Fulton Director of Administration Bill Johnson has said a number of times over the past few weeks that the city is not going to be overzealous in enforcement of the new indoor smoking ban in Fulton. During a special question and answer session Thursday at City Hall, Fulton Police Chief Steve Myers reinforced that stance.
When asked by one of the business owners present what happens when a person or business is found in violation of the ban, Myers echoed Johnson's refrain that enforcement will be primarily complaint-driven.
"My guys won't be stalking bars writing tickets. We don't have the time," Myers said. "If we get a complaint, we'll respond to write a ticket, but if we have a wreck or something, that is going to take priority."
He said when a business owner or manager receives a complaint about an individual in violation of Fresh Air Fulton's ordinance - which was passed by Fulton residents on Nov. 2 with a vote of 1,439 to 1,233 - they must ask that person to put out their cigarette or leave. If the individual refuses, then police should be called.
"More than likely, we're going to have a trespass or assault charge," Myers said, noting the business owner or manager will have to sign a statement that they asked the individual to stop smoking and to leave. "The complainant will have to stay to write a complaint (as well)."
City Prosecuting Attorney Chris Wilson pointed out the procedure will be much like that used with other public nuisance complaints.
"Every business owner here has had a customer get out of control and be asked to leave, and they don't," Wilson said. "I don't foresee a lot of people being asked to leave because of a cigarette and they don't because that's when it becomes trespassing."
Wilson earlier in the meeting had outlined the penalty for a public nuisance violation is up to $100 for the first violation, up to $200 for a second violation in the same year and up to $500 for a third violation within one year.
According to the new ordinance, an individual who smokes in an area where smoking is prohibited "shall be guilty of an infraction, punishable by a fine not exceeding $50."
The penalty for an individual who owns, manages, operates or otherwise controls a public place or place of employment who fails to comply with the provisions of the ordinance faces the same series of fines as Wilson listed for a public nuisance, with the addition of the potential suspension or revocation of "any permit or license issued to the person for the premises on which the violation occurred."
Another provision under the ordinance is that "violation of this article is hereby declared to be a public nuisance, which may be abated by the city administrator by restraining order, preliminary and permanent injunction, or other means provided for by law. ... Each day on which a violation of this article occurs shall be considered a separate and distinct violation."
Asked whether an individual found guilty of an infraction of the no smoking ordinance in municipal court could appeal to the circuit court, Wilson responded in the affirmative.
At the conclusion of Thursday's meeting, Johnson again emphasized, "it's going to be complaint driven. Very few phone calls will go to the police, I'm sure."