East Ridge OKs smoking ban, land deal

East Ridge OKs smoking ban, land deal

July 27th, 2012 by Kate Harrison Belz in News

Tim Gobble

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Numbers began to dwindle as East Ridge's City Council meeting dragged on past 10 p.m. Thursday, but a handful of spectators maintained enough stamina to see how a number of contentious votes were handled.

The council approved a city propertywide tobacco ban, with a key amendment: Smokers, dippers and chewers still can use tobacco in designated areas, like parking lots.

They also approved the first reading of a ban on future extended-stay hotels and a purchase agreement for a high-profile land parcel.

Before the nearly four-hour meeting began, East Ridge resident Tim Witt scolded the council for canceling a previous meeting, saying they were failing to do their elected jobs and putting off important business.

"The last meeting, you canceled. Now everybody's going to be here till 9 o'clock. You didn't have to cancel that meeting," he said.

Mayor Brent Lambert said the criticism "hit a nerve," and defended that cancellations were due to councilmen's vacations.

"Maybe you should get nerves struck more often," Witt shot back, saying the excuses were inappropriate.

Witt went on to criticize the city's proposed smoking ban on city-owned property, saying it was "ridiculous" for the council to try to legislate what people did outside.

Councilman Jim Bethune said later during the meeting that he had begun to take a similar viewpoint.

"I don't think we have a smoker up here, but I don't think we have the right as a council to tell people that they cannot smoke when they come on our property," he said.

City Manager Tim Gobble still pushed for a total ban saying, parking lots already were littered with cigarette butts.

"A lot of people who smoke, they just flick those cigarettes and they very rarely will use a receptacle," he said.

Though Councilmen Darwin Branam and Denny Manning take opposite stances on the issue, they both ended up casting the "no" votes against the new ordinance. Branam, because he thought it was not strict enough, and Manning because he thought the issue needed to be "left alone."

In other business, council unanimously voted to approve a contract that would allow the city to buy a 30-acre swath of land near Interstate 75 exit 1 from the state, which they then would sell immediately to the Wolftever Development group, which plans to turn it into a retail site.

Wolftever will put the money into an escrow account, which will allow East Ridge to make the purchase without putting up money on the front end, explained broker John Healy, who represents Wolftever, during half an hour of questioning from councilmen.

The council also voted on the first reading of an ordinance that effectively would restrict any new extended-stay hotels, saying residents cannot stay in hotels and motels past 30 days.

The city currently has about nine hotels that operate as extended stay, according to city officials.

No one spoke in favor or opposition to the ban.

All councilmen voted in favor of the ban, except for Manning.

"I pass my vote to the power of the city manager," Manning insisted, which City Attorney John Anderson said was not allowed in the charter.

"People elected you, not the city manager," said Councilman Larry Sewell.

Manning's vote was recorded as an abstention. A court reporter who did not identify herself took notes on a stenograph during the discussion and vote about extended stay hotels.