By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
It started as a planned discussion on possible changes to the proposed smoking ordinance.
But the smoking ban committee's meeting Tuesday afternoon – designed to spark a path toward a resolution of the issue – instead devolved quickly into a makeshift public hearing, delaying the substantive changes at least two weeks when the committee is scheduled to meet again.
Rather than resolution, the committee entertained suggestions that the city should do nothing and simply wait and see what the state Legislature does, as the topic of a statewide ban will be a hot issue in the current session.
Councilman and committee member Juan Rivera did not indicate where he stands on the issue, but stated adamantly that he is opposed to waiting, as they are charged with giving some kind of recommendation to the council and should fulfill that obligation.
But that won't happen for at least two weeks, as Rivera said he would like to make several visits and see the businesses in person before making a decision, suggesting the other committee members do the same.
For now, the committee made few strong suggestions for changes to the ordinance as the members were clearly torn on how they should act.
On one side, the councilmen receive a wealth of e-mails from residents who favor the ban. But at public hearings, those opposing it make up the vast majority, typically business owners who stand to be those most directly impacted by a ban.
Nowhere was that more apparent than at Tuesday's meeting, where every resident who addressed the committee spoke out against a ban in Killeen.
Dick Atkinson, owner of Hallmark Lanes, said it's inevitiable that he will lose business because of the specific market he caters to and the reasonable options those people have outside of Killeen.
Former City Councilman Dan Corbin, who chaired the same committee when he was on the council in 2003, said the city should pass a resolution to send a favorable recommendation for a ban to the state Legislature to avoid the potential loss of business in Killeen.
Councilman and committee member Kenny Wells, sitting in as chairman in place of Councilman Billy Workman, summed up the dilemma and expressed disappointment at the city's inability to turn this issue over to the voters.
"We have to decide if we're going to exempt anyone, whether it be bowling alleys, the clubs, and maybe some other places," Wells said. "I don't believe we're prepared to make that decision yet."
Wells added that he has some fundamental problems with passing exemptions, however.
"To me it's a health issue," he said. "But how do I justify exempting a bingo hall or a bowling alley if I'm interested in the health and safety of our citizens? I understand the Boys and Girls Club gets a lot of revenue (from bingo proceeds). But what is the health cost from the people who contract diseases?"
Committee member Rudeford Norman said he felt the city would be better off waiting, and spoke of his significant issues with the potential difficulties in enforcing the ordinance.
"A $200 fine is overkill, and the current smoking ordinance as proposed is almost too draconian to be enforced," Norman said. "I would like to wait for the Legislature."
Contact Justin Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7568.