Elkhart mayor to veto repeal of Clean Air Ordinance

Published: Jan. 30, 2018 at 11:08 AM EST
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Elkhart city council members aren't happy with the mayor's decision to veto their repeal of the city's clean air ordinance.

it's not the end of the debate just yet. Mayor Neese said the announcement should have put a stop to things, but passionate council members say there' still a chance to override the veto.

The whole repeal of the clean air ordinance got passed on to the mayor's office with a vote of 5 to 4.

"I anticipate some conversation among the council," Council President Brian Dickerson said. "So I don't believe that although the administration wants the issue to be dead, they want it to go away, I don't believe that will happen."

The mayor says he made the decision to veto based on the public not having an opportunity to comment on the vote,

"Whether they're for or against smoking is one issue," Neese said. "But I think the bigger issue is that there simply was a lack of an opportunity for people to speak on behalf of it."

Dickerson says it was on the agenda previously, and the public had its chance.

"I would say that's entirely inaccurate and false," Dickerson said. "And the reason I say that is because they proposed an ordinance and it met all the statutory requirements. That ordinance had amendments to the smoking ban. Very little, if any, members of the public chose to show up to those hearings where we were going to make it so that there were areas in local government that you could smoke. That met the statutory guidelines for public comment, it was advertised in the local newspaper, there were opportunities and unfortunately, I think that's a crutch the administration is looking to find in order to support that veto."

The mayor has been hearing comments from all over since the repeal hit his desk, with organizations like the American Lung Association, Elkhart County Visitor's Bureau, the Elkhart County Health Department, Elkhart General Hospital and the Elkhart County Minority Health Coalition have all made sure their opinion was heard on top of all of the citizens calling in.

"The vast majority have actually been people opposed tot he repeal that would pertain to specifically bars and taverns," Neese said. "And even, we've had some smokers that have indicated that they would be opposed to a repeal."

After everything is said and done, nothing will have changed since the introduction of the bill. The smoking ordinance is staying in place for now, Ron White will still perform, and it will still be illegal for him to smoke inside the Lerner.

"The city of Elkhart has made a contact with one of Mr. White's individuals, asking him not to smoke," Neese said. "But we don't know what he's going to do at this point."

If Ron White does decide to pull out a cigar and smoke it, there is the possibility the Lerner Theater could be facing a $1,000 fine.

"Mr. White is still going to be performing and I take responsibility for some errors along the way," Neese said. "This is my administration. There was some communication that went back to October of last year, with regard to initially contacting Mr. White and I was unaware of that, so I accept the responsibility for any errors along the way." Elkhart Mayor Tim Neese released the following statement Tuesday morning: "At the Monday, January 22 City Council meeting, a request was made for an amendment to the city's Clean Air Ordinance to allow any performer known for using smoking materials as a prop in their act to smoke while performing at the Lerner Theatre. Rather than voting on the ordinance as proposed, the Council amended the proposal and voted to repeal the city's Clean Air Ordinance in its entirety." "Without the presence of a local ordinance, the state of Indiana Anti-Smoking Law would become the new standard by which the city would operate. After further review of Indiana Code 7.1-5-12, it has been determined that neither the amendment as proposed nor the repeal approved by the Council would supersede state law prohibiting smoking in public places. While the Theatre remains a smoke free facility under state law, it is not anticipated that this will hinder the enjoyment of the sold-out performance." "Since Monday's Council meeting, my office has received an overwhelming number of calls and emails from concerned residents, business owners and health care representatives. Many in our community, both smokers and non-smokers, expressed concern regarding how a repeal of the Clean Air Ordinance could impact them and their families." "The legislative process is designed to encourage a thorough and comprehensive review of policy and to allow ample opportunity for public input. This repeal did not appear on the agenda and the public had no opportunity to speak on the matter prior to a vote." "The Clean Air Ordinance has been in existence for nearly 10 years and was established locally prior to a state law being in place. With the positive steps our community is taking to promote health and quality-of-place, there are numerous reasons why the Clean Air Ordinance should remain. However, of basic importance is the fact that to repeal it now, without any public feedback, takes away our residents' fundamental freedom and right to participate in the democratic process. Thus, I will exercise my authority as mayor to veto the City Council's repeal of the Clean Air Ordinance." Elkhart Common Council Vice-President Adam Bukalski, who suggested the repeal, issued the following statement in reaction to the mayor's veto: "I am greatly disappointed with the mayor and his showing a lack of belief of private property rights at this time. The ordinance was on the agenda and available for public comment as we were making an amendment to the original ordinance, so the reasoning being given is misguided at best. And with this all being brought up, I have been asked who will be receiving the citation when Mr White lights his cigar at his show?" "I to have had an abundance of calls and messages supporting the council action, but as is becoming abundantly clear at this time the will of the citizens and the council they elected is not being respected time and time again as we are making decisions based on individuals and businesses who do no live in this city. "