Friday, August 01, 2008

Hypocrisy meter nudges "tilt” as council’s smoking ordinance is revealed.

Confirmation of the city council’s intention to waste time and energy on a smoking ban comes from the morning newspaper.

New Albany Council to consider smoking ban, by Dick Kaukas (Courier-Journal)

The New Albany City Council will take up a proposal next week to ban smoking in all enclosed public places in the Southern Indiana city, including bars and restaurants.

The measure would exempt private clubs that have no employees but would ban smoking in clubs that have workers, and whenever a club invites the public to an event.

In the context of New Albany history, the key sentences come a bit later in reporter Kaukas’s article.

Under the proposal, "private clubs" are defined as recreational, fraternal, patriotic, political, athletic and other organizations.

No specific clubs are listed, but Elks lodges, VFW halls and similar groups presumably would be covered.

The ordinance paperwork, which can be viewed here (it’s a very large .pdf) defines an employee both as paid and as volunteer help, the latter presumably applying to private clubs exempted from taxation by the Feds.

The document defines “bar” as a place where alcoholic beverages are served on premise, and then later notes that one aspect of a “private club” is that the serving of alcoholic beverages is incidental to its operation.

However, if I’m not mistaken, the state of Indiana makes no such distinction when it expects establishments to apply for licensing. Clubs have different licenses, but they have licenses nonetheless, and if someone is serving drinks, that person must have a permit. If that person has a permit, then he or she is bartending according to the state’s legal definition. All of this strongly implies that the council’s use of “incidental” is superfluous.

I may be wrong about the preceding, but whether volunteer or paid, club employees are in fact employees, and if you buy alcoholic beverages wholesale and sell them retail, you are in fact acting as a bar.

Why the private club pandering? Any specific club, Mr. Gahan? Is there any reason for providing such shaky exemptions? Is the political clout of VFW members more significant than that of restaurant owners? Help us understand your motives. Why the unprecedented speed on smoking when the city's greater needs languish atop your desk?

The ordinance gets better.

Enforcement would be the responsibility of the New Albany city attorney or someone designated by the city attorney.

Penalties would include fines of not more than $50 for people who smoke in prohibited areas and up to $100 for a first violation by a business owner or manager who "fails to comply" with the ordinance.

The fines would increase to not more than $200 for a second offense in a year, and not more than $500 for each additional violation in a year.

‘Nuff said on these provisions. Will a smoking ordinance be treated in the same way as enforcement of minimal standards of health and safety in the city’s proliferating rental properties, which is to say that it occurs in a breach the size of Massachusetts – a creative way of saying “hardly at all” – or will there actually be teeth?

The sops already being thrown toward "private clubs" suggest that enforcement will be selective, if it's even attempted.

Pay close attention to the council’s calendar for the coming months, and note whether this miraculous conversion to deep concern over public health ever gravitates to the places where people pay slumlords to live. History suggests it will not, because like ones before it, this council fears the rental property owner. Unlike councils before it, some members of this one view the smoking ban as a relatively painless way to appear progressive while remaining regressive when it comes to similar proposals in more difficult terrain.

To focus attention on one aspect of public health and safety to the exclusion of others, especially when the reasons for doing so have less to do with genuine concern than the ease with which legions of paid lobbyists can help to divert public attention from congenital inadequacies in other legislative areas, goes just a bit deeper than mere hypocrisy.

It’s the stuff of dilettantes.

The shoe fits. CM Gahan and a handful of others are wearing them. Stay tuned for the Great Trans fat ban of '09 ... and a renewal of the Slumlord Entitlement Act.


Christopher D said...

I had sent an email to all council members who have an email address listed (gee, wheres Price?), asking some of the same questions, and outlining some of the same concerns regarding this sudden interest in public health (smoking ban vs. housing ordinance enforcement).
Of all of the council email, only one, just one councilman repsonded, which was Mr. John Gonder, he explained his position and why he stands on that position, and I truly respect him for that.
However, the concerns regarding why this sudden and serious push for this ban when the general public health and welfare is more greatly endangered by the deplorable conditions of the housing stock in this city.
There was no response. Citing the generic "scientific proof of the dangers of second hand smoke" is more than likely all any of us will get. (of course there will be no response to the fact that all harmful items in SHS can be found in products, services, and items we use everyday at great length)
I honestly feel after dealing with the crap my neighbors, my family and I have been forced to deal with, with out intervention or action by the city with nightmarish properties, I have never been so disappointed, so angry at the government of this city.
Had our block been named the "Tobacco Coalition of Floyd County" instead of Shrader Avenue, our every whim would have been catered to on the fast track.

G.Coyle said...

The housing bill going through congress and likely to be signed by Pres. - will this mean monies for the city to buy and restore foreclosed properties? Maybe they're waiting for that money and think they can save face using it to act on a few slum houses?