Members of the Lawrence bar and hospitality industry are expected to announce today they will not seek a March 1 election to overturn the city's controversial smoking ban.
Several members of the Appeal to Reason and Tolerance Coalition said the group had decided to focus its efforts on reaching a compromise with city commissioners rather than waging what was expected to be a divisive campaign.
"We're trying like crazy to work with the City Commission," said Rick Younger, owner of Rick's Place, 846 Ill. "We're trying like crazy to show them we're not demagogues. What we're trying to do is show good faith to the City Commission and say that if you're willing to work with us, we're willing to work with you."
Younger said the coalition had enough signatures on a petition it had been circulating for the past six months to force the issue to a vote. He said the group had collected 5,000 signatures, which is about 1,200 more than state law required for the issue to be put to a public vote.
Phil Bradley, a spokesman for the coalition, wouldn't confirm any decisions made by the group, but said the coalition would make an announcement about its intentions today. City staff members have said that under one interpretation of the law, today is the last day the petition could be filed.
City commissioners on Dec. 14 are scheduled to discuss a compromise proposal submitted by the coalition. The proposal calls for the current ban -- which prohibits smoking inside of virtually all public places -- to be overturned. It would be replaced with a new ordinance that requires the air quality levels of any business that wants to allow smoking to be measured on a regular basis.
The ordinance would require nicotine levels in the air to remain below a certain level yet to be determined. Businesses likely would have to install air filtering devices to keep nicotine levels below the maximum.
Matt Baum, an owner of Limerance Coffee and Cocktails, 1520 Wakarusa Drive, said he hoped city commissioners would look at the number of people who signed the petition and realize the ban was unpopular.
"If they tell us that the people who signed that petition don't count, they're wrong," Baum said. "It's not just bar owners who don't like this."
Several bAr and restaurant owners have said sales at their businesses had dropped by 20 percent or more since the ban took effect on July 1.
Reaction to the expected announcement was mixed. City Commissioner Boog Highberger said he was disappointed that a vote apparently would not be sought.
"I think that would be unfortunate," Highberger said. "I was hoping the public would get a chance to vote on it."
Highberger said he believed the ban would withstand a public vote.
"I think the ban is supported by a large majority of people," Highberger said.
The absence of a public vote likely means the ban will be a major issue in upcoming City Commission campaigns. Dave Kingsley, a smoking ban supporter and chairman of the Mayor's Task Force on Smoking, said ban supporters would oppose a compromise and work to elect City Commission candidates who would uphold the ban.
"We'll fight like hell, we'll raise money and we'll work for candidates that support the ordinance," Kingsley said. "We'll ask every candidate where they stand on this issue."
Nothing in state law prohibits the coalition from restarting its petition drive to force the issue of a ban to a vote at a later date, though it would have to start over in collecting signatures. That shouldn't be a problem, some bar owners said Thursday.
"I think given the fervor that the public came forward with the first time, they would sign it again without any problem," said Chris Kaplan, a manager with Cross Town Tavern, 1910 Haskell Avenue.