Timberlake said. “We don’t prohibit food trucks. There are times and places where we welcome them.”
Those “times and places” just aren’t in the aftermath of a storm in a city where citizens are looking for hot meals.
The city was alerted about Roundtree’s whereabouts after a local restaurant complained about the truck’s location. Serving the city, half of which was still without power, apparently meant little compared to maintaining city ordinances about permits. One resident posted about the incident on Facebook:
In an emergency when people are without power, are hungry, and are recovering from the build-up to and damage that occurred during a storm like Irma, did the city really think anyone would care whether or not Roundtree had a permit? His BBQ truck was his way of helping his community, and government regulations stopped him.
This isn’t the first time small local businesses have come under fire from local governments for not obtaining the proper paperwork. Just last year, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin signed a law that exempted hair-braiders from having to obtain a cosmetology license before braiding hair– braiding hair!– in their communities. In Charleston, South Carolina, city officials required that you pass two state exams before speaking to a paying tour group walking around the city– because the city’s history is certainly something that should be regulated by local government.
The disdain for businesses that have yet to fall in line with unnecessary government regulations is only hurting the residents of the cities who would be served by them. Jack Roundtree was attempting to do a good deed for his neighbors who had weathered Irma, and red tape tangled up his efforts and forced him to close. As if you needed one more reason to make sure you get involved in your city’s affairs: all politics truly is local.