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Paris City Council endorses citizen task force's smoking ban compromise

The Paris City Council on Monday directed City Attorney Kent McIlyar to prepare a smoking ban for restaurants and athletic fields as agreed upon last week by a citizens task force.

From left, citizens task force members John Kruntorad, Jeff Martin and Linda Vandiver are shown at the beginning of the council's discussion on the compromise the citizens committee reached. (eParisExtra photo)
From left, citizens task force members John Kruntorad, Jeff Martin and Linda Vandiver are shown at the beginning of the council’s discussion on the compromise the citizens committee reached. (eParisExtra photo)

John Kruntorad, chairman of the Lamar County Republican Party, spoke from the podium on the compromise reached by a 10-person committee that was divided 5-and-5 among those for and against a smoking ban.

“Those of us opposed to the proposed ordinance were concerned about property rights,” said Kruntorad, who was the spokesman for his side.

“There was some good debate and some healthy give-and-take. Neither side walked away with everything we wanted, but we knew that, going in. We knew there would be compromise.”

Also, Mayor AJ Has hmi had made clear that if neither side budged, the matter would go back to the council, which was already on record in favor of even more restrictive language.

“When all was said and done, each side gave ground on some issues that were important to us. Not everyone was happy with all the compromises, but at the end we agreed the compromise was in the best interests of the city,” Kruntorad said.

“I hope you take our recommendations to heart and pass the proposed revised ordinance as we present it to you,” he added.

The citizens task force recommended:

  • Smoking be prohibited in in restaurants, but allowed in bars if the owner so chooses.
    • Private clubs are exempt from the organization.
    • Smoking will be prohibited within 100 feet of an athletic field, including related concession stands or restrooms.
    • Smoking will be forbidden within 20 feet of the entrance of a restaurant, or within 100 feet of the entrance to other public buildings, such as Walmart or Krogers, where smoking is already prohibited.
    • E-cigarettes (also known as vapor cigarettes), are exempt from the ban “because we felt there was not enough data to prove one way or another.”

McIlyar said a private club is defined as a fraternal, tax-exempt organization such as the American Legion or Elks Lodge — not a restaurant that declared itself a private club to be able to serve alcohol.

To clear up another question, the mayor asked a vapor store representative in the audience if there is an age limit on who could purchase e-cigarettes.

The representative said there is not, but that in her store every prospective purchaser is carded, the same as in stores that sell cigarettes — for which the minimum legal age is 18.

Over the next several days, the city attorney will put into legal form an ordinance with the provisions agreed upon by the task force, which will include a warning for the first offense, a fine of $100 on the second offense, and a fine of up to $500 for additional offenses.

The task force members will meet again next Monday with the city attorney and further tweak the ordinance, if neccessary. The ordinance would then be brought to the council on March 10 for a vote.

Hashmi said he feels personally that a $500 fine is exorbitant and said he hopes the task force will tweak that when it meets with the city attorney on Monday.

Two weeks ago, with councilman Matt Frierson in opposition, the council was prepared to adopt by a 6-1 vote an ordinance that would have prohibited smoking virtually anywhere except for a person’s own residence or vehicle. Frierson is a non-smoker, but said government shouldn’t be forcing a business to ban smoking.

“In the interest of compromise, I vote yes,” Frierson said Monday night in joining his colleagues in a unanimous vote to instruct the city attorney to work up an ordinance along the lines suggested by the task force.

Two weeks ago, the council discussion was preceded by an hour-long public hearing in which the sentiment was almost evenly divided by those for and against a smoking ban. About 40 people spoke for up to two minutes each from the podium.

With the council’s concurrence at that Feb. 10 meeting, Hashmi proposed a citizens task force be given an opportunity to suggest a compromise.

The council agreed by a 6-1 vote — This time with councilman Dr. Richard Grossnickle objecting because he didn’t want a compromise — to have a citizens advisory committee weigh in on the matter.

That 10-person committee, selected by Hashmi from people who volunteered to serve, met for two and a half hours last Friday afternoon.

After an hour, they hadn’t moved from their original positions, but the mayor twice sent the two sides back to huddle privately among themselves.

Members of the task force were:

  • For a smoking ban: 1) Dr. Ted McLemore; 2) Cecelia “Cissy” Grubbs; 3) Linda Vandiver; 4) Jeff Martin, owner of five local restaurants; and 5) Dr. Amanda Green.
  • 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; and 5) Kent McKee, co-owner of McKee’s Restaurant.

In Monday night’s citizens forum, a number of people spoke about the smoking issue — people on both sides, unhappy about a compromise.

Rachel Kane, with the American Heart Association, urged the council to include bars on the no-smoking ban. They stopped short of a good conclusion, she said.

“If this were a 26.2 mile marathon, you are at 26 miles,” she said. “I plead with you to put bars back in the ordinance. The greatest health impact occurs when smoking is banned in every possible setting.”

Several other speakers who said they were against a smoking ban were outspoken in their opposition.

By Charles Richards, eParisExtra

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