Bradenton bans food giveaways at Riverwalk until policy is set

rdymond@bradenton.comMarch 6, 2013 

BRADENTON -- There will be no more free hot dogs for Riverwalk skateboarders -- at least for a while.

On Tuesday, both Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston and Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski said there are just no vendor guidelines for Riverwalk yet to allow Michele Tejkl, or anyone else, to give away or sell food.

"We are still talking about it," Poston said of future rules governing dispensing things in the park. "She needs to wait, which is what we have told other people."

Three months ago, Tejkl, her husband, Jim, and four sons decided to "adopt" the skateboarders, most of whom come to the Skatepark with not much money in their pockets, Michele Tejkl said.

Every Sunday from 2-6 p.m. Tejkl, who calls her group of family members and volunteers, The Family, has been cooking hot dogs on a burner plugged into electricity near the Skatepark. She had a donation jar to help defray costs.

Last Sunday, the police shut the operation down.

"I am very frustrated with the city," Tejkl said Tuesday. "I have pictures of Bradenton City Council members at our event. I don't understand why they wouldn't tell us something then. I would like an apology."

Her request from the city of Bradenton for reasons why she can't give away hot dogs, have been "very cold," Tejkl said.

"They state the officer was doing his job and we were in the wrong, even though it seemed everyone in the city was supporting us before," Tejkl said. "Now, everyone is saying something different. Some say it is because we are operating a grill. Some say it's because we had a donation jar. I think the main problem is that they are getting complaints from people who say they can't sell food but we are giving it away."

Poston indicated Tuesday that the problem is that there is no vendor policy and no timetable for having one.

He said he and other city officials want to wait and see how the park evolves before making policies.

"There are other options, like the Yachtsea Grille," Poston said, referring to a restaurant at 101 Riverfront Drive. "It's within walking distance and a lot of kids do go there. It's a fine place to eat."

Radzilowski said the city would most likely be liable in the event that someone became ill.

"Who is responsible if someone hands out tainted meat?" Radzilowski said. "Is the city responsible? There's a lot of things to think about. It seems to me if the city lets you hand out food, the city is saying, 'You can eat this food without concern.' But if it turns out it has salmonella, who are you going to complain to?"

Radzilowski also pointed out that cooking at the park could not be allowed and that the Tejkls often set up in a Department of Transportation right-of-way under the First Street Bridge.

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