Bob Tener, director of Oklahoma City's development services division, asked his staff to contact organizers of an inaugural outdoor food market about a “potential problem” with the event hours before they instead conducted a surprise raid.
The two city council members who represent the downtown area expressed concerns about how the Friday night raid at the event dubbed H&8th was handled. One, Skip Kelly, suggested city staff and the Oklahoma City/County Health Department may be engaging in “unfair” enforcement.
The market at Elemental Coffee, 815 N Hudson, featured three food trucks, a Coop Ale beer trailer and cupcakes from Cuppies and Joe. Scores of people showed up for the evening outdoor market, only to be upset by the arrival of 27 health and code inspectors, police and ABLE Commission agents.
The raid continued to draw criticism Tuesday, even as organizer Laura Massenat, co-owner of Elemental Coffee, admitted she decided to host the market despite being rejected for a special event permit.
Massenat said she thought she could proceed because she had been told by city employees that as long as the food trucks featured in the market didn't regularly park in the same lot, they would not be at risk of being asked to move or be cited.
Emails show Tener was contacted at 8:58 a.m. Friday by employee J.J. Chambliss directing his attention to a story in The Oklahoman about the market. Records show Tener asked development center manager David Adcock to ask licensing director Meagan Armstrong about the next taco truck sweep planned with the Oklahoma City/County Health Department.
In yet another email sent at 11:04 a.m. Friday, Tener tells Adcock “you might want to check the business section of today's newspaper, Meagan might want to call them.”
In an interview with The Oklahoman, Tener said Tuesday he was instructing Adcock to have Armstrong call the market organizers.
Adcock said he didn't get the email until later in the day, and at that time city inspectors had agreed to accompany 16 health department inspectors in conducting a surprise visit to the market as part of a previously planned sweep of taco trucks in south Oklahoma City.
Tener is now part of an effort being led by Ward 6 Councilwoman Meg Salyer to bring all the involved parties together to determine what went wrong and how to restage the event in late September.
“We need to get all the players in the same room and be clear about what the issues are and what happened,” Salyer said. “There are multiple versions of the same facts.
“The long-term goal for me is to find out how to make this (a) more educational, consumer-friendly process so when folks want to do this, they know how to do it correctly.”
Kelly, meanwhile, wants an inquiry as to whether the health department's original plan to target only food trucks in south Oklahoma City indicates unfair scrutiny.
“If you're going to enforce this, let's be fair across the city with the enforcement,” Kelly said. “If your target was south Oklahoma City, then why is your target just south Oklahoma City? It just seems as if it singles out an area without even having a complaint. I have citizens call, and I'm told (by the health department) it's all complaint-driven.”
Kelly said he frequently sees food trucks downtown doing business free of spot inspections.
“This was overreaching in one area, and it's unfair,” Kelly said. “I'm not saying turn your head the other way on these violations. But if you can't get two or three people to go out and work northeast Oklahoma City and address issues because it would require overtime, but you can get all these people out to south Oklahoma City, how is that right?”
The health department board consists of commissioners appointed by Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and Oklahoma County commissioners. Brian Maughn, who represents the county's second district, said he visited with health board member Scott Mitchell and is convinced mistakes were made when all 16 health inspectors visited Friday night's market.
“They shouldn't have left vehicles, they should have let three or four (inspectors) do their job,” Maughn said. “There wasn't a need for an overkill presence. And they have been instructed not to do that again.”
Maughn agreed with Salyer that all sides should meet, examine the regulations and see whether safety can be maintained while simplifying rules for operating food trucks and staging events like H&8th.
John Maisch, legal counsel for ABLE, said Tuesday he is advising the agency's directors to scrutinize its role in the raid.
Maisch noted that twice in the past year his agency caught potential problems with the sale of alcohol at upcoming outdoor events, contacted organizers in advance and helped find ways to work through potential license violations.
In May, when organizers were convinced they would have to cancel a draft brew festival in Bricktown, Maisch said it was his agency that worked with them to find a legal way to proceed.
Such communication, however, did not occur before the Friday night market, and ABLE agents decided to conduct a surprise visit after reading the event would include alcohol sold by co-organizer Jonathon Stranger, co-owner of nearby Ludivine.
“We need to have a full review of the agents that evening,” Maisch said. “And I hope we reach out to the licensee. Not the agents, but the administration. They need to reach out and see that their concerns are addressed.”
Massenat said that she believes everyone is now working to ensure the next market is trouble-free.
“I feel like because I knew I didn't have a permit and decided to hold the event, I don't have any complaining to do,” Massenat said. “But I would like to go ahead with the event. And if we can improve how we can go through applying for permits for these events, it's better off for all. I just want a way to find a way forward.”