Ward 10 Councilman Garry Moneypenny spoke with WAKR's Ray Horner about Council approving plans for a new facility for Legacy III.
Legacy III provides housing for homeless women in the Akron area, and Council President Moneypenny says he thinks the new facility will greatly benefit the community and those they serve.
We had an extraordinary experience at the Akron Radio Center Friday, with a half-dozen street food operators from the greater Akron area selling their wares on our private property -- steps away from the public sidewalk and public street. We were parking lot legal because there's no street legal in Akron.
Not that we're advocating setting up food trucks on busy West Market Street -- we aren't suicidal -- but the irony isn't lost that the only difference between legal and illegal operation of these trucks was the width of a sidewalk. What I found most interesting (along with the creative food) was the optimism and positive attitude these food truck operators had in going about their business.
People like Juan Gonzalez, seen at left, who runs his Wholly Frijoles Mexican Street Food truck out of Cuyahoga Falls; Ken Oppenheimer, who has his Sushi on the Roll restaurant in Medina but takes the fish on the road in his Mobile Sushi Bar; Jeff Winer and Steve Sabo, who pursue their passion for cooking out of Norton's Orange Truk; Jeff Neel, who took his experience on the range on the road after jumping on the chance to buy a truck and drive it home from Florida to start the Stone Pelican Rolling Cafe; Johnny Schulze, who went from executive chef at Wadsworth's Galaxy Restaurant to King of Cajun in the Zydeco Bistro to bring N'Awlins to N'Ohio. And Faith McNutt and Brian Hill, turning a hot dog stand into Get Stuffed, a solar-powered hotspot for innovative dogs and spuds you won't find anywhere else.
They aren't the only ones. One of the toughest businesses to be a success is also one where we see, smell and taste the result of innovation and creativity from oven to table. There are great success stories in Akron.
Think of the men and women who operating catering businesses. I think of people like Joe Catalano of Tallmadge-based TLC Catering; he brings his mobile grill once a year for a lunch we enjoy at the radio stations, and sit-down lunches when we take one day a month to celebrate birthdays of our co-workers. The difference between Joe's excellent food and the street trucks? He's not cooking in the van on the way to his gig but he works just as hard preparing, presenting, and serving just as any other catering company, food truck or brick and mortar chef does. And he's on wheels at some point, too.
Or Vaccaro's Trattoria mobile wood-fired pizza oven, photo at left from their Facebook page, serving up hot pies in four minutes from start to finish at the Taste of Akron. The "Pop Up Pizza Shop" comes from a sit-down restaurant, highlighting caterer and mobile food combined.
Akron's already embraced the food trucks.
"Taste of Akron" featured five food trucks, even serving as a debut for Swenson's truck, and they were all a big hit. They're showing the vision, and they are hardly street rebels looking to put permanent restaurants out of business.
They ARE the permanent restaurant.
City Hall has some decisions to make on either continuing using downtown interests as a stranglehold over the rest of the city, pushing protectionist policies that keep Akron's streets off-limits to street food or updating their approach to allow these locally-owned small businesses to flourish and co-exist with their brick and mortar counterparts. Because they have more in common than counter. It was good to see Council President Garry Moneypenny and At-Large Council's Jeff Fusco, head of the committee studying food trucks, visiting Friday with these small business men and women and exchange more than just pleasantries. That's a good step forward as the city knows it has to come with something to bridge those who say no with those who realize yes is going to happen whether it's wanted or not.
Akron doesn't have to look far for examples; Canton and Cleveland encourage the food truck culture. Suburban neighbors such as Medina, Norton and Fairlawn too; Norton's food truck roundups have attracted thousands of people eager to sample high-quality food in a unique atmosphere. Medina's Sushi on the Roll restaurant, owned and operated by Mobile Sushi Bar's Oppenheimer, will host a roundup August 28th; Fairlawn is holding a huge Labor Day Sunday festival with more than 18 trucks and bands. Akron should be concerned their neighbors are taking the lead.
Big cities from Boston to New Orleans were once citadels against the winds of such change; they've learned having more choices leads to more excitement, that having more in the community believe in those choices leads to more foot traffic in the downtown and neighborhoods. More foot traffic means more business opportunity, more livable spaces, more growth. It's the real "cool" Akron looks for and needs, not manufactured "hip" factor we talk about so often.
Just like Akron and Cleveland's park systems, just like the region's Cuyahoga Valley National Park, just like the Towpath Trail and development of the Canalway, these are the jewels that make people not only want to live here but stay here. Isn't that a message Akron wants to send?
It is an unmistakable trend of today's culture to have food trucks in cities, suburbs and even rural areas. To not revise the city's policy in the face of such momentum flies in the image of Akron as a place where innovation and entrepreneurs can forge the future on their own terms. We call ourselves a city of innovation, even name roads and buildings to highlight our past and future. It worked for the tire barons; the city's banking it will work for a smaller but more dynamic rubber and polymer industry. It can work with something like street food.
If cities are truly engines of economic growth as government leaders insist, those with vision and passion should be encouraged. Especially if they're doing it on their own time and their own dime. Compromises can be reached between competing business interests such as food trucks and restaurants with physical plants. Nobody is saying a grilled cheese food truck should be allowed to park in front of the Lock View to serve Lock 3. Common sense can apply as it has in other communities. They've already done the hard work. We're not plowing new ground here; not treating this in a more timely manner sends a message Akron isn't friendly to new ideas and approaches. That's a bad position to be taking.
Through all of this, advocates note they've tried to influence change only to find a deaf ear controlled by interests who think they have to protect the status quo and the fragile nature of downtown's rebound. The Akron Beacon Journal's Lisa Abraham has been championing that cause, often to blank stares the past four years. She's been serving as a sort of "fairy godmother" to the food trucks, to the point where the debate can't be ignored anymore.
Here's the central question: whether City Hall serves the greater good by thinking it can pick winners and losers, instead of concentrating on the overall environment where winners will make their own way?
That's the messy thing about entrepreneurial capitalism: with good performance one can realize great reward, but if the performance doesn't meet the bar then you and your investors are holding the bag. The focus here should be more on districts and an atmosphere where the players aren't as important as the game, which is to have an attitude that growth doesn't depend on dependence.
Don't let another season go by with this still on the burner. To Akron's Downtown Partnership, stop blocking the way to the grill. Help, don't hinder. Move off to the side and leave these chefs to do what they've already shown they can do: start cooking.
The city of Akron is looking at reforming its hiring practices so that individuals with felonies can have a fair opportunity at employment.
Numerous individuals came to Council Chambers to tell their stories of how acquiring a felony led to hardships in getting a job to provide for their families.
That prompted Akron City Council to pass a resolution Monday night encouraging the city to implement a fair hiring system to get felons back to work and improve the quality of life within the city.
Ward 4's Russel Neal Jr says he's pleased with the proactive stance by the administration and the Mayor in attempting to look at the hiring process in Akron.
"The positive thing is when we bring all this information together, we have a more complete picture," he said.
"President (Garry) Moneypenny spoke of the level of support from the administration on down, so we are going to really back those who brought this to our attention."
City Council President Garry Moneypenny changing hiring practices that could help blue-collar workers find the gainful employment they need.
"These would be labor positions, truck driving positions, or other jobs within the city," he said.
Akron native Raymond Green says these reforms would help returning citizens such as himself have a legitimate chance at a better life for themselves and their families.
"Right now we have no options as returning citizens, so the only option we have is to come home and be broke, or return to a life of crime," Green said.
He says that with a fair hiring policy in place, individuals with felonies can have an interview, show the changes they've made in life, and become productive members of society.
Mayor Plusquellic sent a letter last week to the Akron Civil Service Board to look into fair hiring practices in the city
Dawud Saddiq says he isn't asking for much, he like many other felons just need a chance.
"I ask for the city to just give some hope back to the people of Akron, Ohio," he said..
He says many people, not just felons can be used to work on the $800 million combined sewer overflow project.
After some positive dialogue with the city and its administration , Demario Cooper says he's hopeful about where this issue is going.
"I was really excited about the council members that spoke, saying they're going to to help us with this issue and fix this problem."
Akron City Council is looking to form a committee to take a look at the ongoing issue of food trucks operating within the city.
City Council President Garry Moneypenny explains to AkronNewsNow who the committee will be made up of and what they will be looking into moving forward.
"We're going to ask people from our restaurant association, individuals, people from our downtown partnership association, and others to see what kind of impact this would have."
Moneypenny says several council people have expressed an interest and that the city will reach out to the Akron Area Restaurant Association and the Downtown Akron Partnership.
Members of the food truck society have thrown their names into the ring to serve on this committee whenever it is chosen. Jeff Winer, co-owner of the Orange Truk in Copley as well as Ken Oppenheimer, CEO of the Medina-based Sushi on the Roll have expressed an interest in serving in this capacity.
Moneypenny says when some of the food truck vendors came to Council Chambers a couple weeks ago, they conducted themselves very professionally and brought up a number of good points. However, he addressed some of the negative and attacking posts on the Facebook page "Please Allow Food Trucks in Akron" with a stern message during last night's council meeting, telling them to stop with the attacking posts.
"When you go to social media and you see some of the attacks that are being done, I don't know that it's them, but it's supposed to be the website that's representing them as a whole, I personally thought they need to tone that down."
Food truck operator Jeff Winer told the operator of the Facebook page "Please Allow Food Trucks in Akron" to tone down the negative comments and to advise commenters to watch what they post. As of Monday night, the page has been taken down.
Winer, who attended the meeting says that he's pleased with how the city and its lawmaking body has been treating the he and the rest of the food truck vendors in the Akron area.
"They've been open to us since our first meeting, I'm pleased with the Mayor's office, they've made the initiative to meet with us," he said.
"It upsets me that someone is attacking the city, but I can assure you it's not us."
Winer says that he understands the concern about food trucks detracting from downtown restaurants, but says it won't keep brick-and mortar restaurants from shutting their doors.
He cited Cleveland as an example, saying there are four new restaurants as a result of starting out as food trucks.
"Restaurants are not shutting down because a food truck came into town," he explained.
Moneypenny says he hopes to announce by next week exactly who will serve on the committee.
In other news, Council passed a resolution declaring August 2013 as Summit Kids Month and encouraging the city to join in the acknowledgement . Another ordinance that passed Monday night urged the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund Names Committee to add Reserve Officer Harold Wintrow to the National Peace Officers Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. Wintrow was shot and paralyzed in the line of duty during a gunfight in the 1965. He died from an infection in 1993. Also passed was a resolution supporting the inclusion of funding for the Ohio Alliance of Boys and Girls Clubs in the State Budget.
City Council also got a special visitor as Pat Simmons, the Executive Director of the Akron Zoo came asking the council body to support the upcoming zoo levy. Simmons also brought in an armadillo "Daisy" for all to see.
Previous Coverage : AUDIO Akron City Council: Food Truck Debate "Worth A Look"
Akron City Council is looking at possibly changing legislation regarding the operation of food trucks in the city.
City Council President Garry Moneypenny says there's strong views from both sides on this ongoing issue.
"If you listen to the food truck industry people, they say this actually brings business to the area that they're set up in, and when you talk to the brick-and-mortar restaurants they say that takes away business from the area."
Current city law prevents any transient retailers from selling any item of value from a motor vehicle in Akron.
Lisa Abraham, food editor for the Akron Beacon Journal says those who operate the food trucks have been making headway by visiting Akron City Council to discuss the issue with the city's lawmakers.
"I think that for a long time, Akron was not even paying attention to the issue,"she says.
"There's certain people in the city administration who don't want to welcome them in, and now that they've made City Council aware of it, I feel it's a step in the right direction for them."
Abraham says that while the efforts made into revamping downtown should not be dismissed, the competition issue between the food trucks and the brick-and-mortar restaurants will only help, not hurt the Akron food industry.
"You can't underestimate the fact that these trucks for many chefs are a starter, they're a way of increasing revenue to a brick-and mortar business, or giving them the popularity they need to open up their own restaurant."
Moneypenny explains why the city and the Downtown Akron Partnership have been hesitant to allow food trucks downtown.
"In the past, I know there's been a lot of strong opposition to let them come in, because we've invested a lot of money downtown, as well as the business owners have made a strong investment in Downtown Akron, so there's been resistance to this."
He says several food truck operators spoke before Akron City Council two weeks ago asking them for a change in the current law as well as offering some proposed guidelines for food truck legislation.
"We just need to look at it with open minds, and we'll examine it to see what other communities are doing, and then we'll evaluate it," Moneypenny said.
Previous Coverage: Food Truck Debate Heats Up
The City of Akron will be adding its own public natural gas station in the near future.
Akron City Council approved plans during their meeting Monday evening for regional trucking company J Rayl Transport to add a compressed natural gas filling station and truck terminal to its property at the corner of South Arlington Street and Palmetto Avenue.
City Council President Garry Moneypenny says not only will this provide a quality service, but help improve the environment as well.
"Obviously, Akron's real big in going green and this helps us in our goal of helping the environment," Moneypenny explained.
"There's not a whole lot of places that sell the natural gas and this provides a much-needed location on the southeast side of Akron."
J Rayl Transport currently employs more than 200 people.
Moneypenny says he's pleased to see the company expanding its footprint in Akron after they bought the old Rex's Salvage building, which has been abandoned for some time.
"This will help get rid of an eyesore as well as provide a much needed service to the Akron area," Moneypenny said.
The company plans on converting its fleet ot trucks from diesel fuel to either natural gas or a combination of diesel and natural gas.
Moneypenny says the plans to add the natural gas station are a win-win for both the city and J Rayl Transport.
"This is a very positive thing for Akron and we're thankful that J.Rayl stepped up to provide this for us."
The station is expected to open in the next three to six months.
Akron's golf courses are about to get a little greener this summer.
The city will be using 20 new eco-friendly golf carts that will be fueled by either hydrogen or natural gas.
City Council President Garry Moneypenny explains what the inventor along with locally-based developer Hydrogen Energy Systems (HES) will do.
"What this will allow us to do is put the hydrogen engine in 5 of those golf carts and 15 will have the natural gas engine," he said.
Akron City Council passed legislation Monday evening to purchase the golf carts from HES.
The carts will be used at both the Mud Run and Good Park golf courses.
Moneypenny says when he saw the prototype , he noticed some fundamental differences between the HES golf cart and the traditional carts.
"It has just as much torque and power as the standard golf cart and it doesn't cost as much."
"If you sit in a room when this engine is running, not only is it quieter, but it puts out fumes that are completely odorless."
As part of the agreement to purchase the carts, the Akron Development Corporation (ADC) will agree to aid Hydrogen Energy Systems in marketing and selling their golf carts to potential buyers. HES will then pay the ADC a portion of the sale for every cart marketed by them.
Moneypenny says there won't be any drop-off with the performance of the eco-friendly carts out on the links this summer.
The council president says eventually the company will develop more environmentally friendly alternatives for running lawn mowers and tow motors among other appliances.
The City of Akron is taking further steps to promote public awareness about the dangers of methamphetamine use and manufacturing.
At-large councilman Jeff Fusco says part of the process is educating people on how these labs can cause problems.
"Right now it's vital and important for people to identify these meth labs," Fusco explained.
"These materials are toxic and dangerous to handle, so people could get hurt when they encounter these items."
The city passed an ordinance authorizing $10,000 to be spent towards an educational program to warn about meth use and the tools used to make it.
Akron City Council's Jeff Fusco and Russel Neal Jr by Aaron Coleman
Ward 4 Councilman Russel Neal Jr echoes Fusco's sentiment by saying education on this problem is vital.
"It's important that we educate the public on this problem through these pieces of legislation," Neal said.
The other two ordinances passed Monday night will put the cost of meth lab cleanup on the property owners to take the burden off of the Akron Police Department for getting rid of the chemicals found at the lab sites.
The other is urging the Ohio General Assembly to set a standard for assessment and remediation of homes where meth labs have been found.
Ward 10 Councilman Garry Moneypenny believes that the APD and the taxpayers will benefit greatly from this legislation.
Ward 10 Councilman Garry Moneypenny by Aaron Coleman
"Right now that cost is being absorbed by the residents of Akron, and with this we're trying to put some of that responsibility on the property owners."
The Ward 10 councilman, who has a background in law enforcement, says there are more "shake and bake" meth labs out there and that the drug can be made in many different ways.
There are many dangers that go along with meth making and usage, including people dumping the materials along the side of the road, causing fire hazards and causing issues for children who find these materials.
Moneypenny says that the problem has reached borderline "epidemic" status and that the three ordinances are a step in the right direction to taking these drugs off the streets.
Akron City Council has passed the city's operating budget for 2012.
Budget and Finance Chair Garry Moneypenny tells AkronNewsNow.com about the biggest change in the budget.
"The most major change would be a decrease of $27 million dollars or overall 5 percent," he said.
The 2012 operating budget is $502 million, which is down from last year's budget of $528 million.
Moneypenny says the Council body was instrumental in moving forward with its adoption and passage Monday evening.
"I believe a lot of these council people did their homework, came back the following day to the budget hearings and asked the important questions they needed to in looking over the budget before it was passed.
Moneypenny said the budget was very lean, and in overall operating expenses would be reduced with its passage. He says Akron residents can expect the same quality services, just with less people.
"We have no laid-off full time employees at this point, we do have some seasonal employees that maybe won't be hired back this summer, so we are following the model of doing more with less."
The councilman adds that City Finance Director Diane Miller Dawson did a "phenomenal job" of organizing the budget meetings and providing City Council with the information they needed to adopt the budget.
Miller-Dawson says Akron's tax amnesty program is one of the main programs in terms of generating revenue.
"We're hoping the amnesty program will help us grow income tax revenues that will offset some of the cuts we'll be receiving from the State."
The city's employment numbers are the lowest they've been since the 1960's with over 1700 employees.
"Our employees have been working hard and they've been doing their part in balancing the budget by submitting their budget requests and cutting expenses where they can."