The tacos looked in order at the truck as Charlene Taylor pulled into the parking lot at the intersection of Forbes Avenue and Stiles Street. But something was missing.
No sign of a posted vending license. No name worker name badges with photos. No health department permit on display.
Under New Haven’s new rules, the operation was out of compliance. Taylor was there to fix it.
“Hi, I’m the vending enforcement officer,” Taylor said by way of introduction to truck operator Greg Garcia Quintero.
“You’re with the building department?” he asked.
As of two weeks ago, Taylor is. She has been stopping by to introduce herself to vendors like Quintero and make sure they know about the city’s new vending rules. Making sure that he had her contact information and that she had his.
“Did you get the email that I sent to vendors?” Taylor asked. He said he had not. And while she was on the subject, he hadn’t received any communications about the new vending license rates or the new regulations, he claimed. Quintero and his workers had valid licenses he just didn’t have them displayed the way the new regulations require.
As vending enforcement officer, Taylor had the authority to make Quintero pack up his truck and to shut him down until he complied with the city’s new vending laws. Instead, he got a warning. But should he fail to comply with the new regulations by the next time she comes to inspect his truck, she noted, he won’t be so lucky.
Such is the work of New Haven’s first vending enforcement officer. Taylor is crisscrossing the city helping vendors like Quintero get up to speed on the new food vending laws that went into effect last August, even as she gets up to speed herself. Some of the money from fees collected under the ordinance pay for her salary.
“I’m fresh,” she said. “I’m just driving around trying to get a feel for who they are and so they can get used to seeing my face.”
Taylor brings a unique skill set to the job. She’s a recently retired state trooper of 23 and a half years. She has also been an associate minister at New Light Holy Church on Howard Avenue for the last 12 years. She said both her former occupation and her current religious avocation will serve her well in her new job: Preaching the word, and enforcing the law.
“She has the perfect personality and the perfect background” for the job, said her boss, city Building Official Jim Turcio.
Growing up in Beaver Falls, Penn., Taylor knew she wanted to be a cop and she wanted to be a minister. She and her brother often played two games: cops and robbers, and church.
“I was always the cop, and he was the robber,” she recalled with a chuckle as she steered her way through New Haven’s streets. “And I was always the minister trying to preach to him.”
Though she lives in Meriden now, she came to New Haven courtesy of a full-ride basketball scholarship to the University of New Haven. She became a state trooper in 1994 after earning a bachelor’s degree in law enforcement administration. Her prowess on the court got her inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003. She earned a second bachelor’s degree in theology.
In her role as the city’s only vending enforcement officer, Taylor now has the responsibility of preaching the message of compliance with the new vending laws with the approximate enforcement muscle of a cop. Though her job isn’t to lock anyone up, she does have the authority to “hit them in the pocket.” Vendors can face monetary fines for not following the new regulations and they can even have their licenses suspended for 30 or more days, all penalties that would be bad for business.
Taylor is meticulous about the details.
She keeps a tape measure in her car, which she plans to replace with a measuring wheel like the one she had back when she was a trooper. She plans to use it to make sure that food trucks, trailers, and cart owners adhere to what the new laws say about how many feet they can be from an intersection, fire hydrants and brick and mortar businesses that sell similar food. Taylor also rides around with notebooks to jot down information and copies of the new ordinance to share with vendors.
“What I have heard is a lot of people say they have received the regulations, but what I’ve also discovered is that a lot of people don’t read them,” she said.
Out at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Lloyd Street, she took pictures of the Ixtapa Mexican Tacos truck, which was sitting just outside of the Mexican goods store Gran Rodeo. She wasn’t sure if it was too close to the intersection, improperly located next to the store, or both. She took the picture so that she could follow up with staff back at the office.
Meanwhile, she checked in with the truck’s owner. What she saw made her smile.
The owner, Raymundo Canete, was on top of everything. His vending licenses was properly displayed along with his permit from the health department. It had his picture on it too. The worker helping him on the truck had his badge with his photo hanging around his neck.
He had no violations. He passed his inspection, no problem.
That means that Taylor wouldn’t be back to the truck for about three months unless someone makes a complaint against the truck. Canete had taken a proactive approach and come by the office to make sure that all his workers were properly badged and the fees to have them on the truck paid.
“That’s what I want — to take the time to explain how things will be and then for them to be compliant,” she said. “I like compliance.”
She said the plan is to give vendors a six-month grace period to get used to the rules and work out the kinks. By the summer, they should know the rules as well as she does.The grace period also gives her time to get to all the places where vendors are plying their trade, particularly the newly created special vending districts where food truck and cart operators pay a premium for designated parking spaces and access to electricity.
In addition to enforcing the new laws, Taylor sees herself as an advocate for the vendors, as she helps to enforce parking rules on non-vendors who park in the paid-for marked premium vendor spots. Taylor has the authority to ticket you and even have you towed if you parking in a vendors spot.
She said she sees it as part of her job to listen to vendors concerns and to help solve problems while enforcing the rules. She said she’s not out to keep people from running their businesses; she’s just there to make sure they do it according to the rules.
“People want consistency,” she said. “They want to know you are for real. That’s what the job is about.”
And to get there everybody’s got to be on the same page. Before she left Quintero, she gave him the last copy of the regulations that she had on her. So that next time he sees her, he’ll be ready.
“I don’t have a problem,” he said of following the new rules Taylor handed him. “I don’t want to be in trouble. I like to be on time. I don’t like to mess around.”