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Detroit City Council rejects restaurant safety ordinance

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The Detroit City Council on Tuesday rejected a proposed restaurant food safety ordinance that has caused its fair share of dissent.

The council voted 6 to 3 against the proposal presented by council member Scott Benson. Benson, Angela Whitfield-Calloway and Mary Waters voted in favor of the ordinance, which would have required signs to be placed in the windows of Detroit’s 1,706 restaurants with one of three colors reflecting the results of a department inspection of city health.

Council President Mary Sheffield, Pro Tem President James Tate and Council Members Fred Durhal III, Latisha Johnson, Gabriela Santiago-Romero and Coleman Young II voted against the proposal.

“I commend (Benson) for his work on the proposal,” Sheffield said. “Hopefully we can bring it back next year with some changes.”

The vote comes nearly two months after the city council was set to vote on the proposal. A September 6 vote was pushed back to September 13. The proposal was later taken off the table so that the council, affected restaurateurs and community members could get more information about it. Some restaurateurs didn’t want the sign on their businesses at all, saying it would act as a “scarlet letter”.

The “no” vote comes just a day after Benson told Crain’s he was confident all concerns had been addressed.

A memo sent to council Tuesday morning including the names of more than 100 Detroit restaurants as well as the Small Business Association of Michigan and the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association urged members to reject the proposed order. Opposite restaurants include Good Cakes & Bakes, Capers Steakhouse, and Firebird Tavern.

The memo mentions proposed alternatives to Benson, such as incentivized approaches and a non-color-coded QR code.

Charity Dean, president and CEO of the Metro Detroit Black Business Association, said Tuesday the order shows the council, and Benson in particular, doesn’t care about small businesses in Detroit. Dean, a cafe owner who has previously expressed contempt for the proposal, saying in July that her organization wanted to be consulted before any decision was taken.

MDBBA COO Kai Bowman said Tuesday that Benson was unwilling to consider alternatives for the signs.

Benson said on Tuesday that a compromise on a scannable-only QR code had been discussed, but deemed unacceptable. He said more than 50% of Detroit residents wouldn’t know how to get information from the QR code.

Community advocate Malik Shabazz, a supporter of the food safety ordinance, said Tuesday that while the ordinance was not to the liking of critics, collaboration was needed.

“If people don’t like the prescription, they can go with (Benson) and help him,” Shabazz said. “We have to do something. Rotten meat is all over our town and has been for years.”

As proposed, the plates would display one of three colors reflecting the results of an inspection:

  • A green sign indicates that the company meets Detroit health standards.
  • Yellow signals that some issues need to be resolved.
  • Red means that the company would be ordered to close for violating the health code.

The QR code, which would be included on all signs, would link to an online city portal that details why a particular restaurant received its rating.

Criminal sanctions would be possible if it turned out that restaurants had made or installed a false sign.

On Tuesday, Detroit Environmental Health Officer Scott Whittington used Lafayette Coney Island as an example.

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