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St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter, Margaret Gillerman, posted the following story about last night’s continued focus on the exemptions in St. Louis County’s smoke-free air ordinance during the public forum before council members. This time, it was the turn of Charley Gatton, who attended but did not speak at last week’s meeting. His presentation during the public portion is reproduced below, followed by the news story and also critical comments from Bill Hannegan posted on the Post-Dispatch.
Here is Charley Gatton’s council testimony:“Good evening and thank you for the opportunity to talk with you.
My name is Charley Gatton, and I live in Ballwin.
I would like to talk with you about the Clean Indoor Air Ordinance. Nearly two years ago, I led the citizen effort to pass this ordinance. Despite a small budget and limited time, we were thrilled when it passed by a two-to-one margin. It passed in every township in St. Louis County. As you know, it went into effect at the beginning of this year, seven months ago.
First the good news – in spite of all of the doom and gloom predictions, the sky didn’t fall. Businesses didn’t close by the droves. Many businesses have found that their customer count and revenues have increased. I hear almost weekly from county residents that are thrilled with the new environment, and employees I talk with are also thrilled. A recent survey done for the American Cancer Society showed that voters really like this ordinance and want it strengthened.
But not everything is great. While leading the campaign, I was repeatedly told that no more than 70 or so “drinking establishment” exemptions would be granted. This was based on the number of businesses that had liquor licenses that did not have Sunday permits. I understand that a Sunday sales permit requires a business to demonstrate that more than 50% of their business revenue comes from food. The Proposition N ordinance requires that to be considered for an exemption permitting smoking, a location must have less than 25% of their revenue from food.
Imagine my surprise when a great many businesses with Sunday sales permits applied for and got exemptions! I didn’t major in math but it would seem that they should be mutually exclusive. But as of last week, more than 150 establishments had received permits. I hear many complaints from people telling me this isn’t what they thought they were voting for. Business people complain about the process and about the unfairness of it.
I have heard many reasons why this happened. But clearly, the County has a problem. Too many employees and patrons remain exposed to dangerous levels of second-hand smoke.
I didn’t come here tonight to present you with a problem with no solution. The solution is simple. The Cancer Society survey points the way – a vast majority of the voters surveyed favor amending the ordinance to do away with the “drinking establishment” and casino exemptions. I urge you to take this action now.”
Bill Hannegan posted the following comment:
“Bill Hannegan said on: August 3, 2011, 1:08 am
Both Charlie Gatton and Barbara Fraser are now on the Board of Directors of Tobacco Free St. Louis. Should leaders of a charity 501c3 be lobbying the County Council like this? Post reporter Phil Sutin recently reported that O’Fallon Councilman Jim Pepper asked the IRS to investigate the heavy lobbying of Tobacco Free St. Louis when under the leadership of Pat Lindsey. Whatever became of that investigation? And is former County Councilman Barb Fraser in any way being paid for her current lobbying effort to remove County smoking ban exemptions?”
Following is reporter Margaret Gillerman’s Post-Dispatch report:
CLAYTON > Effort to end smoking ban exemptions continues • The campaign intensified Tuesday night to persuade the St. Louis County Council to even out the rules of the countywide smoking ban at bars and restaurants.
Four speakers urged the council to remove an exemption that allows smoking at bars that get less than 25 percent of their revenue from food.
Smoking is banned in bars and restaurants with larger percentages of their revenue from food.
The speakers said the seven-month-old smoking ban did not provide a level playing field for businesses.
Ken Breier is an owner of Schottzie’s Bar and Grill in South County, which does not have an exemption.
“The health issue is the same for everyone, where there is smoking, no matter how much food is sold,” he said.
Charley Gatton led the citizen campaign group to pass the county smoking ban. He called on the council Tuesday to “do away with the drinking establishment and casino exemptions. … Too many employees and patrons remain exposed to dangerous levels of secondhand smoke.”
This was the second week of the campaign at the County Council meeting. Again the council took no action. Several speakers had ties to Tobacco Free St. Louis, but its new head, former County Councilwoman Barbara Fraser, said people were speaking as individuals. Fraser addressed the County Council last week.