We give credit where credit is due. We therefore agree on the merits with Commissioner Rob Williamson’s July 6 statement on policymaking, when he told constituents in Tiger Point that government cannot be run like a business. And this is very true.
Government was designed to be slow – not dammed up, but slow. But while elected officials can’t make policy like a company conducts business, they also shouldn’t interfere in the creation of that business.
On July 10, the board shot down two proposals to allow mobile vendors to sell cold treats on Navarre Beach. We believe government should always trust the consumer with his or her own choices. That said, we agree with the commission that businesses should follow the rules set forth by policymakers. The problem, of course, is that there is no definitive county policy that would allow such vendors to try out their business models on Navarre Beach in a meaningful way.
Perhaps this should be changed.
The commissioners reiterated that Santa Rosa has always operated similarly to its neighbor Escambia County: mobile vendors are not allowed on the beach except as a sub lessee to an existing business. Should we simply continue to follow this status quo, or should we be bold? Public policy cannot be made as effortlessly as in a private business, to be sure, but this does not mean a local government cannot innovate, especially if that innovation is in the finest tradition of this Republic’s welcoming stance toward open business.
Shall we try a grand experiment in capitalism, perhaps by allowing a carefully-chosen central location for mobile vendors? Many municipalities are beginning to designate areas in which mobile food vendors can trade their wares. The commission might consider crafting such a policy with generous input from the Navarre Beach Leaseholders and Residents Association. Their opinion would be very important to such a debate.
The commissioners voiced many concerns over the proposal, including the question of appearance – they want to ensure our beach property is beautiful and pristine. We agree. Any policy must take into account the big picture plans for Navarre Beach – its overall “look,” if you will.
The free market, of course, is a beautiful phenomenon. It is fair to diverse individuals. With a common language of trade and hard cash, it sets prices effortlessly – no management or central control needed. People are flawed and biased; they cannot artificially recreate such a balanced system. Every time a small group attempts to control a market, some participants get left out unfairly.
Competition is the best medicine for these problems. It effortlessly settles pricing disputes, encourages innovation and keeps businesses providing the best possible customer service. And to encourage competition, you must encourage new business.
How many vendors should we allow? The answer is: as many as the market allows, as long as the rules are followed. Right now, those rules are lacking. As Commissioner Williamson noted, government should not pick and choose which businesses it allows to operate within its boundaries. We shouldn’t fall into that trap, and to avoid this we would need a comprehensive – and carefully-considered – policy for these mobile vendors.
To the point that the market is wiser than any one group, even we do not claim to know whether the Navarre crowd – locals and tourists alike – would welcome the free trade of frozen treats on the beach. However, commissioners should certainly consider the options available for responsibly opening this new market.