After a meeting filled with arguments and some infighting, the Sedalia City Council on Monday decided it will consider amending the city’s smoking ban ordinance next month.
During a special work session to discuss the Sedalia Indoor Clean Air Act, council heard comments from the public on both sides of the issue. Several members of the Clean Air Committee — which has been lobbying for a smoking ban for the last few years — told council at its heart the smoking ban is a health issue, noting a recent study that shows Sedalia’s air quality has improved since the ban went into effect.
On the other side of the aisle small bar owners and patrons argued the ban was hurting their livelihood. By law the sales tax figures of individual businesses cannot be released to council or the public, but Coach’s owner Jeff Holloway passed out an informational sheet on his finances.
“Starting in September (when the ordinance went into effect) there’s a $36,000 difference in where we were and where we are now,” he told council. “We’re down to making every other week liquor orders. I used to spend two or three thousand dollars in liquor orders, the week of Jan. 15 it was a $398 order. I’ve also had to lay off two bouncers and two bartenders.”
Ward 3 Councilman Wiley Walter was not in attendance at the meeting but previously told Mayor Elaine Horn, who then passed it onto council, that he wanted the ordinance to stay as-is. Fellow Ward 3 Councilman Bob Cross was the first to suggest exempting bars from the ban, saying he didn’t want to see a business go under.
“If you don’t like smoking, don’t go into that bar, it’s that simple,” he said to the crowd’s applause.
Ward 1 Councilman Steve Galliher suggested council could “level the playing field” and have an across-the-board ban, getting rid of the current exclusion of private clubs. Ward 4 Councilman Larry Stevenson, who pushed the private clubs’ exemption from the beginning, took issue with that measure, asking if Galliher “was going to use that as a campaign slogan” referring to Galliher’s run for mayor in April.
“This has nothing to do with that,” Galliher said before Mayor Elaine Horn told Stevenson “that’s enough.”
Both Ward 1 Councilwoman Jo Lynn Turley and Ward 4 Councilman Tollie Rowe said the information they received Monday hadn’t been enough to convince them an amendment to the ordinance was needed. Rowe expressed his frustration with the meeting, noting talks about a ban first began in March 2013.
“It’s Feburary, this has been passed since June and in effect since September,” he said. “How many times are we going to look at this issue? If we keep going back over this we’re never going to get anything done.”
Ward 2 Councilwoman Becca La Strada suggested excluding five small bars — Coach’s Sports Bar, Chez When Cocktail Lounge, Friendlys Tavern, East Street Bar and Mandy’s Korner Lounge —from the ban as they sell no food. This led to a debate about what defined a bar versus a restaurant, with council ultimately agreeing that selling only liquor and pre-packaged snacks would qualify an establishment as a bar.
Council also agreed that only these five bars would be exempt, if the location sold or changed owners it could no longer allow smoking and any new bars, even if they don’t sell food, would be included in the ban.
“Looking at this, it looks like we’re 4-4 again,” Stevenson said, referring to an October meeting when council was split 4-4 to amend the ordinance and the mayor broke in favor of leaving it as-is. “We’re right back to the beginning, we didn’t get anything out of this meeting. I don’t want to see this again and frankly I’m disappointed in the crowd, the numbers that showed up.”
Disagreement arose again when it was time to decide when city staff would bring the amended ordinance back for a vote. La Strada, Cross, Stevenson and Ward 2 Councilwoman Wanda Monsees argued it should be done soon while Galliher and Rowe pushed for a later date, after council had finished its budget talks.
“We need to get the budget done before we bring this back, we have to run the city before going back on this ordinance that we already passed,” Rowe said. “I understand that some people want this to be done soon, but we have to get through these budget talks.”
La Strada said it wouldn’t take long for council to vote on the new ordinance and added with a municipal election looming she preferred if the matter was settled before new councilmembers were sworn in.
After several more discussions about the date council decided to bring it to its March 3 meeting.