As we approach the vote next Thursday on the smoking ordinance I am moved to respond to some of the thoughts in the ether.
Roger Baylor, one of the exemplars of local public opinion, has chosen sides in the smoking debate. He chooses to couch the issue in a frame of all or nothing. New Albany Confidential's co-editor takes, basically, the same tack. That is their prerogative. I find no fault with their positions.
I see only two exceptions. One is a tobacco store such as Kaiser Tobacco or one of the outlet-type stores. The other is a private club with no employees; under that configuraton I can see only one in New Albany, the Culbertson West Club. Owners Carl Holiday and Steve Goodman are the staff. Is there another such club in New Albany?
Hugh Bir is the face I see when I contemplate the gravity of the vote before me. Hugh runs an establishment he refers to himself as, a "honkeytonk". His business is a smoky, funky joint. I don't think he would quibble with that characterization.
Baylor and Gillenwater opine unremittingly about the lack of progress in New Albany, rightly so. Baylor has something on his blog's masthead about a sleepy river town awakening, grudgingly, to the 21st Century.
Fellows, the 21st century is here, and it's smoke free.
I won't pull on people's heartstrings with a rollcall of people from my family who have died because of tobacco. It's no longer than most people's list. But the list is real and it has people on it that I loved or my wife loved. Make no mistake, the people for whom this ordinance is intended are loved by someone. The people for whom this ordinance is intended may not have a platform from which to express their feelings or wishes. They may not have the thought within them that they will benefit from this action. But I took an oath which I interpret to, among other things, protect the health of the citizens of New Albany. Meddlesome? Heavy handed? Maybe, but who's to argue the opposite side that unregulated smoking is a boon to health? Who's to speak for the nearly minimum wage worker, who needs a not-so-great job just to keep his or her head above water, if not the elected officials of their own city?
What's to become of that same worker if the "draconian" measures we contemplate result in the bar closing? Again, I think of Hugh's place. Will his patrons abandon the pursuit of pleasure on a Friday or Saturday night simply because they must step outside to light up? It's difficult to legislate against something and then hope for cooperation from those subject to the unwanted regulation. I'm reminded of a scene from the movie version of "Cold Mountain". Rene Zellwinger's character says, "They call this war a cloud over the land. But they made the weather and then they stand in the rain and say, 'Shit. It's raining.'" And yet I think we can lift most of the regulations that may make outdoor dining and drinking difficult to implement for independent bar and restaurant owners. If you come into an unfamiliar city do you not first seek out the places featuring outdoor dining? Doesn't that tell you something about what people want? And isn't that, at least, a starting place for an accommodation of bar worker's health and the public good?
I am chairman of the committee to look at rental property registration and subsequent code enforcement. This committe has not met, and will not meet, until after August 21. It is my intention to draft an ordinance that will result in dwellings in the city of New Albany that are safe and which complement the efforts of the entire community to be a workable, walkable, healthy city that is a reflection of the direction the nation should be taking in light of the environmental circumstances in which we find ourselves. It is disheartening to have an effort which has not yet begun, be stigmatized as a type of Original Sin by the failure of past City Councils who may have dodged the issue or been beholden to special interests. This Original Sin is then used, in a post hoc ergo propter hoc fashion to denigrate the sincere efforts of the current council to serve, to the best of its abilities, the interests of the health and well-being of this city's populace.
The vote on the smoking ordinance is the toughest vote I've cast since joining the City Council, and I don't see it as an expression of "diversionary, hypocritical, elitist bunk." as some have called it. I see it, rather, as the first step this body has taken toward moving New Albany forward in this still-new century.