by Mary WilsonDespite heated discussion at the regular session of Grandview’s Board of Aldermen last Tuesday, December 23, the board granted an additional two years for four bars to comply with the Clean Indoor Air Act, originally adopted in July, 2011.
The original ordinance provided for smoke-free air in workplaces and public places. After considering several options, it was the final decision of the board to provide a three-year exemption for bars, whose primary business was to serve alcohol, and would provide a phase-in period for those businesses. That period afforded them time to transition to a different business model, install outdoor seating, or otherwise prepare for compliance by August 1, 2014.
At the time of its adoption, there were four bars that met the requirements of the ordinance: Elbow Bend, Doghouse Bar, Pete’s Place and Corner Bar. During their December 16, 2014, work session, the board discussed the extension of the exemption for bars. During that discussion, Ward 3 Aldermen Jim Crain and John Maloney were vocal on their position to not grant the exemption. The newest alderman at the table was conflicted about which way his vote would swing.
"I’m not a big fan of government control and I’m not a big fan of breathing smoke in," said Ward 1 Alderman Michael Allen. "I feel passionate about both things, so I’m still up in the air as to which way to go."
With Ward 1 Alderman Sandy Kessinger and Ward 2 Aldermen Brian Hochstein and Annette Turnbaugh voicing support for the extension, and Mayor Leonard Jones, whose vote would only be considered in the case of a tie, also showing support for the extension, it was clear that the new ordinance would pass.
During the regular session, before the final vote on the ordinance, Maloney was the first to provide his thoughts.
"I was one of the three aldermen who voted no originally on this which then sent it back into discussion," said Maloney. "We debated everything from six months to three years on an extension. It passed with a unanimous decision and nothing has changed during that time with the dangers of second-hand smoke. More importantly, there hasn’t been one legal argument to amend this ordinance."
Maloney pointed out that the board has not heard from any of the bar owners in recent months prior to the board action last week.
"I think it’s a slippery slope to change an ordinance when it’s rightfully written," added Maloney. "It’s not outdated, and it’s not in noncompliance with the law by any means. This will financially benefit a very select few."
Alderman Crain was the next to voice his concerns over the potential changes to the original ordinance, and read his comments aloud after asking to have them verbatim in the meeting minutes.
"After months of whining and complaining, a compromise was crafted to create a special class of business apart from all other classes," said Crain. "We agreed to a three-year exemption for four bars… to give them time to transition to a different business model to prepare for compliance. Here we are, four months after the compliance date contemplating another two-year extension."
Crain went on to say that since the compliance date passed in August, the law has not been enforced due to direction given to the police department by Mayor Jones.
"I feel another exemption sponsored by personal friendships is not only improper, but perhaps illegal," added Crain. "To my knowledge, the four businesses have done nothing to satisfy the purpose of the original exemption, and, guess what? Two years from now they will be back again."
Showing support for the exemption, Alderman Hochstein was the next to speak.
"The two most important provisions that were initially in this ban; and furthermore, the exemptions were that there are warning signs at the entry stating that smoking is allowed in this business," said Hochstein. "Additionally, there was a condition that was included for a revocation, or a removal of the ban, should any of the bars lose their license(s), change location, or have a change of ownership. So, at this point, we still have four bars that qualify for the exemption."
Hochstein pointed out that he is in favor of all aspects of the clean air laws, and supported the previous ban as a citizen.
"The four businesses currently cater to patrons who choose to smoke," added Hochstein, "and these businesses have been operating in this manner for their entire existence. The customers here know the deal. These are bars, their patrons are adults, and a lot of them are smokers. Those that are not choose to enter an environment where they fully understand the risks of what they’re doing."
Alderman Turnbaugh stated that her relationship with the four owners of the bars has been in a strictly business format for a long as thirty years or more.
"To imply I would put personal friendships above my duty as an alderman is impugning my integrity," said Turnbaugh.
Ultimately, the vote was split down the middle, and Mayor Jones broke the tie in favor of the amendment to the Clean Indoor Air Act of 2011. The limited exemption for the four bars will end on August 1 2016.