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Limit on speakers in Decatur hearing over smoking ban

By Evan Belanger · 340-2442

Decatur residents who plan to speak next month at a hearing on the city’s proposed ban on public smoking could be disappointed.

Council President Billy Jackson says he will allow three people on each side to speak pro or con on the issue. Jackson will limit comments to three minutes.

After the hearing, the council will hold an up-or-down vote on the ordinance that would ban smoking in all Decatur’s public places.

“This is an issue we could debate from here until the end of time,” he said, after Monday’s council meeting. “I think it’s important that we be efficient with our time and that we not be redundant with the things we are saying and covering.”

Jackson said groups on both sides are “fairly organized.” He said they should have little trouble selecting three people for each side to speak.

“I think it’s important that we be able to get to the actual issue,” he said.

But not all were pleased with the rule.

District 3 Councilman Gary Hammon, who has opposed the smoking ban since it was proposed by District 4 Councilman Ronny Russell, said Tuesday he is concerned neither group is organized enough to pick just three speakers. He also said he was not aware of the rule until Jackson announced it at the meeting.

“I had several people approach me afterwards that are upset about it,” he said. “But President Jackson is in control of the meeting, and it’s his decision to make.”

Ted Whittington, who regularly attends City Council meetings and was present when Jackson announced the hearing rule, said he wasn’t surprised about the time limit, but he was surprised about the limit on speakers.

“I think the comment that he (Jackson) made was that, ‘We don’t want to be here all night,’ ” he said. “My thought is that it’s a public hearing. If 50 folks are there to speak, let them speak.”

Others say they have no problem with the rule.

Russell said Jackson’s decision will limit repetitive, ongoing comments.

“I think he asked all of us how we felt about it before the meeting,” Russell said. “Probably anything that needs to be expressed can be done in that amount of time.”

With the hearing set for 7 p.m. Aug. 6 in the council chambers at City Hall, council members remained divided over the issue this week.

If passed, the ordinance will eliminate smoking in all public places, including bars restaurants and public sporting arenas. So far, Hammon and District 5 Councilman Ray Metzger say they will vote against the ordinance as it is written now.

Competing ordinance

Hammon had a competing ordinance, but Jackson would not put it on the agenda at the same time. Hammon’s ordinance allows business owners to choose if they will allow smoking. He says Russell’s ordinance, if passed, will have a disastrous impact on several local businesses.

Russell, who once had to quit a job because of reactions to second-hand smoke, and Jackson, whose father died of lung cancer, say they will support it.

“I think that any time you deal with second-hand smoke, it’s a very dangerous situation,” Jackson said. “Truly, I am pretty much set, and unless someone can say something truly impactful, then I am going to support the ordinance.”

District 2 Councilman David Bolding also supports the ordinance.

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