Council reverses decision to allow exception

06/17/2014 8:32 AM

06/17/2014 8:33 AM

At its previous meeting in late May, the Weatherford City Council listened to a request from members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization to exempt them from the city’s new ordinance banning smoking in eating establishments or places where food or drink is sold.

At that time, the city agreed by a narrow margin to write up a new ordinance making the VFW an exception to the law since they only provide food a couple times a month, but at its meeting June 10, the council unanimously agreed to discard the revised ordinance and its exception.

VFW members filled city hall at the previous meeting to speak in favor of making them an exception, but after that meeting, city leaders received numerous messages from members requesting that they reconsider such a change to the ordinance.

Mayor Dennis Hooks said he had originally thought they could not enforce such an ordinance and had asked the VFW to take a poll among themselves to decide whether they would be smoking or non-smoking. The city in fact can apply the ordinance to the private organization and some members have expressed that they do so.

Council member Craig Swancy said he received five emails from members requesting it remain non-smoking, including one member claiming about 60 percent of the members are non-smokers.

Swancy said he did not receive any messages from those in favor of making the VFW an exception.

When first considering the citywide, non-smoking ordinance applied to eating establishments, the council did so with the citizen’s wishes and health in mind.

“I feel like if it’s good enough for the average citizen to have a non-smoking facility, it should be that way for the veterans, too,” council member Waymon Hamilton said. “They are a special group of people and we want to keep them around as long as we can.”

The council also feared that making an exception to the ordinance would set a precedent they do not want.

“I think if you have an ordinance that is designed to promote the public health and safety,” council member Heidi Wilder said, “I think you need to stick with that ordinance and make no exemptions, because when you make an exemption you are elevating one group of people over another group of people and it diminishes the effectiveness of the ordinance.”

The VFW facilities and all other venues in Weatherford providing food and drink will remain non-smoking except in outdoor areas.

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