Ely City Councilman Tony Defelice, who is also the owner and operator of Hunter’s Cafe, took a lot of heat at last week’s council meeting.
An agenda item that was placed by councilman Sam Hanson that was for possible action to approve creating a resolution instituting a moratorium on mobile vending units.
With over an hour of hefty public comment, and several letters read into the record during the meeting, it was apparent that the community was not going to watch this hot button item get approved that easily.
The first person to speak during the public comment period was Councilman Defelice.
“I wanted to go first because I want you to know, I believe that competition is good because it raises the bar for you,” he said. “Because the City of Ely has no food truck ordinances, I thought that getting an ordinance in place would protect food trucks and customers that eat at them.
“As a restaurant owner, I have asked the city council to weigh in on this which was portrayed by some as me not wanting food trucks. Because I don’t have a food truck, I should have just left these issues for the food truck owners. Hindsight is 20/20. And I can see how asking the council to draft ordinances could be misunderstood as me acting in a self serving manner.
“I understand that some of you will believe this or not, no matter what I say. However, whether you know me or not, I will always try to act for the best interest of Ely no matter how difficult or controversial that could be. I will always do what is in the best interest of Ely.”
Kerri Pintar was the first member of the public to comment on this issue. She said, “Mayor what a tangled web we weave, this is reminiscent of Labra vs. City of Ely, where she was issued a business license, the city recalled the license, Labra paid $20,000 and got a partial win. What did the city expend?”
Pintar went on to express her disappointment in Hanson, citing he was duped into sponsoring the agenda item. “It is my personal opinion that Councilman Defelice has a direct conflict of interest”
Allen Ruesch, owner of Shorty’s food truck stood before the council and spoke explaining how he had followed all of the rules and regulations to get his food truck cleared for business, only to be embarrassed by the sheriff’s office showing up on opening day to give him a warning.
City resident, James Beecher said, “It sends a chilling message that when somebody opens a business that competes with somebody like the city council and the very next meeting the city council puts on the agenda to remove that business from the community.
“Second, it’s disturbing that at a time when the federal government is deregulating business to help spur economic growth, Ely has gone the route of California and tried to create more regulations in order to hamper economic growth.”
Beecher also noted that while he appreciated DeFelice’s comments, and appreciated that Defelice acknowledged that this was his agenda item and not Sam Hanson’s, he noted that, that was not expressed on the agenda.
Yvette Tillery, owner of Wicked Creams ice cream truck, expressed her frustrations as she went through the process to get a license to operate her business, causing so much grief that they have now decided to call it quits.
Former Councliman Bruce Setterstrom had possibly the most heated comment for DeFelice as he carried up one of Defelice’s campaign signs from when Defelice ran for Councliman in 2017.
“Remember that? That’s your campaign sign. It says honesty and transparency…I have a quick question, this is the CAD report from the sheriff, who showed up to Allen’s business the first day. Did you ask Chuck Odgers to call the sheriff’s department?”
DeFelice answered “No.”
Setterstrom replied, “You’re saying no?”
Defelice responded, “I…well…if you want,”
Setterstrom interrupted saying, “I just want you to be honest and transparent”
Defelice answered, “Bruce, if you want me to talk about this I’ll talk to you about this.”
Setterstrom said, “No….I haven’t been here for 16 months but when I read about this I was outraged. You have a councilman who brings up an ordinance to protect his own ordinance and then calls the cops to enforce an existing ordinance. So, I’m asking you did you direct Chuck to call the sheriff’s department?”
Defelice said, “I don’t believe I called Chuck to call the police.”
Setterstrom said, “You don’t believe? You don’t know?”
DeFelice said, “I had a conversation with Chuck about the state umm…discussing the agreement how long they could be operating.”
Setterstrom said, “And you didn’t tell Chuck to enforce the law?”
Defelice answered, “I told Chuck to do the right thing.”
The crowd began to get noisy, with comments and jeers towards the council, the mayor used the gavel to get the crowd to calm down.
The CAD report that Setterstrom referenced was a report that we requested from the Sheriff’s office. The report said that Odgers reported Shorty’s truck parked at the 100 block of Aultman Steeet can only be in the same location for four hours.
Upon arrival, the deputy made contact with Ruesch, who was advised of the complaint and NAC code. The report indicated that the business was closing upon arrival. A warning was issued.
Sheriff Scott Henriod spoke before the crowd and the council to try and explain how things work.
“Under Nevada Administrative Code ,which outlines rules and regulations, they’re not necessarily laws but they are regulations put into affect to make things fair across the board in the State of Nevada,” he said.
Henriod explained that the health authority is the only division that can request.
“Law enforcement isn’t in this fight until the health authority comes to us and asks for assistance,” he said. “So I’m just letting you know, our deputy went down there under the direction of what he thought was right, and that situation has been corrected.”
Several others spoke before the council expressing many of their comments towards Defelice, citing he should feel ashamed for what he was doing, it was a conflict of interest, asking him what was next? Stopping the girl scouts or boy scouts from their fundraising efforts?
Ely native John Lampros commented, “ I picked up the paper today and I see that first off Mr. Defelice, you are very unethical by even sitting there, I have been in the political world for 40 years, you shouldn’t even be there, you shouldn’t even come out and said this was your agenda item, because Mr. Hanson is breaking the law.
“This is a legal document, the agenda is, you say it’s your item, he says it’s his item. I find that very interesting. To pick on a young man that’s trying to make a living, in a community that’s trying to come back. And I see some good things, I see some bad things, but I’m an old man, I just stay home, but tonight I couldn’t stay home because we have tried to get our young people to come back here, to stay here, and build up an economic base, and tonight you’re slapping them in the face telling them to kiss off, and you cannot legislate competition.”
Several letters that were read into the record came from local dentist Dr. Shannon Sena, and Tour and Rec board member Marietta Henry expressing their concerns of the possible moratorium.
And even the Mayor, who has a sewing and alteration business and a food business as well, spoke during public comment.
“I have a small business,” she said. “For the past four years, myself and several others have worked tirelessly for years on economic development for this town, the beautification of downtown, tourism, the $30 million NDOT project. Welcoming entrepreneur and encouraging successful operation is good for everyone, including the competitors. The fabric of downtown is forever changing, small towns don’t have to think small.”
Mary Kerner spoke in support of growth in the community including mobile food units. She also questioned several of the city council members, reminding them what they had expressed in previous years when running for their elected seat as councilman.
“Mr. Defelice, you stated in the March 24, 2017, edition of the Ely Times “Running for City Council will afford me the opportunity to work with groups of people to help Ely move to a positive future, helping local business create new venues and cross promote which will bring locals as well as tourist to downtown.”
She included the other three councilmember’s statements while they were running for elected city council seats asking them to reflect on what they said several years ago. Kerner said,“I would ask the council to recall why you wanted to run for this office to begin with and to keep Ely’s big picture in mind when making decisions that affect our existing and future economic development.”
After several more residents expressed their concerns and their concerted push on supporting the food trucks, it came time to decide which items would be tabled or removed from the agenda.
Hanson said, “There has been a great deal of discussion tonight, we need to delete item 4 under new business for a variety of reasons, the least of which is the Mayor having disclosed a conflict of interest, and Tony having a conflict of interest, that means that I would have to chair the meeting, and I couldn’t vote, which only leaves two people that would be able to vote, which does not constitute a quorum.”
Hanson went on to explain how Odgers had spoke with him advising Hanson to delete this particular item, knowing how controversial it would be. However, Hanson stated that being a member of the city council, and represent the entire city including other members of the city council was important to him.
“A number of people who were here earlier, and some still now, wondered why I placed items on the agenda, I may or may not have agreed with those items, but I feel that as a member of the council it’s my responsibility as an elected member, sometimes I didn’t even vote them for myself but I felt it was my responsibility as a representative to do so. Let the record show that Chuck had adamantly approached me but I was asked to do so, and these people are my constituents as well as all of you.”
The motion was made and approved unanimously to delete this item off the agenda. Shorty’s was open the next day with a line of people waiting to sample a sandwich and some fresh soup.