Toledo Mayor Jack Ford s administration began publicizing yesterday a little-noticed requirement in the smoking law that private clubs must register with the city s Division of Environmental Services to be exempt from the smoking ban.
An eight-page application was made available on the city of Toledo s Web site, www.ci.toledo.oh.us., yesterday, and the Division of Environmental Services issued a press release calling attention to the new application form. The application promises a determination of valid or invalid club status within 10 days.
City Law Director Barb Herring said yesterday that no clubs have filed the applications but she was expecting an application soon from Taverns For Tots, a newly established membership organization involving a group of area bars unhappy with the city s smoking ban.
As many as 60 Toledo bars are claiming to be exempt from the smoking ban by restricting admission to members of Taverns For Tots, said Steven Hales, a Sylvania Township attorney representing the group.
Mr. Hales said 70,000 membership cards have been issued and 60,000 more have been ordered.
Taverns For Tots will turn over the $1 lifetime membership fees, as well as contributions from the participating taverns, to charities benefiting children or to individual children who qualify. An accounting firm has been retained to keep records, and the club is applying for nonprofit status, he said.
Mr. Hales said he intends to seek a court injunction on Monday to block enforcement of the registration requirement.
He said the registration application given to him on Thursday is invasive, including its request for information about the club s “purpose.”
“Your right to associate cannot be content-specific,” Mr. Hales said. “The information they re asking for is voluminous.”
Opponents of the smoking ban have already lost one bid for an injunction. In November, U.S. District Judge James Carr of Toledo rejected a claim that the law amounts to an unconstitutional governmental taking of private property.
The dispute between Taverns For Tots and the city law department is heating up as the city s enforcement of the smoking ban has gone into full force. The last exemption period for bars to complete construction of their smoking lounges ended Thursday night.
The city s Clean Indoor Air ordinance, passed in July and enacted Aug. 24, bans smoking in bars and restaurants and other public places. Exceptions are allowed for city-certified smoking lounges with their own outside ventilation, private clubs, private functions such as weddings, as well as bars smaller than 245 square feet.
Private clubs are defined as nonprofit entities created for “a charitable, philanthropic, educational, political, social, or other similar purpose.”
The criteria for designation as a club includes whether it:
has by-laws that provides for members;
has membership selection criteria;
has premises that are controlled by its membership;
is operated solely for the benefit and pleasure of its membership,
gives members a membership card or includes them on a roster.
Ms. Herring declined to comment yesterday on whether Taverns For Tots meets those criteria.
However, she acknowledged the existence of the city s registration requirement was not well-known.
“I think that educational process is occurring,” she said.
Ms. Herring said Taverns For Tots may not be in the same category as the traditional clubs that have long operated in Toledo.
“As far as I know, this Taverns For Tots is the only nonprofit operating in places that are otherwise open to the public,” Ms. Herring said. “If we become aware of others we will make sure they become aware [of the need to register].”
Bars aren t the only ones hoping that private club membership exempts their premises from the city s smoking ban.
Many bingo halls have been quietly enrolling their patrons in a club or charity so they can continue to allow smoking on the premises.
One bingo operator says it s about time the city began enforcing the smoking ban in bingo halls.
Jesse Pippin, adjutant and bingo chairman for American Legion Adams Township Post 553, 206 South Byrne Rd., said his organization has chosen to enforce the smoking ban and as a result has lost patrons.
“If [the mayor] is going to allow these bingo halls to smoke, either do what he s doing with the bars or give me an exemption until they get this thing squared away,” Mr. Pippin said.
Mr. Pippin said his hall cannot admit bingo patrons as members because membership in the American Legion is open only to war-era veterans.