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Published: Wednesday, 8/20/2003

Effort to repeal smoking ban likely to fall short

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER

A referendum attempting to stop Toledo's smoking ban in most public places likely will fail to have enough valid signatures to qualify for the Nov. 4 election ballot, Lucas County's elections director said yesterday.

“They are done,” Joe Kidd said.

With about 1,600 signatures still to check at the close of business yesterday, the committee seeking the referendum on the ban was short about 3,000 signatures from registered voters living in the city of Toledo, he said.

A committee of bar owners and bingo hall and bowling alley proprietors opposed to the ban submitted 16,097 signatures on 663 petitions to the city, which forwarded them to the elections board.

To qualify for the ballot, the referendum needed 9,478 valid signatures.

Election workers will finish their scrutiny of the petitions today.

“If you were able to count every one of those remaining signatures in favor of the petition, you would still be short. It doesn't appear that, when we get ready to certify the numbers, they will have enough,” Mr. Kidd said.

Mike Beazley, clerk of city council, said that, should the petition drive fall short, the ban in most restaurants and bars would go into effect - as originally prescribed by city council - Monday, the first business day 45 days after Mayor Jack Ford signed the ordinance.

Arnie Elzey, owner of Arnie's Eating and Drinking Saloon in the Westgate area who was working to overturn the ban, said last night he was disappointed that the effort to force a referendum apparently failed.

“Obviously, thousands of people believed in our cause. Some of them were probably too exuberant and they weren't signing petitions in the proper manner,” Mr. Elzey said, adding that bar owners will meet this afternoon to plan their next move.

“We are going to start doing an initiative petition,” he said, drafting more favorable smoking legislation.

Council President Louis Escobar, a principal architect of the ban, said: “I am surprised. I really thought it would get on the ballot. I do believe in the democratic process.”

He said he is somewhat disappointed it won't be on the ballot.

“I was hoping by bringing this to a vote, they would see that this is the will of the people,” Mr. Escobar said.

There are limited exceptions in the smoking ban. One provision allows “proprietors who choose to designate a smoking area pursuant to Section 1779.05 [of the ordinance] shall be allowed an exemption from the provisions of this ordinance not to exceed 120 days from its effective date in which to construct a smoking room.”

Establishments that intend to build a separate smoking room have 30 days after the effective date of the ordinance in which to inform the city and obtain a building permit, said Mary Chris Skeldon, spokesman for Mayor Jack Ford. The mayor signed the ban on July 10.

For those establishments that do not build a separate room, the ban will go into effect Monday, she said.

The ban is to be enforced by Jeanette Ball, manager of the city's Division of Environmental Services, or her designee, according to the ordinance.

Mr. Ford, who had pledged to campaign against the referendum had it qualified for the ballot, said last night he would “wait until there is a final count” before making a comment on its apparent failure.

The petitions were rife with defects, Mr. Kidd said.

“A major problem is that the signatures are printed. In fact, some petitions clearly say, `Please print only.' That is contrary to what is required in this case. We need to see the voters' signature to verify that that person is indeed a registered voter.”

Mr. Kidd said the messages on some petitions instructing voters to print, not sign, their names apparently were added in handwriting by the petition circulators.

Many other signers were not registered to vote, did not live in the city, or were not registered to vote at the address they listed on the petitions.

There were other problems with the petitions that typically would cause them to be rejected, including mistakes with the petition circulator's affidavit or incorrect language stating the penalties for purposely including fraudulent information on the petition.

Mr. Kidd said signatures on petitions with those defects were still counted as good because the elections office wanted to give circulators “every benefit of the doubt.”

Those signatures could have been challenged later by opponents of the referendum had the committee been able to gather enough valid signatures, Mr. Kidd said.



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