Empower Wisconsin | Jan. 28, 2020
By Terrence Wall
MADISON — Here’s a government conflict of interest case that’s hard to stomach.
In Door County, the Gibraltar Town Board passed an ordinance that put the owners of a food truck out of business. It’s no coincidence that the board chairman owns a competing restaurant.
Lisa and Kevin Howard and Jessica and Chris Hadraba own White Cottage Red Door, a family gift shop in Fish Creek — an unincorporated area near Gibraltar. They wanted to open the food truck on their property to serve hungry campers.
The business owners properly obtained a state license and also a county zoning permit. That didn’t matter to the township, which decided to pass a new ordinance banning food carts. Then, Gibraltar’s town constable ordered the food truck to shut down, threatening the owners with a $500 fine for each day they continued to operate.
The Institute for Justice is representing the entrepreneurs in a lawsuit challenging Gibraltar’s vending ban. It seeks to establish that a vendor’s “right to earn a living does not depend on whether their businesses have wheels or not.” In September, the judge denied the town board’s motion to dismiss.
Admittedly, being a developer of bricks-and-mortar buildings that lease to businesses and restaurants, I don’t like the idea of food carts competing with established restaurants. Food carts don’t pay property taxes, which presents them with a very distinct and unfair advantage. They can also park right in locations (like on the street in front of a restaurant) and take a restaurant’s customers.
But I don’t let my own biases get in the way of what is a constitutional right. And the Gibraltar Town Board case seems steeped in conflict. The chairman owns and operates a competing restaurant, one of the former town board members worked at another restaurant, while a third board member publicly expressed his bias about food carts competing with eateries.
I find it troubling when elected leaders either refuse to admit their conflicts of interest or their own inherent biases that would make it impossible for them to fairly decide pending applications on the merits.
The conflicted board members should resign. Through their biases they have wrongfully targeted a legitimate business for destruction. Let’s hope the court agrees.
Terrence Wall is a developer & owner of the T. Wall companies. He previously ran for the U.S. Senate.