Vendors operating with expired permits, lack of background checks problematic
By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
ALLEN PARK – The City Council denied ice cream vendor vehicle permit applications at its June 25 meeting, citing vendors operating with expired permits, permit applications errors and operator background check concerns.
Three past vendors applied for licenses for the summer season, and each were voted on separately and denied. The applicants were: Tina Eismann of All American Super Hero Ice Cream, Peggy Mayes of Koolies Ice Cream, and Sandra Humbarger of Humbarger Ice Cream.
During the study session preceding the council meeting, Police Chief James Wilkewitz said the ice cream trucks are inspected to ensure the vehicle can be safely operated.
City Clerk Michael Mizzi said the names of the owners of the ice cream trucks are run through the law enforcement information network in addition to the basic truck safety inspection of brakes, spare tire and fire extinguisher.
Mizzi said All American Super Hero Ice Cream had been operating in the city without a renewed permit, and despite an owner apology, the truck continued to run daily. Mitzi said he took a photo of it June 23 in front of his house.
“I am going to recommend denial for (All American Super Hero Ice Cream),” Mizzi said. “They never skipped a beat from what I heard, so we have a right to deny them.”
Mizzi said he heard that the Koolies truck was out in the neighborhoods, but he had no definitive proof.
Mizzi also said that the permit applicants do not have to be the owners, which makes it problematic to run a background check on the owners.
“I don’t want to be known as the guy who’s not allowing ice cream trucks, but this is a nightmare,” Mizzi said. “And really, you don’t have to allow any of them. This is just special licenses that have been recurring.”
Mizzi said Humbarger Ice Cream used to own Koolies Ice Cream, and all three applicants know each other. He also said when the city tried to track who the ice cream truck drivers were, they changed all the time.
“I would say, in the future, we start not even accepting these,” Mizzi said. “There is nothing that says we have to issue that. There is no ordinance that says ‘in order to be an ice cream truck driver’ – we just have criteria that we have been going off of for at least 20-some years.”
Mizzi said the people who own the truck then tend to lease or rent them to others, who may be independent contractors.
Councilwoman Gail McLeod said her main concern is what is known about the people who are actually driving the trucks and are selling ice cream to the children.
“Do we know anything about their background?” McLeod asked. “Who vets those people? You say they can change drivers, but that doesn’t give me a real comfortable feeling in today’s day and age.”
Mizzi said he understood her concern.
“It’s like the solicitor permits,” Mizzi said. “They submit a list of people who are going to be going door-to-door. Well, we get a complaint about one of the people going door-to-door, and we get their name – it was on a badge – and that person didn’t exist on the list.”
Mizzi said it is unconstitutional to bar solicitors from going door-to-door, but the city council is not required to approve ice cream vendor permits.
Mizzi said the loud music from the ice cream trucks at 9:30 p.m., 10 p.m. also is annoying.
Councilman Harry Sisko said if no ice cream vendors are approved, it will be a lot easier to police than if some are approved.
“If you see an ice cream truck, it doesn’t belong in Allen Park,” Sisko said.
Mizzi said ice cream trucks have failed safety inspections in the past, as well.
“These aren’t new vehicles,” Mizzi said. “These are the minimum MDOT inspection.”
Wilkewitz said the safety inspector makes sure that all the ice cream truck lights are working, and that the stop sign bar is functional. He said the drivers are not vetted. He said the name of the applicant on the permit request is checked, but if the applicant is not operating the vehicle, there is no background check on additional personnel.
“Basically, we could have a child molester driving an ice cream truck,” McLeod said.
Deputy Fire Chief Ed Cann said that while a local ice cream store would need to be licensed by a local health department, a mobile vendor, such as an ice cream truck, does not need a county health permit like the food trucks. He said the people who supply the ice cream trucks with confections need to be licensed.
“Unlike a food truck that I inspect at a DDA event, who are heating and preparing food, they need a license, and I look for those,” Cann said. “But the ice cream trucks need no health department license.”
Mayor William Matakas asked why Humbarger shouldn’t be approved, if they haven’t done anything wrong.
Councilman Kevin Rourke said the discussion is about the ability to vet the individuals who drive and sell from the ice cream trucks.
“It’s not a licensing issue, it’s not a health issue, it’s the individuals who are doing that, and we don’t have a process (to vet them), then we need to take a look at that,” Rourke said.
Mizzi said the permit applications could be tabled, to which City Attorney Joseph Couveur said the summer will be almost half over by the time the council meets again during the second week of July.
Rourke said a no vote indicates the permits will not be approved, whereas tabling a decision sets up the need to continue to check to make sure none of the ice cream trucks are operating within the city’s neighborhoods, and holding out the hope that the vendors may be approved for the remaining half of the summer.
McLeod said she and Mizzi have observed that Super Hero Ice Cream does not have a history of following the rules.
Mizzi said the ice cream truck that recently displayed an expired license was in violation of the law.
McLeod reiterated that her primary concern is the ice cream truck drivers and sales people not being vetted before they are allowed to be in contact with the city’s children.
When Matakas pushed again for the approval of Humbarger, Rourke said the issue is that none of the employees from any of the companies are vetted.
Sisko said the other issue was that All American Super Hero Ice Cream has continued to sell without a permit even after a call from city officials telling it to stop.
Mizzi said it is a challenge to monitor vendor compliance with the city’s rules.
Wilkewitz said keeping track of the individuals working in ice cream trucks, and whether they have been vetted, or the truck licensed, poses a dilemma.
“My honest opinion is the police are not going to spend a lot of their time chasing ice cream trucks,” Wilkewitz said. “We have other things to do. If you want to parse between this one gets a license, and this one doesn’t, how are we going to know the difference?
“All these vehicles look similar. They are all stickered up, and they are playing the same obnoxious music over and over again. So, to be honest with you, I would say you either go all or nothing. If there are individual problems that arise, we will deal with individual problems.”
Wilkewitz said that, given a name and birth date, anyone can check an individual against the state’s sex offender registry.
Matakas said ice cream trucks have run through the city for 50 years, which Sisko countered by saying it is a different world now.
“It used to be kids would surround the ice cream truck,” Sisko said. “Now you only get a couple, two, three kids, sometimes just one.”
Mizzi said he doesn’t care how late in the season it is, if the council is uncomfortable making a decision now, it can be tabled until more information is gathered.
“I believe this is for the health and safety of Allen Park citizens,” Mizzi said.
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected])