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Food Truck Advocates Ask Court to Force Council Members to Provide Public Records

Sponsors of ordinance that could cripple industry have stonewalled Open Records Act request for months

Louisville, Ky.—It is time to shed light on why some Metro Council members keep pushing new food truck regulations. This morning, the Institute for Justice (IJ) sued four Metro Council members who are refusing to turn over public records. This is the latest action in a legal battle that began in 2017 when two Louisville food truck owners filed a federal lawsuit challenging the city’s rule barring them from operating within 150 feet of any restaurant selling “similar food.”

As a result of that lawsuit, the Louisville Metro Council repealed the law in March 2018 and entered into a court-ordered consent decree. That decree prohibits Louisville Metro from reinstituting its 150-foot ban on food trucks or singling out food trucks for treatment different from other commercial vehicles.

With this agreement, Louisville food truck owners thought they would be free to focus on serving hungry customers. But just a few months later, council members Brandon Coan, Barbara Sexton-Smith, Pat Mulvihill and Scott Reed introduced a new ordinance that would cripple food trucks’ business. Concerned that the proposed ordinance would violate the decree and curious as to the council members’ motivations, in November 2018, IJ filed an open records request seeking each council member’s emails and other documents related to food trucks and restaurants.

The council members indicated that they had over 8,300 responsive documents but refused to make any records public. IJ appealed and in May 2019 the Office of the Attorney General of Kentucky ruled that “the Council members violated the Open Records Act,” and mandated that they turn over the documents. But even as the bill sponsors continue to ignore this request, the Metro Council Public Works, Facilities, Transportation and Accessibility Committee, chaired by Brandon Coan, is set to consider a revised version of their ordinance in its public meeting this afternoon.

“It’s time for the stonewalling to stop,” said Arif Panju, IJ managing attorney. “Since the four Metro Council members who have been pushing crippling new regulations on food trucks don’t seem to be listening to us or the Attorney General’s Office, today we’ve asked a court to order them to follow Kentucky’s Open Records Act. Transparency ensures the public can better understand why the council members keep pushing for a new ordinance that would cripple food trucks and reduce lunch options.”

The Institute for Justice is being represented in this legal action by attorneys April A. Wimberg and Brent R. Baughman at Bingham Greenebaum Doll, LLP.

“Kentucky’s Open Records Act is critical to ensuring good government in our commonwealth,” said Wimberg. “We’re pleased to work with the Institute for Justice to fight for transparency in Louisville’s government.”

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