Smoke 'em while you've got 'em
Weeks of discussion and public debate over a citywide ban on smoking in Greencastle culminated Thursday night with a unanimous vote of support by members of the city council.
Council members John Lanie, Mark Hammer, Bob Sedlack and Russ Evans voted 4-0 to approve the first reading of an all-inclusive ban on smoking in enclosed public places in the city, including all restaurants, bars, businesses, government offices, stores and private clubs.
The ordinance faces one more vote by the council before becoming final. If approved at the council's May 8 meeting, the ban would go into effect on Sept. 1.
The ban does not prohibit smoking in outdoor locations, including parks, outdoor places of employment, sidewalks, cars or private residences.
Nursing homes are included in the ban except where state law requires that an area for smoking be designated for residents.
Councilman Tom Roach did not attend Thursday night's meeting.
One major change to the ordinance was approved by the council prior to passage Thursday night. The council voted to remove language from the ordinance that would have allowed private clubs to be exempt from the ban if members from the general public were not present.
Council members said Thursday night that they felt allowing private clubs an exemption was not fair to other businesses and so they voted to strike it from the ordinance.
Thursday night's meeting was the third time members of the council and public have been allowed to discuss the issue and voice their opinions. As with the previous two meetings, a mix of supporters and opponents of the ban stood behind the podium in the council chambers and voiced their feelings to the council.
Bar and restaurant owners told the council they felt their businesses would fail because their smoking customers would go elsewhere outside the city limits where they can smoke freely.
Other business owners, however, said they have accepted the issue of secondhand smoke as a "sign of the times" and felt businesses may actually benefit from the smoking ban because of the non-smokers, who previously avoided smoking establishments, who would start patronizing their businesses again.
Council members agreed they could not predict the full effect of this ordinance on businesses, but they felt the idea of public health was a greater issue.
"I think it really comes down to the public health issue," Councilman Mark Hammer said.
All the councilmen who attended the meeting said publicly that they struggled with the decision to approve the ordinance.
"It's probably one of the hardest decisions we've made," Council President John Lanie said. "I hope that it all works out for the best for everyone. I really do."
Councilman Bob Sedlack, who pushed for the ordinance early on, said, "I'm as proud of being on the city council as I have been in 14 years (on the council). I think we're making the right choice for the health of the community."
Councilman Russ Evans added, "It's a sign of the times. I don't think anyone will go out of business. I hope you don't."
Another change to the ordinance from previous meetings was a section on penalties for those individuals who violate the smoking policy.
An individual who violates the smoking ordinance will be assessed a $50 fine, according to the ordinance approved Thursday night.
Business owners are assessed a stiffer penalty if they allow smoking in violation of the ordinance. For the first offense, the fine for business owners is $100, followed by $200 for a second offence and $500 for each additional offense during a period of one year, according to the ordinance.
There is an appeals process that is outlined in the ordinance as well.
As with all ordinances, copies of the smoking ordinance are available for public review by contacting the mayor's office at city hall.