Yes means no

Special election could be confusing after commission agrees to retain smoking ban

Yes means no

By DAVID CLOUSTON

Salina Journal

The effort by opponents of Salina’s month-old public smoking ban to get Salina city commissioners to reconsider adding exemptions for bars, private clubs and other establishments ended with a simple two-word benediction from the commissioner responsible for bringing the matter back up for discussion.

“Let’s vote,” Commissioner Tom Arpke said in referring to Salina voters, who it appears will get the chance to express how they feel about the issue at the ballot box in a special election.

Because the commission chose at Monday’s meeting not to repeal the controversial ordinance, the voters themselves will be asked to decide if repeal is warranted.

Opponents say they have enough signatures on a petition to put the question to a special election. But they had hoped to persuade the commission to repeal the ordinance, and force those who support it to pass their own petition calling for the ordinance to be retained.

“We simply wanted to give the new governing body every opportunity to make amendments, exemptions or repeal. They’ve now made themselves clear. We simply now will turn (the petitions) in to be validated,” leading ordinance opponent Gary Swartzendruber said after the meeting. He said the group intends to turn in the petitions today to the county counselor, to start the process of calling a special election.

Without the commission’s action, the opponents fear their challenge will be less likely to succeed, since voters opposed to the ban will be voting “Yes” to repeal it, creating a situation where “No” means “Yes,” and “Yes” means “No,” Swartzendruber said.

The two incumbent commissioners, Mayor Luci Larson and Vice Mayor Aaron Peck, were formerly split on the issue. Peck was strongly in favor of keeping the ordinance in place as is, while Larson favored some exemptions as a way of protecting small neighborhood bar owners.

They were joined in April by three new commissioners: Arpke and Commissioner Samantha Angell, who favored exemptions, and Commissioner Norman Jennings, who did not.

Long, sometimes heated

The commission meeting room Monday was nearly packed by a crowd of more than 60 people. And after a long and sometimes heated series of comments by members of the public, both Angell and Larson said they now stand in favor of letting a public vote proceed.

“One of the main reasons I agreed to talk about exceptions today was that it was my hope that we could reach a majority agreement on those exceptions and avoid a special election,” Angell said. “It became clear to me pretty quickly after I agreed to discuss exceptions that there’s no way we’re going to reach majority agreement on what those exceptions should be.”

The vast majority of Salinans are tired of hearing about the issue, Angell said she believes, and they’re tired of their taxpayer dollars going to any further discussion of the issue.

Said Larson, “By the time you start (considering exemptions), we’re right back to where we started.

“I agree here with Vice Mayor Peck,” she said. “The cleanest way of doing this is to let the people vote … and by the way, it is not smokers versus nonsmokers. I have had just as many nonsmokers call me, tell me that they are not a smoker, but they agreed with me (about protecting small business owners). So I hated that we were calling them smokers against nonsmokers. No, they were opponents versus proponents.”

Laying off employees

Those commenting during the meeting included Denise Ward, owner of the Blind Pig Sports Lounge, 2501 Market, who told commissioners she’s had to start laying off help because of a decline in business she attributes to the smoking ban.

Larger cities such as Kansas City and Wichita have tried a full-out smoking ban, she said, and as a result have instituted a system where businesses can purchase a permit, for a fee, that enables them to allow their customers to smoke inside.

“I gladly would pay a fee to allow smoking in my establishment. It’s hurt me that much,” she said.

Suffer from ‘tobaculosis’

Trent Davis, a local neurologist and member of the Salina Area Tobacco Prevention Coalition, urged the commissioners to not adopt exemptions. He described as “tobaculosis” the cost to the public, as a whole, from tobacco-related illnesses.

“We’re not putting up the image we want to if we start diluting this ordinance,” Davis said.

Terry Johnson, a registered nurse for 36 years who teaches at Kansas Wesleyan University and is a nurse at Salina Regional Health Center, urged commissioners to stick with the tougher ordinance, and not relegate to “second class citizens” those Salinans who work in bars, whose health is put at risk by secondhand smoke.

Carol Carpenter, 1413 Sherwood Lane, also expressed her support for the ordinance, saying exemptions would send the message to children that it’s “OK to change the rules if it means temporary pleasure or monetary gain, even if it comes at a health risk.”

Get out of town

Another woman rose to say that in the 10 years she’s lived in Salina, she’s watched Manhattan and Lawrence make their cities smoke-free.

“We talk about progress, progress, progress. Well, let’s take a step for progress and take this in the right direction by keeping the ordinance as it stands,” she said.

That prompted an angry response from a proponent of repealing the ordinance, James O’Shea, 2314 Hillside.

“She moved here 10 years ago,” O’Shea said. “If she don’t like the way things were when she moved here, go back where you came from and leave our town alone. And leave us alone.”

When do we vote?

Saline County Clerk Don Merriman said late Monday there’s a lot to do to get ready for a special election, which might be sometime in July.

He noted that his office has to verify the signatures on the petitions, and that could be four or five days, depending on the condition of the petitions. He said about 1,390 signatures are needed.

In addition, the wording on the ballot has to be set, ballots printed, machines programmed and delivered to polling places, and more than 100 people have to be hired to work the election.

All of that adds up to about $20,000 to stage the special election, he said.

n Reporter David Clouston can be reached at 822-1403 or by e-mail at dclouston@salina.com.

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