The San Angelo City Council — including its two newest members — will take public comment at its meeting today on the controversial smoke-ban ordinance proposed via petition earlier this year.
Smoke-Free San Angelo submitted a petition in February proposing an ordinance that, if approved by voters, would ban smoking in all public indoor places in the city, including bars and restaurants, as well as certain outdoor spaces and within 15 feet of entrances to smoke-free buildings.
The group had originally hoped to have the ordinance on the ballot in last week’s city election, but the council determined at a special meeting in February there was not enough time to complete all the necessary petition procedural requirements to make that happen. The ordinance will likely be put to a vote in November.
After taking public comment, the council will vote on the ordinance. However, that vote is purely procedural because petition law allows the group to request its preferred version of the ordinance be put to a vote regardless of how council votes on it.
City Clerk Alicia Ramirez rescinded her initial invalidation of the petition after discovering that a significant portion of the city charter dealing with petition procedure was amended into city charter after 1985, making the procedure null because of a state law that says any portion of city charter dealing with petition procedure added into the city charter after 1985 cannot be used to invalidate a petition.
The group expressed optimism about the process moving forward when council “received” the petition from Ramirez in early April — the first in a series of steps the city and the group must take to get the ordinance on the November ballot.
“I think we’ve got a good schedule laid out in front of us and can keep moving forward. We’re definitely very excited about getting this process going and getting things kicked into gear,” said Grant Wallace, regional director for government relations for the American Cancer Society, in April.
The local society office has worked in partnership with Smoke-Free San Angelo.
As part of a special agenda, Paul Alexander and Kendall Hirschfeld will be sworn in at the beginning of the meeting as the newest council members to represent Single Member Districts 1 and 5. Incumbent SMD 3 council member Johnny Silvas, who ran for re-election to a second term unopposed, will also take the oath of office.
Alexander and Hirschfeld — both of whom have expressed differing opinions on the ordinance — said Monday they were excited about taking the oath of office and getting started on the council.
Alexander, who ran in last year’s special mayoral election and has been attending council meetings for more than seven months, said he’s excited to now have an outlet to do something about the issues he’s found to be most important facing the city.
“I’m excited that I’m a part of a council now, that instead of dreaming up all these things I actually get to do them,” he said.
“There’s not a lot of people who have been in this position and it’s pretty nice. When there’s that team attitude, lots of talk and dialogue, good things can happen and that’s what we have in San Angelo and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Alexander said he is glad the smoke-ban ordinance is going to be put to a vote and that the outcome will be OK no matter how residents vote, but that he believes San Angelo’s lack of such an ordinance indicates one of the ways the city may be behind on the times.
“When I vote on an item up there, it will be to make San Angelo a community of choice for outsiders and I believe that smoking may have some negative ramifications there, but I believe the citizens will make a good choice,” he said. “I believe our job is to expand opportunity for San Angeloans.”
Hirschfeld, a small-business owner and former operations manager for Hirschfeld Steel Company, said he believes the ordinance would take away choice and freedom.
“I personally am not in favor of a citywide smoking ban ordinance,” he said. “I believe that it’s really more about rights. It’s not about whether I believe or don’t believe in smoking. The issue is that I believe people have freedoms and rights and this day in age we’re losing more of our privileges and freedoms and I think that’s wrong. I think a business should have the opportunity to decide for itself whether it wants smoking or not because it can affect their revenue in a positive or negative way.”
Hirschfeld, who said during a campaign interview that he has been looking for a way to be more involved in the city’s future, said he’s excited to finally serve on the council.
“It’s kind of what I’ve been waiting for. It’s what everything has been leading up to,” he said.
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