BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - For the second straight week, Harrison County supervisors discussed the issue of beach vendor rules for the upcoming summer season. One sticking point this year is the still unanswered question of who controls the beach.
Supervisors have maintained control of the sand beach and vendor permits for decades, but that authority is being challenged by Secretary of State Delbert Hoseman, who maintains his office has ultimate control.
As the legal battle unfolds, beach vendors find themselves caught in the middle.
"Please understand as a board that those of us that did sign on with the Secretary of State's office did so because we were told if we did not sign, we would not have a permit to do business," Carmen Taconi told the Board of Supervisors at its meeting Monday morning.
Taconi and her husband operate the Old Biloxi Tour Train. She wants supervisors to make a decision on proposed new regulations so vendors can get on with business.
"None of these people, whether they're beach vendors for jet skis, umbrellas, whatever the nature of their business is, we've never wanted to embarrass or insult you as a board. We are trying desperately to make the right decision for our businesses," she told the board.
Angel and Duke Middleton want their two vendor permits renewed for 600 feet of space in front of Island View in Gulfport. But an attorney for the resort told supervisors the owners of the $275 million hotel-casino want their own vendor permit.
"We want a permit for ourselves in 2009 for some reasonable amount of space, not 100 feet stuck off in a corner somewhere. And we'd like it to be on frontage that is directly in front of Island View," said lawyer Ron Peresich on behalf od Island View.
Vendors raised several objections about proposed rules for this season. Hours of operation was a sticking point.
"Why couldn't we just do like 100 days of summer, and we could operate during those hundred days. That way your vendors will be operating in their locations, but won't be told you have to be open three days a week, or you have to be open five days a week," said beach vendor Cindy Omar.
The biggest question remaining is one that can't be answered yet.
"Who has the authority over the sand beach? The Secretary of State or the Board of Supervisors?" Albert Necaise, an attorney for a beach vendor, asked the board.
Supervisors made several changes to the proposed beach vendor regulations. They've scheduled a final vote on the ordinance for March 23rd. A federal court decision on who controls the beach is likely many months away.