The winds of change that are set to clear the air of smoke in Soldotna restaurants later this year and left several restaurant owners fuming may be blowing toward Kenai.
The Kenai City Council held its first discussion about the possibility of enacting a smoking ban in Kenai restaurants during its Wednesday council meeting.
In October, the Soldotna City Council voted to ban smoking in all restaurants in the city. Since then, some Kenai council members say they have heard comments from Kenai residents who would like a similar ban in Kenai.
Council member Pat Porter brought up the issue at the Jan. 2 meeting when she requested it be added to the Wednesday agenda as a discussion topic.
"I've received so many comments from constituents in the area about 'When is Kenai going to do something about smoking in the city?'"
Council member Jim Bookey opened the discussion.
"I'll start this fire," he said.
"No pun intended," added council member Duane Bannock.
Bookey went on to say he is against a smoking ban.
"I don't want to be the sixth city to say 'no,' but I believe in the freedom of choice," he said. "... As a council member, I do not want to make that decision for the public. I think it's a decision the public would like to make on their own and I would like to stay away from it."
Kenai Mayor John Williams was of a similar mindset.
"I think business owners have the right to make that decision themselves," he said. "If you choose not to go in a restaurant because it's smoky, that's a decision you make."
Bannock likewise came down against a smoking ban, more for the sake of business owners than smokers.
"Business owners have rights," he said. "They have the right to run their business as they see fit. I will be highly reluctant to initiate a set of new regulations that apply to the businesses in the city of Kenai."
Council member Joe Moore said he is not in favor of a smoking ban right now, but would be open to the public's wishes on the matter.
"I would be willing to listen to the public debate the issue and make a decision based on what I heard," he said, "At this point I agree with councilman Bookey, but I'm willing to change my mind."
Council members Linda Swarner and Amy Jackman said they, like Porter, have heard comments about the matter. Both said they would like the issue to be further discussed.
Jackman went on to say she would like to see a smoking ban ordinance come before the council, and that she had specific elements in mind that she would like to see in the ordinance, and others she would not.
"Personally, I don't like to sit around where there's a lot of smoke," she said. "... Then again, I don't want to impose these regulations on businesses in the city and hinder their making money."
Porter said she didn't believe such an ordinance would keep business owners from making money.
"I don't think that in any place that has enacted this it has truly cost the business person any money," she said.
Porter supported having further council discussion and a public hearing about the issue and said she wanted to see a generic smoking ban ordinance come before the council. She also suggested the idea of the council putting an advisory vote on the city's election ballot.
An advisory vote would allow Kenai citizens to advise the council of their wishes on the matter of a smoking ban, but it wouldn't decide the issue for good. The council would still have to vote on it, since it does not have the power to put a binding vote on a ballot, said City Attorney Carey Graves.
The council could hold a special election for such a vote, but that would cost extra money. If the council chose this course of action, it is more likely it would put the vote on the next scheduled city election, rather than holding a special one, Graves said.
Whether they are for it or against it at this point, council members agreed to hold a public discussion of the matter at the beginning of their Feb. 5 meeting to see what their constituents have to say about it. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall.
"I don't think there's ever a downside in having a public discussion on a public matter," Bannock said. "I don't think anything bad can come of it."
In other business Wednesday, the council
n Voted unanimously to accept a $16,895 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation for four computers, a server and new computer software for the library.
n Voted unanimously to pay $28,000 from the Airport Terminal Fund to purchase Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant equipment that would allow disabled passengers access to aircraft. The Federal Aviation Administration has agreed to reimburse the city for 93.75 percent of the cost of the equipment.
n Voted unanimously to set a public hearing date for the proposed McCollum-Aliak Drive paving project for March 5. Twenty-five percent of the cost of the paving will be paid by the residents of the area. The council decide at the March 5 meeting whether to assess that cost on a linear versus a square footage basis.
n Voted unanimously to declare the Kenai Coastal Trial and erosion protection project as its number one capital improvement request for U.S. federal funds.
n Voted unanimously to award a $28,290 bid for an all-wheel drive minivan to Kenai Chrysler Center. Council member Duane Bannock abstained from the vote, citing a conflict of interest, since he is an employee of the Kenai Chrysler Center.
n Voted unanimously to file letters protesting the continued operation of liquor licenses for New Peking, AlaskaLanes Bowling Center and Eaglechief Inc. unless these entities satisfy their outstanding obligations to the city, including unpaid sales taxes, property taxes and lease payments, by Jan. 30.
n Listened to a report given by Cherie Brewer, president of the Kenai Chamber of Commerce board of directors, about the chamber's plan to refocus its efforts from being a social organization more toward promoting and developing commerce. As a result, the chamber will no longer organize some of the programs it once did, like the community clean-up day and Kenai's Fourth of July celebration. The chamber hopes to delegate these responsibilities to other community organizations. It will, however, continue to operate its job shadow program, its weekly luncheon forums, its Town and Gown event, the Hooked on Kenai program and its yearly fund-raising event, which this year was called Hooked on Kenai Wild.
n Got an update from Williams about his efforts to contact retail businesses about moving into the Big Kmart location once Kmart moves out. Williams said he's contacted Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Fred Meyer and Target about the vacancy. It will not be up to the city to decide what business, if any, moves into the spot, since the city does not own the property.
"There isn't a lot the city of Kenai can do at this time except wait and see what the people want to do," Williams said.
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