When last I blogged, we had gone through a contentious give-and-take with several people protesting that they were not allowed to vote on a smoke-free ordinance. Now, the public input session has ended, and the real fun is beginning.
The council deliberations started when the mayor asked the council for input. The alderman opposing the bill (let's call him Mr. J) had cited the fact that the ordinance was essentially "slid under the rug", and that no business owners had been contacted. He argued (and quite validly) that the council had no right to make such a radical change without notifying the business community, and that the people should have the right to vote on a bill (i.e., make it a petition initiative). And, of course, how dare we public health officials come in and tell the city of Arnold what to do?
In the spirit of democracy, the council decided to move this item up on the agenda, and have a full discussion. The only way this law could be repealed is if one of the aldermen who voted for the ordinance (it won 5 - 2) "reconsidered" his position. As the discussion progressed, some claws came out - one of the aldermen informed Mr. J that he (Mr. J) had been there the evening of the ordinance, and that he could have called supporters in - why didn't he? Another pointed out that, in his five years as city alderman, nobody showed up to city council meetings...until that evening. Mr. P (the alderman who proposed the ordinance, and yes, I could use real names - but what would be the point? This is just a blog, not a news article) reiterated that this ordinance was for the health of the community, and that it was meant to give people with breathing disorders (like asthma) equal access to dining. (Half of the restaurants in Arnold are smoke-free; most of them are fast food restaurants like McDonald's, Hardee's, etc). Most of the pro-smoking contingent threatened the council that they (the council) might not be reelected next year.
During all this, the anti-ordinance contingent's behavior was relatively less-than-civil, with rude comments, blatant insults, etc., being thrown during the proceedings. (Several times, the Mayor had to remind people to conduct themselves in a civil manner). At our end, we attempted to keep our spirits up, and we really worked to avoid throwing stones under our breath. (Talk about mixed metaphors). Yes, this is a contentious issue, and instead of rising to the occasion, it was devolving. At one point, Mr. J - sitting directly in front of myself and a worker from the Jefferson County Health Department - seemed to want to make it very personal. Here's what was said:
Mr. J - You health people, who pays your salary?Eventually, the meeting died down, and the mayor offered to the pro-smoking group that, if they could acquire 902 registered voter signatures by August, the referendum would be put on the ballot. However, they quickly got upset - and extremely vocal - when Mr. P asked that, since the ordinance would take effect on 11/01, and the election was 11/03, if they could try to pass a smokefree workplace ordinance. The pro-smoking crowd, so willing to fight for their right to smoke and dine, quickly left, not wanting to fight for their right to vote for (or against) smoke-free workplaces.
Me: Excuse me?
Mr. J - Where does your salary come from
Me: I think this is about the ordinance and not about where my check comes from...
The buzz around Arnold City Hall was negative - unfortunately, the local media chose to leave before the meat of the conversation (or even in support). But it made one thing clear to me - standing up for oneself (even when it's for the job) often leaves a bullseye on your chest. Or, as GK Chesterton once said, "I enjoy being in hot water - it keeps me clean."
So, if you don't have plans for November 1st, please feel free to come down to Arnold and dine at a fine eatery. Thank them for being smoke free, and let them know that you would encourage your friends to come on down. Just don't be suprised if, while dining at the same place I am, I get some dirty stares.
(And also, please feel free to make comments, either pro or con. Democracy - like revolution - begins at home, preferably in the bathroom mirror).