The fight over Columbia’s smoking ban has entered a new round.
Business owners Joe Thiel of Otto’s Corner Bar and Grill, 38 N. Eighth St., and Betty Hamilton of Tiger Club, 1016 Business Loop 70 E., have filed a petition with the City Clerk’s office to repeal the ban. The petition comes nearly a year after the City Council voted 4-3 to approve the controversial ban on smoking in many public places, including bars and restaurants.
The Clerk’s office requires 2,580 signatures for the petition to be certified. If certified, the petition will be presented to the council. The council then has the option of repealing the smoking ban or sending the issue to the voters. City Manager Bill Watkins expects that the issue will appear on the council’s Nov. 19 agenda and, if the petition is approved, there could be a vote in April.
“I’m not really sure where Council will be on this, particularly with two new members,” Watkins said.
Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade and Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala were not on the council when the decision was made last October. Former Fourth Ward Councilman Jim Loveless voted against the ban, while former Third Ward Councilman Bob Hutton voted for it. Wade could not be reached for comment. Skala, in a previous Missourian report, said he would uphold the ban.
“It’s a public health issue, not a private property issue,” he said. “I think Council made the proper decision.”
Mayor Darwin Hindman said he is “fine with the petition” because he likes to see the people voice their opinions on the council’s decisions. However, he is still supportive of the council’s original action and the ban.
“I think Council did exactly the right thing, to make a decision," Hindman said. “I’m a supporter of the ordinance. I think it’s a health issue. (Smoking) adversely affects the health of other people in the room and that is wrong.”
Thiel cites business losses as his primary motivation for seeking a repeal of the ban. He thinks the issue should be put to a public vote, and he hopes that a possible election would receive a good turnout.
“I’ve seen a 35 percent drop in my business this October compared to last year,” Thiel said. “That’s pretty significant. We’ve already seen lots of places close because of it. I understand there are a lot more layers to the onion. But to sit there and add one more layer of grief for business owners?”
Thiel said eight Columbia businesses have closed and cited the ban as a reason. The list includes Columbia Billiards, Rack ‘N’ Roll, Lou’s Palace, Bull Pen Cafe, Garfield’s Restaurant and Pub, Trattoria Strada Nova, Old Chicago and Classy’s Restaurant.