Curb The Dogs!

Solon turns up the heat on an unassuming wiener vendor.

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Art's Cart isn't just a hot dog cart. It's a gourmet hot dog cart, serving 10 kinds of dogs. Proprietor Art Fried claims he's huge in Kent, where he serves the bar crowd till 3:30 a.m. He also caters everything from parties in Bedford Heights to horse shows in Moreland Hills. But he just can't seem to win the affections of Solon -- at least those of city officials, who have steadfastly protected the suburb from the menace of roaming tubular meat vendors.

It all started when Fried worked a sidewalk sale at an OfficeMax. He sold so much, he decided to make the strip mall's parking lot a regular stop. He had an inkling that slinging dogs from this hallowed ground might not be exactly legal, so he asked customers to sign a petition supporting the mobile hot dog industry. Within four days, he had 400 signatures.

But in Solon, city ordinances come directly from Mount Sinai and shan't be defiled. Solon law prohibits the "outdoor display or sale of food, merchandise, and equipment, blah, blah, blah." So when a zoning inspector spotted Fried's renegade cart, she shut it down.

"I've gotten pretty well razzed over it . . ." says the inspector, Joyce Soltis. "They say, 'Geez, Joyce, come on, you're busting the hot dog guy?'" But, like arch-villains everywhere, she pawns her responsibility. "It's my job. That's what I do; I enforce the code."

Which leads The Edge to the natural question: If hot dog carts are legal in Cleveland, Kent, and other places where decent people enjoy an occasional shaft of saturated fat, why not in Solon?

Planning Director Rob Frankland says changing the law would give way to nothing short of the apocalypse. "There's a lot of safety issues with those uses. You could get in situations where they're blocking traffic, situations where it's not safe for people patronizing the business." Besides, it would also open up Solon to "any type of vending: outdoor sports paraphernalia, selling paintings, selling flowers."

Undeterred, Fried petitioned the Solon City Council last week, which agreed to place a rezoning referendum on the fall ballot. He, his wife, and sons have been going door-to-door to stir support for the nomadic hot dog trade. But he's not certain the measure will pass. The city gets to choose the ballot language.

If it reads, "Hey, you mind if a hot dog guy works the strip mall parking lot?" Fried figures he's a lock. But if it reads like a Turkish computer manual, he says, "the legalese is probably going to throw people off."

One might presume the Cleveland School Board is populated by people who actually live in Cleveland. Not so. Of the nine members, two hail from old-money Bratenahl. Now, due to the weirdness you've come to expect from our fair district, the board is in search of another member from outside Cleveland.

Our saga began when Douglas Fear, a third Bratenahl resident on the board, moved out of town, thus relinquishing his seat. Consultant Carol Haslett subsequently told the panel that nominates replacements that, if a non-Clevelander leaves the board, the seat must be filled by someone from a suburb covered by the Cleveland district. So instead of choosing someone from the city, where the population is almost 500,000, one must be selected from Bratenahl (pop. 1,337), Newburgh Heights (pop. 2,389), Linndale (pop. 117), or a sliver of Garfield Heights.

Finding that person hasn't been easy. The initial deadline for applications was pushed from July 15 to July 30. "They probably had a small number of applicants," says nominating panel member Rich DeColibus, president of the Cleveland Teachers Union.

But the school board is apparently stuck with the problem. The rule comes courtesy of the Ohio legislature, which provided the statute for Mayor Mike White's takeover of the district. The law says White had to appoint only one member from outside Cleveland. But once he appointed three from Bratenahl, he couldn't go back. So until their terms expire, the district is stuck with one-third of its board representing just a fraction of its students.

Behold the power of wise government.

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