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City Explores Smoking Ban In Public Places

A proposed ban on smoking drew a full house of concerned citizens to the city board meeting on April 1. Many were there to support the ordinance. Others attended to question the ban. Here Tommy Ashford (front, near center) asked aldermen how local government could tell merchants how to run their business. – Photo by Jack Gurner

Jonnie Mayor (standing) hands out material to Mayor Bill Norris (left) City Clerk Vivian Snider, Adlermen Fred White Charlie Harris and Sherry Martin. Teacher Lisa Harris is standing right. Aldermen Tommy Swearengen and Lance Clement are present, but not visible in this photo.

By Jack Gurner

WATER VALLEY – City officials are about to tackle an issue that may cause more fireworks than the big pyrotechnic show they approved for Founders Day.

Jonnie Mayo appeared before the city board at their regular first Tuesday meeting on April 1. She was asked by Mayor Bill Norris to attend the session to present facts from the American Cancer Society on the detrimental effects of second hand tobacco smoke.

Mayo is a volunteer with the ACS and event chairman of the Yalobusha County Relay for Life. She is also a cancer survivor.

Mayo told the board that second hand smoke causes between 35,000 and 40,000 deaths from heart disease each year. “Three thousand otherwise healthy non-smokers will die from lung cancer annually because of second-hand smoke.”

“These deaths occur because tobacco users are not the only ones who breathe smoke,” she continued. “All the people around them inhale it, too.”

Mayo explained that the ACS supports smoke-free air policies that restrict the places that people can light up. These “smoke-free laws” would protect those who choose not to smoke and to reduce the costs related to treating tobacco related disease.

Her talk included a long list of the effects of second hand smoke and emphasized the effects on children. “Lung cancer is the most preventable type of cancer known to date,” she said.

Mayo concluded her portion of the presentation by asking the board to pass a smoke-free ordinance covering the city’s public buildings and businesses for “all the people of Water Valley, especially the children”

Mayor Norris then introduced Lisa Edwards, a fourth grade teacher from the Water Valley Elementary School, who brought several of her students to the meeting. “I do read the letters,” he said, referring to a handful of letters written by her students.

As she asked the youngsters to stand, Edwards said, “My fourth grade students and I are excited about being here and being a part of our governmental process.”

She told the mayor and aldermen that her students had been studying the rights and responsibilities of being a good citizen. This is something that is important to them, she added. “They want to see a ban on smoking in public places. They wanted to give their opinion.”

The mayor responded that a ban on smoking is a large step and that more in-depth study is needed. “This is something that we just can not do overnight,” he said. “We can set up a committee…we can get outside help, also.”

Edwards asked what was the next step.

The mayor replied, “We’re going to do a study, if that’s what the board wants. There are so many people in the city…and how it effects the businesses.”

Addressing the board, the mayor asked if they would like to do a study and report back at a later date. “Not next year… sooner..”

Mayor Norris then recognized audience member Tommy Ashford, a retired postal service official, who asked, “How does the city government, the federal government or the state government have a right to tell a business owner how to run his business when it is a legitimate and legal product?”

“Should that not be left up to the individual business?” Ashford questioned. “We have many in this town who have no smoking on their doors. People have a choice.”

“That’s what the study is going to find out,” the mayor said.

Ashford responded, “I think this is going to be a rubber stamp just like Oxford’s was.”

The mayor attempted to explain again that the board would be doing a study with input from businesses.

“It’s a dead issue,” said Ashford, whose grandson was one of the fourth grade students attending the meeting.

“No sir,” Norris said. “It’s not dead. Only the ones who breathe second hand smoke are dead.”

The mayor recognized another audience member, John Caldwell, who asked, “I think part of the study should be done on how many lawsuits have been pressed against these other cities for violation of rights.”

“Lawsuits,” the mayor said, “That will be something we can all look at.”

Caldwell explained that his wife owns a business that is operated out of their home and they both smoke. “Are you going to outlaw smoking in our houses?”

“That will be a good question. I can’t answer that,” the mayor said.

Caldwell added that he knew of other smokers who have home-based businesses.

Norris added, “We’ll see what is the opinion of the people…the citizens and the merchants.”

“What is the will of the board?” the mayor asked.

“I think we ought to take it under advisement and study it,” said Alderman Fred White.

White’s motion passed unanimously.

Board attorney David Burns said that he would look into the legal questions raised at the meeting and report his findings to the board.

In other actions:

• Aldermen discussed the wording in the minutes from the March 4 meeting during which the digging of graves was the topic. Board members disagreed over the details of which firms would be allowed to open and close graves.

At that meeting, Alderman White suggested the city should have a form drawn up for those firms wanting to work in the two Water Valley cemeteries. Attorney Burns added that the city should set forth specifications outlining what the city expects along with an indemnity clause.

As the discussion continued, Alderman Sherry Martin said, “There seems to be a lot of confusion about it.”

Board members agreed to revisit the issue at the next meeting.

• Luther Owens of Willis Engineering received board approval for two items regarding the ongoing municipal airport project. One was the engineering agreement for the fence and the other was advertising for the project once the plans and contract documents were completed.

Owens also informed the board that the lighting phase had been completed and had passed FFA inspection.

• Aldermen approved a resolution for application to the Mississippi Development Authority for a community self-help program grant for Baker Street Park. The resolution is the third step in the process and has to be submitted by June in order for the project to be considered for approval.

• The board approved a resolution supporting TVA on the occasion of its 75th anniversary. Water Valley was one of the authority’s earliest customers in Mississippi.

• Aldermen voted to take under advisement bids for grass cutting services. Four firms submitted bids: K & W Turf, Hawkins Lawn Service, Willingham Twins and Chris Foxx.

• The board paid the Burns Law Firm $1898.96.

• Mayor Norris read into the minutes a notice of attendance certification for mandatory municipal court training for City Clerk Vivian Snider. When the mayor mentioned that the training took place in Tunica, Snider took some good-natured ribbing from the mayor and board.

• Board members were asked to submit a list of streets that need paving or other maintenance. The mayor noted that it can take up to two months from the time the contractor is notified for paving to begin.

• Alderman approved the use of city owned property on Railroad Street behind the Big Yank building for the Founders Day fireworks display. The mayor emphasized that no spectators would be allowed near that area. The fireworks, organizers say, should be visible in most areas of town.

• The board went into executive session at about 7:25 p.m. to discuss what the mayor described as a personnel and a security matter.

• Aldermen returned to regular session at approximately 8:10. Alderman White expressed concern about the dangers posed by large trucks running through residential streets. Police Chief Mike King said he would look at the ordinance and see what could be done. White also brought up the possibility of installing speed bumps.

• The mayor expressed concern over the recently installed benches in the downtown Railroad Park being damaged by skateboarders. Although the benches can be repaired, the mayor said that something would have to be down to prevent the vandals from causing further damage.

• Attorney Burns and Mayor Norris announced that no decision had been made regarding the hiring of a building inspector. The job will include code enforcement as well as duties regarding new flood plain management regulations. No timetable was put on filling the position.

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