n a sometimes lively public discussion that was marked by a mostly fragile civility, Parkville’s Board of Aldermen entertained its controversial proposal to ban smoking in all public places, including restaurants, at Tuesday night’s council meeting.
By a one vote margin, with one member not in attendance, the board approved Alderman David Rittman’s motion to table the issue to allow the city to collaborate with the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC), area governments, and other authorities and entities in the metropolitan area to work toward a regional smoking ban that would not unfairly disadvantage Parkville restaurant owners..
Alderman J.C. “Charlie” Poole, who proposed the municipal ban, was joined by Aldermen Jack Friedman and Linda M. Arnold in voting against the motion to table the matter. Aldermen Dave Rittman, Marc Sportsman, Marvin Ferguson, and David M. McCoy voted in favor.
Supporters were led by Dr. Rex Archer, director of the Kansas City Health Department, who insisted that the average citizen was still largely uninformed regarding the serious health consequences associated with smoking and especially second hand smoke. He also asserted that there is a fundamental health equity issue involving workers’ safety and argued that the aggregate health economic costs to a community are extraordinary to continue to permit smoking in public places.
The City of Maryville recently passed a municipal ban on smoking in all public places in its city. Terri Harr offered her experiences saying that the ban had been positive for the community and its business environment. She reported that in 2003, Maryville had experienced a 5.4 percent increase in its sales tax revenues over the previous year since the ban was enacted.
Claims that the ban would be beneficial to Parkville’s economy were met with great skepticism by some aldermen, business owners, and concerned citizens. Rittman questioned the applicability of some of the statistics that were offered by Harr to Parkville. He noted that Maryville is a rural city and residents have few alternatives in determining where to dine outside of the city. Meanwhile, Parkville is situated in the midst of a large metroplex where patrons need only travel a few miles in any direction to seek alternatives.
While he applauded Harr for her group’s diligence in assembling the data, Rittman also pointed out that the sales tax statistics were not benchmarked to see the economic impact on the city’s restaurant industry and were comparing sales tax revenues from a recessionary period to those of an emerging economy. Harr admitted that she was not a statistician but had made a good faith effort to compare like numbers and follow models that were used by cities in other parts of the country.
McCoy suggested that if it was a wise business decision that all restaurants would impose a voluntary ban. He asked “If that’s true, why aren’t all of our restaurants smoke free?”
Bill Oliver, a partner in Nick & Jake’s that is scheduled to open soon in Parkville, was more than dubious about suggestions that they would receive an economic boom from the ban. He told the council that he and his partners never would have chosen to open in Parkville if they had known that the ban was being considered. Another restaurateur who is also scheduled to open soon echoed those sentiments.
Oliver told the board that one of his partners had an out of state establishment and saw his business drop by 37 percent when a similar ban was imposed in that city. Local restaurant owners lamented that they had made extraordinary investments in the community at a great personal risk. Gary Worden is the owner of Piropos. He placed a voluntary ban on smoking in his establishment but rose in opposition to the municipal ban. He asked Poole where his investment was.
But Poole stepped away from squabbling over statistics and the possible economic impact to expose a more human element, declaring that “[i]t’s an economic issue but at the top of this is health.” He scorned the opposition that it’s “Blood Money … That’s what it is.”
In virtual unanimity, the opponents said that they would support and agreed to work with Mid America Regional Council, which is working toward a regional ban on smoking. But their concerns over leaving Parkville as essentially an island in the middle of a large metropolitan area made them hesitant to proceed. Rittman told The Landmark that he believes that there is sufficient support on the board to join with a regional ban and pledged to pursue this goal.
Mayor Kathy Dusenbery asked the board: “Are we willing to take the choice away from our base, our only base?” She added that base is tourism and their restaurants. Poole maintained that Parkville needed to be a forerunner on the issue. He said that “everybody is not going to hold hands and skip down the sidewalk together.”
After the issue was tabled, he insisted that it was a laudable cause and promised to keep pressing. “Maybe it’s not politically correct. But I just don’t care. I believe it’s politically right,” he said.
When Poole proposed the ban two months ago, Tom Hutsler, president of the Main Street Parkville Association, announced that he would oppose Poole for his Ward 1 Alderman seat in next April’s election, declaring that “this is the final straw.”
Hutsler maintained that responsible leadership entails representing the entirety of one’s constituency, including all of the citizens and businesses that an elected representative serves. He charged that Poole did neither. Poole cast aside the criticisms and addressed Hutsler in the open session, saying that he was up for the fight.
Dusenbery reopened the debate to allow two special residents to address the board. Two local Boy Scouts, Bennett Potter and Tyler Arthur, both aged 12, attended to earn credit for their Communications Merit Badge. Arthur appealed to the board to consider the ban as he is an asthmatic who sometimes finds it difficult to patron local establishments with his family due to health concerns.
No one, including Poole, expected the proposed ban to come up for a vote on Tuesday. This was only the first round in what is expected to be a lengthy debate. The council is destined to revisit the issue. And supporters vow to keep up the fight.