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Published: Thursday, 8/21/2003

Smoking ban foes to keep fighting

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER

Owners of bars, bingo parlors, and bowling alleys came to terms yesterday with the fact that they failed in their effort to repeal a Toledo smoking ban, but they vowed to try again soon.

Meeting yesterday, 60 people representing dozens of establishments began planning a new initiative petition that would repeal at least part of the smoking ban passed 11-0 by City Council last month and set to go into effect on Monday.

“Obviously, this is not one of the happiest days of our lives,” said Arnie Elzey, owner of Arnie's Eating and Drinking Saloon near Westgate and a leader of the referendum movement. “But we have formed a political action committee, Citizens for Common Sense, and now we have to carry on.”

Joe Kidd, director of the Lucas County Board of Elections, said last night that the referendum committee collected 8,508 valid signatures from registered Toledo voters, 971 fewer than the 9,479 signatures required under the city charter to qualify the measure for the ballot.

The committee had submitted more than 16,000 signatures.

The ban would eliminate smoking in most Toledo restaurants and bars, with some exceptions. It will be enforced by Jeanette Ball, manager of the city's Division of Environmental Services, or her designee.

Mr. Elzey said an initiative petition that would seek to repeal what he said were onerous provisions in the smoking ban - especially those requiring proprietors to build “expensive smoking rooms” - would be prepared soon for circulation among voters. He said the new measure might seek to exempt bars, bingo halls, and bowling alleys altogether.

“I know it's hard to ask you to do this again, but I think a lot more people are paying attention now,” Mr. Elzey told his business collegues. He said he thinks the increased attention to the issue will help, not hurt, their cause.

In the meantime, the bar owners said they would comply with the smoking ban starting Monday.

“It's ridiculous, but I'm going to have to pull the ashtrays,” said Dave O'Konski, who owns Picrose Place on Franklin Avenue. “It ain't right, and it ain't fair.”

Ted Wilczynski of the Pour Haus bar on Bennett Road, said the ban “is another nail in Toledo's coffin. This will kill business.”

Mr. Wilczynski said that, starting Monday, smokers will be directed to his patio. He said he is “going to try it for a week or two, and then I am going to have to start laying people off.”

Others from establishments with patios said they, too, would direct patrons outside to smoke. None of those questioned at the meeting at Arnie's yesterday said they planned to build a smoking room as prescribed in the smoking ban ordinance. They all cited the cost.

Mr. Elzey estimated a typical smoking room could cost $50,000 or more to build.

To qualify for the ballot, an initiative petition must contain the signatures of 9,479 registered voters who live in Toledo, which amounts to 12 percent of the number of voters who cast ballots in the last mayoral general election, according to the charter.

Under the charter, petitioners may use the initiative process to repeal part or all of any existing ordinance on the books, or may draft entirely new legislation.

The charter grants those who submit a petition of referendum just one chance to meet the signature requirements. Those submitting an initiative petition, should they find after turning their petitions in to the city for examination that they have fallen short of the signature requirement, are granted a second chance - 15 days to collect more signatures to add to their total.

Had the bar owners trying to repeal Toledo's smoking ban used the initiative petition process instead of the referendum, they would have been given another try to get more signatures, and might have qualified for the November ballot.

Mike Beazley, clerk of council, said he advised the smoking ban petitioners of their options before they made their decision to use the referendum process.

The city charter does not constrain petitioners to a timeline for the collection of signatures for an initiative measure - they may take as long as they like, Mr. Beazley said.

However, he said, there are some restrictions that could influence the timing of such an effort.

Should they qualify for the ballot, the charter calls for initiatives to be voted on in primary and general elections only, which occur only two times per year. The charter requires votes to be held on the next primary or general election at least 75 days after the measure is certified by the city clerk.

To that add 30 days to accommodate a charter provision that allows city council to decide whether it wants to adopt the initiative, thereby avoiding a citywide vote on it.

Tack on 10 more days for the county elections board to verify signatures on the petitions to guarantee that enough valid signatures were received. All told, Mr. Beazley said that, to be safe, petitioners should submit their signatures to the city not less than 120 days - four months - before the next primary or general election.

If local backers wanted to make the presidential primary election, now set for early March, Mr. Beazley said their petitions should be in his office right around the first of November. Mr. Elzey said the Beazley timeline closely matches his own target of Nov. 4 - Election Day - when voters will cast ballots for six seats on city council. He said he intends to use the petition signature drive as a campaign issue for council candidates to address.



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