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Published: Saturday, 8/7/2004

Councilmen back smoke-ban vote

BY RYAN E. SMITH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

"You had 16,000 people express a desire to have this placed on the ballot, and I respect that," said Councilman George Sarantou. "This has been an extremely divisive issue in the community. Let the people speak on it."

The Lucas County Board of Elections continued yesterday to verify the 16,038 names presented Monday by opponents of the ban. Officials there said they hope to finish the task by Monday afternoon.

This is the second attempt by bar owners and smoking ban opponents to get an amendment initiative on the ballot to make the law less restrictive. Last year the group fell short by 972 signatures because many were ruled invalid.

On Tuesday, City Council will have several options if the ballot initiative has at least 9,479 valid signatures.

The possibilities include passing the petition as a council amendment, proposing an amendment more to its liking, or deciding not to amend the ban, in which case the petitions go on the ballot automatically.

A final option is that council technically has 30 days to act on the petitions. If it took the full 30 days, that would push council past the deadline to get the petitions on the Nov. 2 ballot.

All 10 of the city councilmen reached by The Blade yesterday said they would support putting the matter to a vote by residents. City Council members Wilma Brown and Betty Shultz could not be reached for comment.

Sarantou Sarantou
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"I think the best outcome we would have would be for it to go to the ballot and let the community speak. This is a community issue," said Peter Gerken, who supports the city's version of the law and believes voters will too.

City Council passed one of the toughest laws in the state in July, 2003, banning smoking in most bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, bingo halls, and other public places. Exempted were bars smaller than 245 square feet, private clubs, and authorized smoking lounges built to city requirements.

The initiative amendment would permit smoking in bowling alleys, bingo halls, bars that receive less than 35 percent of their gross revenue from food, and restaurants with fewer than 10 employees.

Councilman Rob Ludeman said he signed the petition because the public deserves a right to vote on the issue. He said the law has worked well in general, but there could have been more thought into how to handle small businesses.

Mr. Sarantou said there are enough questions that he would like City Council to hold hearings on the impact of the law.

Most council members said they continue to believe strongly the ordinance approved by City Council was exactly the right thing to do and that voters would support the existing law.

Councilman Ellen Grachek pointed out that every council member who voted for the law remains in office and numerous other communities - including Columbus, Cincinnati, and Cleveland - have followed Toledo's lead.

"This is more than a trend now. It's a public health movement, and Toledo should be proud that it helped chart the course," she said.

City Council President Louis Escobar and Councilman Wade Kapszukiewicz said the proposed amendment goes too far in rolling back the law, especially by including bowling alleys and restaurants where children could be exposed to second-hand smoke.

Councilman Frank Szollosi said he would actively campaign against easing the law.

"The only change I would support would be to make it tougher," he said.

"I think it's still going to be upheld," added Councilman Michael Ashford. "People enjoy the fact that they don't need to worry about smelling like smoke."

And while council members like Karyn McConnell are sympathetic to businesses that are hurting, she said it's unclear if it can all be attributed to the smoking ban given the poor economy.

Councilman Bob McCloskey said he has seen businesses that have lost patrons or even closed, but he also understands the health issue.

What's most important, he said, is for the matter to be settled once and for all by voters.

Contact Ryan E. Smith at:

ryansmith@theblade.com

or 419-724-6074.



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