Petition to repeal smoking ordinance lacks support

A petition to repeal Fulton’s new indoor smoking ban failed to gather the nearly 800 signatures needed to place the issue back before local voters in April.

“We have submitted that information, but I don’t look for it coming out on a positive result — I know we didn’t have enough signatures,” said B&N Accounting owner Deby Fitzpatrick, who headed the effort.

Fulton City Clerk Carolyn Laswell confirmed Friday that the petition had only 453 signatures from registered Fulton voters, and will not appear on the April 5 ballot.

Jody Paschal, owner of Gidley’s Shoes in downtown Fulton, said one reason the petition failed is because those supporting it did not campaign sufficiently.

“We only put out five or six booklets, and we didn’t go door-to-door; we weren’t out in the public pushing it,” Paschal said. “We may not give up on it just yet, though. I think the second time around we would have to form a committee and really go door-to-door.

“We approached it incorrectly, but you live and learn.”

Fitzpatrick agreed, adding that weather also played a role in not garnering enough support.

“The weather was horrendous, and part of it was also that one of the largest places we wanted to have it said we couldn’t do it there,” she said. “Our other problem is a lot of people who frequent our businesses are not city voters, they were county voters.”

Although they would not make a difference for the repeal petition, Fitzpatrick said the group did still gather signatures from interested county residents as well.

“We’re going to take those to Jefferson City to (Rep.) Jeanie Riddle and (Sen.) Mike Kehoe, because the word is the state is going to try to pass a ban at the state level,” she said.

Riddle is a second-term Republican representative for the 20th district in the Missouri House of Representatives. Kehoe is a first-term Republican representative for the 6th district in the Missouri Senate.

Fitzpatrick said many of the local business owners and residents who do oppose the indoor smoking ban — promoted by Fresh Air Fulton and passed by city voters in November — are not even smokers themselves.

“Folks that have signed it are not smokers and have made it clear it’s not a health issue, it’s about the freedom to choose whether you want to do it or not,” she said. “As a non-smoker I don’t really care (if people smoke), that’s their business, but I don’t want to be told to enforce it.”

Fitzpatrick noted that the indoor smoking ordinance also might have gone over better had it not been prepared and heavily promoted by an outside group.

“If the ordinance had been written by the city, the business owners would have been more informed and aware,” Fitzpatrick said. “A lot of people feel it was ramrodded on us. I, for one, feel it was way too constrictive and it could be done a little better.”

Both Fitzpatrick and Paschal said the group may try again for the August ballot, a move Laswell said the city would like to avoid.

“The city probably wouldn’t want to put it on (the ballot) until next April (2012) because it costs so much,” Laswell said. “When it’s on a ballot where we already have an election, it’s more reasonable.”

She said if there is a petition to repeal the indoor smoking ban on the August ballot, the city council could potentially vote not to hold an election during that month.

“The city picked up the bill once (approximately $12,000) to put the smoking issue before the public, I don’t think (the council) is going to want to do that again,” Fulton Director of Administration Bill Johnson agreed. “Whereas if you put it on the April election, it wouldn’t increase the city’s cost.”

If the group were to insist on an August ballot measure, Johnson said, “I think we’d ask them to pay for the election as well.”

“We had previously communicated this entire scenario to (the group) before,” Johnson said.

Paschal, however, said those opposed to the smoking ordinance do not consider April to be a good option because that means more student voters from the local colleges would be around to have a voice. Although Paschal said the students have every right to register as Fulton voters while they are living here, he added this decision does not have as big an impact on them as it does the rest of the city.

“They’re a part of the community for a short time — within the next three to four years they’ll be gone — but they’ve really made an impact on our community,” Paschal said. “In an August election, I think you can get a more real count of the community’s vote.”

As for the expense of placing the issue on the ballot for the second time in six months, he said that responsibility should not fall on the shoulders of the local business owners and residents supporting the petition.

“If the city picked up the bill the first time, they should pick up the bill the second time,” Paschal said. “This is a city issue, therefore the city should have to pay for it.”

The deadline to file for the August 2 ballot is May 17.

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