Jackson, MS: Ordinance to Allow Food Trucks to Operate in the Capital City

Jackson Ward One Councilman Quentin Whitwell

by ANTHONY WARREN | NorthsideSun.com

Jackson Ward One Councilman Quentin Whitwell

AFTER WINNING in a landslide in February’s special election, Jackson Ward One Councilman Quentin Whitwell has wasted no time in putting his political capital to work.

Since taking office, the rookie councilman has presented four ordinances, one of which has already been passed.

He also has been appointed by the mayor to serve on the board of directors for the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District (CMPDD), and has become a go-to guy for media outlets covering Jackson.

Whitwell’s ordinance to allow food trucks to operate in the capital city is expected to be voted out of the council’s rules committee on Tuesday, June 21.

And an ordinance presented by Whitwell to prohibit the roadside sale of animals has already been put into effect.

Whitwell, a lobbyist by trade, said his early successes have been made possible in part by building consensus with other members. Winning by such a large margin over his opponent Patricia Ice didn’t hurt either.

“I felt that coming off the heels of a solid campaign victory gave me a lot of momentum, and that my message resonated with my ward and the people of the city as a whole,” he said.

Whitwell carried 89 percent of the popular vote in the race to replace former Councilman Jeff Weill. Weill was elected as Hinds County circuit judge and had to step down.

Voter support, coupled with residents’ concerns about the 2010 census figures, has allowed him to reach out to fellow council members and Mayor Harvey Johnson with more forward-thinking ideas.

However, not all of Whitwell’s ideas have been met with open arms. His proposal to amend city code to allow for public access gates is opposed by Johnson. Some council members also recently weighed whether allowing the devices would be construed as racist, or how poorer neighborhoods would be able to afford putting them in.

Whitwell addressed both of those issues with the Sun. The gates being racist is something that Whitwell strongly disagreed with. “Gates are not racial. They’re about crime, and my job as a councilman is to address the crime problem,” Whitwell said. “People who know me, know I’m a respecter of all people. There is no racial motivation behind this.”

Whitwell had much less resistance in seeing an ordinance through that will help put puppy mills out of business in Jackson.

On April 5, the council unanimously passed an ordinance banning the roadside sale of animals. The new code took effect immediately.

He was somewhat surprised that it gained unanimous support from his colleagues, especially since the city had been unable to pass similar ordinances in years past.

“Most ordinances involving animals cause division. There are a lot of people who breed and kennel dogs. There’s a lot of passion, and as a result,I was very concerned about it being passed,”he said.

The measure was needed for several reasons. Whitwell said it should help cut down on the number of puppy mills in the area. It also was needed to show that the first-term councilman could build consensus early on, a prominent message during his campaign.

ANOTHER task being taken on by Whitwell is expected to help with the revitalization of downtown Jackson and the city as a whole, that is, if the ordinance is passed.

The council is now considering an ordinance to allow food trucks to operate in the capital city, as long as they meet Mississippi Department of Health guidelines.

Ben Allen, a former council president and president of Downtown Jackson Partners (DJP), said DJPand others had been working on the issue for more than a year.

“Quentin took the ball and ran with it. One of the first meetings I had with him I introduced him to Fred Garrett, a guy who wants to set up a hotdog stand downtown.

“I’ve written several blogs about it. Every city we’re aware of allows them. Jackson is so far behind, we didn’t have hotdog stands when others had food trucks.

He said DJP was working through the administration, but finally got a champion for the matter in Whitwell. As a result, the ordinance has moved through the process quicker and is expected to come out of committee next week.

Whitwell is married to Ginger and has two children. He is a graduate of the University of Mississippi and University of Mississippi School of Law. He is managing partner for Meadowbrook Strategies, a lobbying and consulting firm.

With the firm, he does lobbying work for clients with the Mississippi state Legislature.

The Northsider said he continues to want to open the avenues of communication between council members themselves, and the council and the administration. “I wish we had a more open dialogue about the true problems facing the capital city, and that we genuinely work as a cohesive body to curb them,”he said. Issues, he told the Sun, include crime and zoning.

He said there were 66 crimes reported in Northeast Jackson in the last four weeks, according to spotcrime.com.

“We have to be more aggressive about it,”he said, referring to crime problems. “I believe Chief (Rebecca) Coleman is doing a good job. There’s a lot more organization and stability within the department, but we have to be more aggressive.”

He also believes zoning issues need to be addressed pointing to the fact that Johnson is still using FABRIC, a zoning plan that was adopted in 1999. “It has a number of problems. It is outdated and addresses things that are now defined differently by the court. For example, the definition of spot zoning has changed.”

Whitwell knows that making changes will be a slow process, something that won’t be easy for the self-ascribed mover and shaker.

“Now, it seems that the status quo is the standard bearer. For me, it’s frustrating.”