Toledo City Council members made it official last night: They'll let the voters decide on Nov. 2 whether to roll back portions of the city's smoking ban.
Council's action is expected to set up a spirited election contest - in the midst of an already crowded general election ballot - as voters balance the health benefits for workers and customers versus the rights of smokers and bar owners.
Council voted 12-0 to reject the referendum petition. But that vote meant the measure would appear on the ballot.
After the council vote, a group of bar owners in the council chambers cheered.
"This is what we expected, that it would go to a vote. We're happy," said Sharon Kuhnle, owner of Twin Oaks Bowling Center on West Sylvania Avenue.
The group Citizens for Common Sense collected the necessary 9,479 Toledo voter signatures to force City Council to either adopt the ordinance or automatically send it to the ballot.
Toledo's smoking ban prohibits smoking in most bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, and bingo halls. It exempts private clubs, bars smaller than 245 square feet, and approved smoking lounges.
The proposed ordinance would:
●Allow smoking in bars, defined as establishments that get less than 35 percent of their gross revenues from food sales.
●Allow smoking in bowling alleys, bingo halls, and small restaurants. Small restaurants are defined as having fewer than 10 employees.
●Permit smoking lounges to occupy as much as 50 percent of an establishment. The current law allows smoking lounges up to 30 percent of an establishment's space.
Mayor Jack Ford said after the vote that he will begin urging audiences to vote down the ordinance.
Mayor Ford said the smoking ban may have created an economic hardship for some, but that Toledo's high rates of heart disease, cancer, asthma, and other illnesses justify the policy.
"The greater good clearly goes to the citizens who don't have their health put at risk," Mr. Ford said. He added that he believes a statewide ban is five to 10 years away.
Councilman Rob Ludeman congratulated the citizens group on obtaining the required signatures, telling them: "Not that November was going to be a dull election anyway, but I think things just got livelier."
Council President Louis Escobar said council has struggled with the issue.
"It came down to a vote for public health. It does not mean the issue has been easy for us," Mr. Escobar said.
He said council is barred by the City Charter from referring issues to the voters to decide.
In July, 2003, council voted 11-0 to enact what was then Ohio's toughest smoking law. Councilman Karyn McConnell Hancock was absent from the 2003 vote but was present last night.
Mr. Escobar said the petitioners may have harmed their cause by including small restaurants and bowling alleys, where children are invited, instead of only excluding bars from the smoking ban.
Councilman Frank Szollosi said Toledo is No. 1 in the nation in smoking-related illnesses and deaths, and has reduced productivity as well.
Mr. Szollosi said he would have voted to keep the issue off the ballot, if he could.
James Avolt, owner of The Distillery, 4311 Heatherdowns Blvd., said the great majority of restaurants will stay nonsmoking if the ordinance passes. He said the exemption for restaurants smaller than 10 employees is for "very small coffee shops."
He said the beneficiaries will be the approximately 120 taverns in Toledo, as well as the bowling alleys, which, he said, "have been crushed by the law."
Also last night, City Council approved:
●An emergency resolution expressing intent to rezone a city-owned parcel at 2100 Giant St. for Toledo Hospital's $200 million renovation. The parcel is a city park with playground equipment.
Mr. Ford said ProMedica Health Systems, which owns the hospital, needed the resolution as part of its financing efforts. The 6.5-acre vacant parcel is on the south side of I-475, adjacent to the access ramp.
●The honorary renaming of Ashland Avenue for the late William T. Copeland, a former member of the Lucas County commission and Toledo City Council.
●Renaming Bronson Park in North Toledo in honor of T. Jean Overton, a community activist and Block Watch leader.
●Approved a $20,000 subsidy for Downtown Toledo Inc. instead of the $100,000 requested. Mr. Escobar said council wants the downtown development group to merge with several other downtown entities to save city money.
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