Tuesday Council meeting was the Smoke-free Initiative and Referendum "no smoking" ordinance roll-out. The Smoke-free co-chair Lisa Burger opened, as expected. She promised not to be too long, "I know we have others wanting to speak. I don't know if we'll take comment from, uh the other side". Mayor New hastened to point out that we would hear from the public, even those of us so unenlightened as to disagree with our betters.
Later during comment, Burger responded to a hotelier's complaint about the restrictions on rooms he would be allowed to designate as smoking. She assurred him he could keep 20% of rooms smoking. I tried to get recognition to protest that percentage was destined to expire in 4 years, but I had already spoken, did not get the mike.
Almost glad I didn't. Silly me, that 4 year expiration was in the OLD Smoke-free proposal, the one this group filed and collected 4,500 signatures with. For convenience I will call it SmokenannieI. I went home that evening, I'm going to write about the meeting, but just for fun, I check the City of San Angelo website, they have a handy link front and center of homepage.
I must digress here; also Tuesday we got a State Comptrollers award for open records tranparency, my opinion overdue. I've been looking at City business for a long time, and the improvement on this front is awesome thanks to a lot of hard work by staff. Without that transparency, I might not have found what I was able to.
When I checked the site, imagine my surprise at discovering we had a whole NEW Smoke-free ordinance posted, I will call this changeling child SmokenannieII. Oh, it still had to do with regulating smoking in San Angelo, it still didn't cut bars any slack, but there ends the similarity. Many definitions changed, some places (tobacco shops, hotels) had restrictions removed, bars and restaurants now find even their outdoor seating "prohibited", other "modifications" which Mr. Turner put together in a convenient comparison found [here].
In short, Smoke-free "sold" a product to 4,500 signers and then felt free to substitute a substantially different product to bring before Council.
It really wasn't that hard. I'd be surprised if 1% of those signers actually read all of SmokenannieI. I confess, when the legal document was published April 18 in tiny agate type, I did not grab the magnifying glass my aging eyes would have required to read it, I just noted "OK, they complied"; after all, I had already read it. What was published was SmokenannieII, and if anyone caught it then, I haven't heard about it. SmokenannieII had been submitted e-mail, I understand to facilitate publication.
For those unfamiliar, I started sending copies of my editorial submissions e-mail a good while back. It saves the editor the labor of re-typing hard copy. It's a time-saving courtesy. In this case, someone from Smoke-free used it to substitute a whole new document and given the length, it understandably slipped by proofreading by City or Standard-Times staff or me, or anyone.
What makes this all the shabbier, once the thing hits Council and Council inevitably makes amendments, the five members of the initiating committee have full authority to accept, reject, counter-propose and generally horsetrade on behalf of the signers they represent. It's not as though they can call 4,500 people and consult on every amendment. What I do NOT find in Charter Sec 47 is the authority to collect signatures on one document and then gut and rebuild that before Council ever sees it!
Folks, there's no other way for me to put this: Smoke-free cheated, blatantly, and they almost got away with it. I'm not an attorney or a cop, I can't say (yet) if they violated law, but they certainly violated the spirit of Initiative and Referendum. It appears they violated 277.0023 of Texas Election Code, but penalty for that is not specific.I will be advising Council to rescind its acceptance of a tainted petition and tell the players to come back when they can play by the rules.
I know for sure, there are some mighty unhappy people downtown, people who gave this supposedly high-minded, well-intentioned group the benefit of trust and are feeling betrayed. Myself, until today, I disagreed with them, was prepared for an open battle of words and will, but I respected their position and intentions. I cannot say that now.
(Original ordinance, updated ordinance, changes)