On Thursday, Sept. 22, Macon City Council held a public hearing at City Hall to discuss the latest proposed smoking ordinance.
The proposed ban would prohibit smoking at nearly all restaurants, bars and outdoor playgrounds. This is the second time a smoking ordinance has been brought forth to the council in the last year. Mayor Reichert vetoed the first ban for various reasons.
The dominant issue of the night dealt with bars and restaurants.
The audience, composed of individuals from Macon and surrounding areas, had various opinions and the council meeting became a debate forum. Larry Schleinger, Council President Pro Tempore, who presided over the hearing, had to quiet the public on several occasions.
“I thought it would be 50/50, and then the first ten speakers were opposed,” said Schlesinger of the evening.
Former republican mayor candidate, David Cousino, verbally criticized the Breathe Easy Macon campaign and those in charge of its operations.
Many residents and business owners believe that the City Council is intervening in issues of private property and liberty by proposing this ordinance.
Phillip Sinclair, owner of Element nightclub said, “I represent the 14 people here with me and the 600 people at my club this past weekend.” Sinclair told the council that 60% of his customers are from Warner Robins and the smoking ordinance would push them away. “If you pass this ban, we are no longer a desirable place to come,” he said of those customers who commute.
Ryan Williams, owner of Wagers Grill and Bar, said customers have a choice to go into a certain bar, suggesting that some businesses cater to a smoking crowd and a ban would deter those customers. “There should be no government intervention during an economic crisis,” said Williams.
Victor Stanley, owner of the Hummingbird, suggested that Macon City Council take a different approach in instituting a smoking ordinance. “I am all for a smoking ordinance like the one in Athens,” said Stanley. “But the timing is off.”
Stanley said the city needed to bring in business to downtown before considering an ordinance.
Those in favor of the ban believe that there are substantial health risks of second-hand smoke exposure associated with the continued allowance of public smoking. “It doesn’t hurt to walk outside and have a cigarette, because you’re killing somebody, and one of them is me,” said a member of the audience, who is currently suffering from a genetic lung disease.
Six council members appeared at the hearing. “It was a poor job of representation,” said Clay Murphy, Director of Macon External Affairs. “It showed they were not really listening to what the public had to say.”
Schleinger was also disappointed in the council turnout. “Those who were most vocal for a hearing weren’t there themselves,” he said of council members.
Murphy said that the one of the reasons the mayor vetoed the first smoking ordinance was because he felt that the council hadn’t listened to its constituents.
According to Schleinger, he thinks they’ve got it right this time. “There were negative reactions in Athens. Now everyone thinks it is the greatest. Once it’s implemented, people get used to it.”
The next meeting discussing the ordinance will take place Oct. 10. The Public Safety Committee will put it to a vote and, if favored, it will go to council and then legislation.