Reporter Daniel Suddeath’s article in the Friday edition of the Tribune quotes city council president Jeff Gahan as raising the possibility that an anti-smoking ordinance could be ready for voting as early as the August 4 meeting.
A draft of the ordinance is being prepared, but it has to be approved by legal counsel before the details can be released. If it is OK’d, it would likely be up for a first vote at the next meeting, Gahan said.
Given the sheer length of the dirty laundry list of potential topics for the council’s consideration in 2008 (just a few of which can be viewed on the right side of this page), the unexpected warp speed with which a smoking ordinance is now being pushed isn’t just unprecedented. It’s nothing short of miraculous.
We’re talking about walking on water territory here, all the more so because neither the current sitting council nor its bilious predecessor might be described in any significant way as displaying pro-active tendencies toward any topic whatsoever beyond the re-election of its members. Furthermore, legislative urgency apparently has not been an historical hallmark of the New Albany political experience since the auspicious day two centuries ago when the Scribners rowed ashore and, tragically, didn’t have sense enough to proceed to Birdseye – the Taj Mahal of Coffeyites far and wide.
Nostalgic? Recall that the EPA had to threaten the city with the nuclear option to force us, kicking and screaming, into repairing decrepit sewers, and know also that it is pathetically likely that a second citizen courtroom initiative will be required to compel the council to properly redistrict for the first time since 1992.
Whether inelegantly cribbed from the Internet a la Slippery Larry Kochert's 2006 tour de farce, or provided verbatim by the small army of paid lobbyists who gathered to testify at the solitary public hearing on the smoking issue, the smoking ordinance headed our way will be designed to address a specific argument: Workplace safety.
But what about safety in one’s own place of residence? Surely ordinance enforcement (or New Albany’s abject lack of it) pertains to domicile safety, and the average person spends roughly twice as much time at home than at work.
Strangely, it is difficult to attract the same number of eager experts when it comes to explicating the health and safety concerns inherent in unregulated rental properties, but on the other hand, the council has consistently shown open hostility toward the concept of a city enforcing its own laws.
In essence, it would seem that in choosing to focus its attention on the dangers of smoking in the workplace, the New Albany city council, which historically is resentful toward outsiders who dare tell it what to do in its wonderfully and delightfully dysfunctional backyard, now looks to outsiders to help it do something – anything – to distract attention from its unwillingness to enforce the laws it already has written.
All of which made the scene even more surreal when, roughly two months ago, and after almost four years of discussion at this and other local blogs about the critical topic of code enforcement and rental property inspection, CM Gahan bizarrely confided to me during a conversation that he had become only recently aware of fervent public interest in residential safety.
Say what? I felt like the AFLAC duck after his barbershop encounter with Yogi Berra.
Are we writing, speaking and working in a vacuum?
Are the northernmot outposts of Klerner Lane really that far removed from the reality of the city’s historic residential areas?
Think about it. All the blog postings, numerous newspaper articles, and hordes of neighborhood association people and residents who’ve attended meetings to keep the idea of safe housing alive against the wishes of Gahan’s fellow neighborhood deconstructionists in the 1st and 3rd districts – meetings that Gahan not only attended, but often chaired – and only now has the subject become of sufficient urgency to show recognition?
Hence the political cowardice inherent in the council president’s sudden obsessive fixation with smoking to the exclusion of so many other line items of genuine merit, and so it is that a scant month after the first and only public hearing to date on a possible smoking ban, itself a topic ranking second only to abortion when it comes to civic rancor and interpersonal divisiveness (in truth, perhaps here in New Albany our unique brand of sewerpottyyvonnemania actually trumps both), we’re told that a smoking ordinance is almost ready for action.
It’s beyond rational comprehension, and accordingly, seeing as a solid block of council members lives according to dully repetitive precepts of irrationality, the games now will begin.
I don’t give a damn either way about a smoking ban, but what I care about is having a council that gets it, and in the run-up to the smoking ordinance, we’re about to be deluged with more evidence that it doesn’t. An indoor smoking ban positing the necessity of protecting workers from second-hand smoke makes sense only by being universal and comprehensive, permitting none of the exemptions and exceptions that shameless ward-heeling amateurs will inevitably seek to disburse like Halloween candy to their cronies.
For an idea of how this simply fact stands to play out in New Albany, otherwise known as the land that education forgot, imagine the wacky pretzel logic about to be deployed as Steve Price tries to explain how he completely understands that second-hand smoke is bad for a server in one of those restaurants he refuses to patronize, but perfectly acceptable for a bartender in an American Legion hall, ‘cuz gee, they fought for their country and all that.
The customers, not the workers. Cue the AFLAC duck again, will you?
It’s almost as nonsensical to advocate a smoking ban within New Albany proper but not have a matching one outside the city limits, in the remainder of Floyd County, where the nicotine-addicted will flock unless the county council follows suit.
Meanwhile, if you’re like me, you can look out your window at crumbling streets in perpetual need of repair, with existing city ordinances in desperate need of enforcing, and ponder a police force so understaffed that it is barely able to keep pace with the predictable fruits of slumlord empowerment … and glance again at all the imperatives on this council’s plate listed at the right … and try somehow to explain to me that the very best this council’s leadership can do is propose to divide the populace even further by creating a new criminal element within it.
Unless, of course, a smoking ordinance is meant to be another in a long series of rules without enforcement mechanisms.
Once upon a time, not that long ago, upon learning of the council president’s weirdly belated epiphanies on code enforcement, and knowing how important code enforcement remains to the community, and lastly, that politics involve trade-offs ... I said that my own business would swallow the pain, take one for the inevitable, and accept a smoking ban, but – BUT – only for so long as it is comprehensive, because that’s the only way that it can be fair to all.
However, since Gahan has once again spit in the eye of the U.S. Constitution over redistricting, and found it expedient to spend much of his time hovering in the dark shadows of the Coffey-Price dumbumvirate, which will make grandstanding hash of any conceivably rational smoking ordinance just as surely as road kill is barbecued for a W. 7th Street re-election fete, I find my position to be steadily evolving. I've had hig hopes for the current council, and my hopes quite possibly are futile. I've had big hopes for the progressive instincts of the council president, and I still do, but his course thus far is erratic -- and I'm being charitable.
Come to think of it, what’s Mayor England’s position on a potential smoking ordinance? I believe I'll give One Southern Indiana a ring and find out.
In the meantime, I’ll be examining the efficacy of roadblocks, because the way I'm feeling right now, any sugar I can pour in the gas tank of the anti-smoking bandwagon, I will ... unless, of course, someone can explain to me why this is happening. Is Donald Sutherland available? I have the park bench.
Photo credit: www.teacupspuppies.com and AFLAC