Sheffield City Council offers apologetics for the vote on Smoke-Free Sheffield

By  | October 19, 2018 | Filed under: News

SHEFFIELD – The City’s new anti-smoking ordinance goes into effect this November 1st. It provides severe restrictions on persons who wish to smoke tobacco products on City-owned property where ever that property might be. It also prohibits smoking areas in city businesses, including all restaurants and lounges. There are criminal penalties for violators, including incarceration and fines.

Viewed by many as something positive for Sheffield, which will be the only city in The Shoals to prohibit smoking in these areas and businesses, other residents and many business owners say that the law is too draconian and will kill their businesses. Indeed,  a de facto boycott of Sheffield is happening now and is already appearing to have an effect.

Sheffield Mayor Ian Sanford chaired a City Council meeting Thursday night. The final item on the agenda was set as an opportunity for the community to speak their peace, both pro and con, on the issue. To say the least, it was an interesting evening. While the debate at times got spirited, the audience and most of the City Council remained civil with one another. Only one person was escorted from the meeting by Sheffield Police.

Many business owners were in attendance. Loquita Logan owns Zoey Belle’s Boutique and several other businesses on Montgomery Avenue. She has spent a small fortune on improving the Downtown District. Referencing the boycott, Logan expressed, “The boycott is so bad that on Monday of this week I had not a single customer in my store. Zoey Belle’s, as well as her other businesses are non-smoking facilities. But because they are located in Sheffield, the implication seemed clear that it was having a serious effect on her business operations. She told the City Council, which voted 4-to-2 to pass the anti-smoking law, “You do not have the right to legislate business this way. I do not like my rights being taken from me.”

Joe Michum, recently  purchased a building in Sheffield with the intent of putting in a cigar shop. “I have already spent my money. This was to be a cigar shop. But now with this ordinance, what am I going to do with my investment? I have money in a building that now I can’t do anything with. What do I do?” The Council was asked by Michum if this ordinance would allow his patrons to smoke their cigars inside his shop. Council Member Steve Stanley tried to give a cogent answer but appeared to be at a loss. Nobody else on the Council offered much encouragement. After a brief discussion from the dais with Melanie Dickens whose organization spearheaded the ordinance, it was agreed that no smoking would be the rule for Mr. Michum and would indeed apply to his business. Perkins appeared stunned and asked if any of the City Council could provide some guidance as to his future course of action.

Mayor Ian Sanford, who along with Council member Steve Nix, voted against the law, told Michum that he could offer no suggestions of what he could do with his newly purchased building or his business plans.

Sheffield resident Tommy Brown asked the Council if there had been an assessment as to the impact on the city business because of the ordinance. The City Council offered only results of studies from other places where similar ordinances were in affect. Results were mixed and the source material wasn’t specifically cited by the Council or Dickens. However, they did say that cities with this type of ordinance were doing well. Dickens cited studies conducted in The Shoals that indicated to her that this kind of law would have a similar positive effect on businesses and tourism.

Randle Perkins, a second-generation business owner of Cajun’s Seafood restaurant told the Council that 85% of his customers smoked. He suggested that this ordinance would destroy his 40-year-old business. Indeed, he said that his customers have already, for the most part, disappeared.

The council was asked by a member of the audience to take a step back and postpone the implementation of the ordinance, given the mixed, mostly negative response by the audience. The idea was to give time for a modification that could better serve the citizens and business owners of Sheffield alike. When asked for a motion on the question by Sanford, no Council Member proceeded with a motion.

Smoke Free Shoals Executive Director, in coordination with the City Council spearheaded the anti smoking ordinance. Melanie Dickens told the Council and the audience that having such an ordinance would ultimately help the City in the long run. According to Dickens, and repeated by Council member Stanley, there are over 25 cities in Alabama with similar ordinances. Dickens said that Smoke Free Shoals is actively working to have similar ordinances passed in the remaining communities of Colbert and Lauderdale Counties. Dickens told the Council that she had 15-hundred letters of support for the ordinance, but did not produce any evidence of her claim. She was non-specific as to the origin of the letters, whether they were all from local residents or otherwise. There were a number of Sheffield residents who were in support of the ordinance and had the opportunity to speak their positions on the matter.

Frank Vafinis who owns George’s Steak Pit and George’s 217 could not be present at the meeting due to a scheduling conflict but offered a written statement that said this ordinance was an unnecessary infringement on the rights of the business owners who have put in many hours and care to grow their businesses.

It was a raucus evening as each of the four Council Members who voted for the ordinance offered their apologetics for their votes. The response to their explanations was mixed. Steve Nix, as already mentioned, voted against the ordinance. He explained as his reason for his vote was the word, “Choice”. He said he believes that the choice of individuals to use tobacco products, which are otherwise legal for adults over 18 years of age is being taken away by this ordinance.

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6 Responses to Sheffield City Council offers apologetics for the vote on Smoke-Free Sheffield

  1. Greg McCollum October 19, 2018 at 2:40 pm

    I certainly hope the city council will do the right thing and also ban all tobacco sales in the city. Including grocery stores & gas stations ect. Because if they only ban the use but not the sales (taxes) then they are simply hypocrites. -Greg McCollum

  2. lilyredrose October 19, 2018 at 7:36 pm

    What we need here is more busybodies. How dare some of you infringe on these business and people’s rights? If the man wants to sell cigars, it’s nobodies business. If a restaurant has smoking customers and you don’t like it, go somewhere else. It’s called CHOICE.

  3. Jerald Smitg October 20, 2018 at 7:36 am

    I am a non smoker, but these people that do smoke have right. Designated areas have always seemed to work. This ordinance is way out of line. I thought that Sheffield was going to be an entertainment area… boycott will not help How many people that have lead this ordinance being past have a financial interest in the down town area? Just curious to know!!

  4. PJ October 20, 2018 at 2:28 pm

    I’m not a smoker & never have been. I do believe the passing of this ordinance is not right & the business owners and smokers of Sheffield have every right to complain. The citizens of Sheffield should have been allowed to vote on this ordinance & not forced on them. Sheffield has grown leaps and bounds and so many have put fortunes in rebuilding this beautiful city. I hate to see the now thriving downtown area suffer because of this. Its really sad..

  5. Brian October 20, 2018 at 8:16 pm

    Put it up for vote. Stop shoving your ordinances down our throats. We don’t want them!

  6. Barbara Pennington October 20, 2018 at 10:04 pm

    Shame on you City Councel! You have taken away the right of choice from anyone that lives or visits Sheffield. I really thought Sheffield was making a come back from the old dried up, tumblewood city it once was for years! Do you really want your citizens selling their homes and moving to neighboring cities? Well you know what, the citizens and business will move, spending their money in their new surroundings! The city tax dollars will diminish, the progressive city now will also, turning into once again dried up tumbleweed town! These citizens and businesses need their freedom of choice back to stay in an environment conductive to growth and expansion, not to be ruled by a city councils “CLOSED VOTE”.

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