- Business & Development
Article provided courtesy of
Sarah Bahktiari, Editor,
After a lengthy discussion from the citizens and councilmen, the Norcross City Council voted 5-0 to repeal the Tobacco Free Ordinance at Monday's (July 2, 2012) city council meeting.
The ordinance, which would have banned tobacco use on all city property including sidewalks and parking lots, had sparked much talk in the city since it was passed 3-1 in May.
Councilman Ross Kaul, who spearheaded the initiative, asked the council to revisit the ban at the June policy session, but the council didn't come to an agreement on if they should amend, repeal or keep the ordinance. The mayor asked each councilman to make a decision on the matter and bring it to the July council meeting.
It was evident at the meeting that the community still felt strongly about the ordinance. While all members of the council said their piece on the ban, eight locals, many of whom are non-smokers, went before the mayor and councilmen to voice their opinions, too.
Previous meetings usually had a mixture of citizens' opinions, but this time, all eight were against the ban.
"People have to be responsible for themselves," said 45 South Cafe owner Keith Shewbert, who's been openly against the ban since it was introduced at a PDC (Progressive Development Committee) meeting in April. "It is not your responsibility for everybody in Norcross to make good health decisions. It's their responsibility."
Those who spoke reasoned that the tobacco ban needed to be a grassroots effort and more community-oriented, since many locals feel that they were left in the dark about the issue until the ordinance was actually passed.
They also agreed that it gave too much power to the government by having more restrictions on the community, with some noting the current restrictions on hard balls and dogs in the parks.
"What rights are you going to take away from people here next without consulting them?" said Norcross resident Sara Levy, whose statement brought applause from audience members.
Mayor Bucky Johnson interjected, saying that the ban had been discussed at previous meetings before it was passed. But Levy suggested that there needs to be more than that by hosting a town hall meeting or some type of educational forum.
"It should have been put to a vote to the people," said Marilyn Saunders, a Norcross resident. "This is something that's not for five people to decide."
Many locals and business owners believed the ban would scare customers away from Norcross since it would be harder to take a smoke break, too, which had prompted a petition among downtown shops and restaurants.
"I had a man approach me at the American Legion in Tucker the other night to tell me he wasn't going to come back to Mojito's anymore because of this ordinance," said Bill Barks, a member of the Norcross Masonic Lodge. "We need to be a business-friendly community."
Mayor Pro Tem Andrew Hixson, who did not vote when he filled in for the mayor during the May council meeting, noted that Norcross neighborhoods located furthest away from the historic downtown thought negatively of the ban, too. He said residents in these areas complained that the ban would give officers more of an excuse to check IDs for illegal immigrants if they're caught using tobacco on a sidewalk.
Starting a domino effect for the rest of the council, Hixson was the first councilman to speak and state that he wanted to repeal the ordinance in his entirety. He added that the ability to police those breaking the ban doesn't seem feasible, either, especially after he and some of the other councilmen recently witnessed a number of people illegally smoking in Savannah, which calls itself a smoke-free city.
Many councilmen also agreed that they had rushed through the ban without much input from the citizens.
"I think the message is clear: We went too far," said Councilman Charlie Riehm. "We should start all over again."
And start over they will. The council plans to bring back an initiative for a tobacco ban as early as the next policy work session July 16, but this time it would be more geared toward educating the public first and getting their opinions.
"I would like us to start a grassroots organization, or a ground-level process where we can find out where in the parks we should definitely ban smoking, such as the children's playground," said Hixson during the meeting.
NOTE: Although the Council voted
for the tobacco ban ordinance in May, Council members also voted
that it would not be effective until July 2, 2012. The tobacco ban
was not enforced prior to July 2 and due to last night's repeal,
did not become an enforceable ordinance.