Petition to repeal smoking ban falls far short

Tuesday, November 13, 2007 | 3:33 p.m. CST; updated 7:16 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — The effort to repeal Columbia’s smoking ban appears to be about burnt out.

City Clerk Sheela Amin said Tuesday that the petition submitted by business owners Joel Thiel and Betty Hamilton is invalid. Only 1,321 signatures were determined to belong to registered voters of Columbia, far short of the 2,579 required by city code. Thiel and Hamilton have 10 days to collect the remaining 1,258 signatures needed for a valid petition.

Thiel, a co-owner of Otto’s Corner Bar and Grill, said he has no plans to collect the remaining signatures. “Betty and I sat down and talked about it,” Thiel said. “We’ve done our part. We see (collecting the remaining signatures) as pushing a big rock up a hill.”

Instead, Thiel plans to appeal to the City Council directly to ask them to put the issue on the Spring ballot. He believes the issue should have been decided by voters originally.

“Let’s just be fair about this and let the citizens vote,” he said.

The council approved the ordinance instating the ban by a 4-3 vote last fall. The vote took place after five hours of public comment and debate by the council, and the ban took effect on Jan. 9.

The issue has pitted public health advocates against some business owners who believe the ban is responsible for lost business. If the petition had been certified, the issue would have appeared on a council agenda. The council would then have to decide whether to repeal the ban outright or put the issue on a public ballot.

Thiel might face stiff resistance from the council. First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton and Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser are the only remaining members who voted against the ban last October. Mayor Darwin Hindman has repeatedly said he believes the council made the right choice by making the decision themselves. None of the council members could be reached for comment; most are attending the National League of Cities meeting in New Orleans this week.

However, new council members Karl Skala, Third Ward, and Jerry Wade, Fourth Ward, have both been on the record saying they support the ban. Reversals on smoking bans are not unheard of. In May, the city council of Champaign-Urbana, Ill., repealed the city’s smoking ban on bars by a 5-4 vote, according to a report by the Daily Illini. The ban still applies to restaurants. However, the repeal will only last eight months because of a statewide smoking ban, which will go into effect Jan. 1, 2008.

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