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Citizens task force agrees on ordinance banning smoking at Paris restaurants

Citizens Task Force Members-1
Eight of the 10 citizen task force members are shown just before the meeting began on Friday. From left going clockwise are Kent McKee, Jaime Haley, Patrick Durham, Jerry Haning, John Kruntorad, Jeff Martin, Cecilia “Cissy” Grubbs, and Linda Vandiver. (eParisExtra photo)

A citizens’ task force on a proposed No Smoking ban for Paris agreed Friday, in a meeting that lasted more than two hours, that as of sometime in March, smoking will be prohibited in the city’s restaurants.

As part of a compromise, smoking will continue to be allowed in bars — any establishment where alcoholic beverage comprise more than 50 percent of sales. In another compromise, e-cigarettes, also known as vapor cigarettes, were excluded from the ban.

Violation will result in a warning on the first offense, $100 fine on the second offense, and a fine of up to $500 on subsequent violations.

The compromise will be brought to the council for passage two weeks from Monday, on March 10.

  • No smoking will be allowed at ball parks or athletic fields. Spectators could step away — at least 100 feet from concession areas or restrooms so their second-hand smoke would not affect others.
  • At restaurants and other public places, smoking would be prohibited within 20 feet of the building. Employees or others desiring to smoke would have to go outside, at least 20 feet to one side or the other the building so people going in or out of the restaurant would not be affected. At larger buildings, like Walmart or Krogers, no smoking would be allowed within 100 feet of the entrances to reduce the effect of second-hand smoke on customers.
  • Smoking would be allowed in restaurants’ outdoor seating area so long as it is at least 20 feet from the door connecting to inside.

The existing city ordinance already prohibits smoking in hospitals, schools, and public places (like department stores and grocery stores).

On the committee were:

  1. For a smoking ban: 1) Dr. Ted McLemore; 2) Cecelia “Cissy” Grubbs; 3) Linda Vandiver; 4) Jeff Martin, owner of five local restaurants; 5) Dr. Amanda Green.
  2. Against a smoking ban: 1) John Kruntorad, chairman, Lamar County Republican Party; 2) Jaime Haley, owner of Lucky’s Vapor Store; 3) Jerry Haning; 4) Patrick Durham, owner of Red River Bar & Grill; 5) Kent McKee, co-owner of McKee’s Restaurant.
Citizens Task Force Members-2
From left, behind City Clerk Janice Ellis, are task force member Dr. Ted McLemore, task force member Amanda Green, Mayor AJ Hashmi, and Kent McKee. (eParisExtra photo)

The meeting was originally scheduled for a small meeting room in City Hall, on the other side of the hall from the city finance office. But once it was decided to allow the public to attend (but not speak), the discussion was moved to the Paris City Council chambers elsewhere in the building.

The 10 members of the citizens task force sat in the horseshoe of the Paris City Council chambers, and Mayor AJ Hashmi and District 6 Councilwoman Cleonne Drake sat out front to assist and moderate the proceedings.

After more than an hour of rehashing arguments for and against a smoking ban, the mayor asked both groups to meet among themselves and decide what compromises they could make.

After 15 minutes, both came back, but neither had moved much from their original positions.

“That’s not a compromise,” Hashmi said. “Both of you are still arguing the same points you were before. I am not ending this meeting until we have an agreement.”

At the start of the meeting, the mayor had warned everyone:

“If we feel at some point that we are deadlocked or we feel that we are not progressing, we will have the right to call off the session, and in the next coun cil meeting inform the council that an agreement could not be reached, and then it will be up to the council to decide whether to approve the currently written ordinance, modify it, orĀ  decide to put it on the ballot for a city-wide vote.”

He added: “I do not need to remind both sides the consequences of a city-wide vote may not be to the liking of either side, besides delaying and spending the city’s much-needed dollars on a matter that I feel can be decided amicably by this group.”

It was clear, Hashmi said, that the council was 6-1 in favor of passing the ordinance as written.

Cleonne Drake, AJ Hashmi, Ted McLemore, Kent McIlyar
From left are District 6 Councilwoman Cleonne Drake, Mayor AJ Hashmi, Dr. Ted McLemore and City Attorney Kent McIlyar. (eParisExtra photo)

Martin proposed a compromise — not agreeable to everyone in his group — that would allow smoking in bars (establishments where alcohol comprises more than 50 percent of sales).

Kruntorad, spokesman for the five task force members against a smoking ban, said his group hadn’t talked about what it was willing to accept in the way of a ban.

Haning had in front of him a saying of former President Ronald Reagan: “Government’s first duty is to protect the people, not ruin their lives.”

“That’s me,” Haning said.

The mayor sent both sides to huddle again on possible compromises they could accept.

The “smoking ban” side of the task force suggested possibly allowing smoking in restaurants if in an area separated from the no-smoking areas by a partition.

Kruntorad said that was an expense that would not be acceptable.

After another huddle, Kruntorad said his group still found a smoking ban egregious, but in the interest of a compromise would accept a smoking ban of enclosed areas of restaurants.

Amanda Green, spokeswoman for the task force members for a smoking ban, holds a poster she prepared of talking points for and against a smoking ban.
Amanda Green, spokeswoman for the task force members for a smoking ban, holds a poster she prepared of talking points for and against a smoking ban.

The task force members for a smoking ban agreed to allow smoking in bars provided more than half of sales were from alcohol. A factor was that minors won’t be in bars. They also agreed to exclude e-cigarettes, also known as vapor cigarettes, from the ordinance.

When polled individually, nine of the 10 voted for the compromise. The exception was Green, who persisted on wanting a ban in both bars and restaurants. She then went along with everyone else.

The task force agreed it should be the individual, not the establishment, that will be punished for violating the ordinance.

There would be notices that the restaurant is smoke-free, and an individual’s first offense would draw a warning. A second offense would be punishable by a $100 fine, and further offenses would be punishable by a fine not to exceed $500.

But restaurant owners should cooperate by removing all ash trays, the committee said.

The Paris City Council meets Monday night, and the first item on the regular agenda is to “discuss and act on recommendations of the Task Force on the Smoking Ordinance.”

Linda Vandiver, Cecilia "Cissy" Grubbs, Jeff Martin and Kent McKee visit after the meeting.
Linda Vandiver, Cecilia “Cissy” Grubbs, Jeff Martin and Kent McKee visit after the meeting.

But it will take time for City Attorney Kent McIlyar to tweak the smoking ordinance to reflect the task force changes, so it will be the March 10 meeting of the council when the matter comes back before the council for approval.

But Hashmi asked all 10 members of the task force to be present for the upcoming council meeting, at which time the council will be apprised on the agreement.

The mayor said he will ask task force members and the spokespersons for each side — Kruntorad for those against and Green for those for — to confirm that they’re on board with the compromise.

Asked after the meeting whether smoking would be allowed in the bar portion of restaurants like Applebee’s or Chili’s, Hashmi said no.

If more than 50 percent of a restaurant’s sales are from food, the entire establishment would be considered a restaurant and thus fall under the no smoking ban, he said.

It was decided there would be no differences between a public restaurant and a private club in the ordinance.

Speaking for their subcommittees, neither Kruntorad nor Green was happy to have to grant concessions on their stance for or against a smoking ban, but both said it was necessary.

Kruntorad said: “The subcommittee that opposed the ordinance — the five of us that were not in agrement with the ordinance as it was written — compromised on some issues. While it grieves me to say we compromised, that is part of the political system. One never gets all that they want in any negotiation, so there’s always some give and take. As a constitutionalist and a Libertarian, it grieves me that the government is imposing what I consider egregious infringing on the rights of property right owners. Nevertheless, our subcommittee knew if we wouldn’t have compromised, the city council would have imposed even harsher restrictions on the private sector, and if it went to a vote of the electorate, they also would have imposed harsher restrictions on the private sector, that being bars and restaurants. We are awaiting the final writings of the next draft, and we will make some decisions on that, but right now we are living with the compromise.”

Green said: “It’s a little disappointing because we wanted to include all indoor areas. But when it came to a compromise, something is better than nothing. Hopefully the city council will feel like it’s representing all the citizens with this compromise and be able to move forward. Perhaps we can approach some of the losses from this ordinance in the future. We will get restaurants; we’re losing bars and we’re losing private clubs, and those are big sacrifices for us, but certainly that’s going to improve the health of our children. We gain sports complexes, so I’m happy about that. Certainly the community spoke to taking care of the children regardless of what side you were on. And I think the fact that everyone wanted to include outdoor sports complexes speaks to that. That wasn’t ever a deal-breaker. The e-cigarettes will be left out of this ordinance. There just wasn’t enough data at this point. There are chemicals released in e-cigarettes; we’re not sure how harmful they are to other people at this point so we don’t want to push facts that we don’t have science for.”

By Charles Richards, eParisExtra