Commissioners want more information before making a decision
Craven County commissioners on Monday agreed that a draft resolution that would prohibit outside smoking on the courthouse grounds needs some tweaks, with several board members indicating they would like to come up with something less than a total ban to accommodate the smoking public.
The matter was referred to the facilities subcommittee, comprised of Commissioners Jason Jones and Steve Tyson, along with Chairman Thomas Mark.
That committee is expected to meet within the next month.
“I think the commissioners are basically concerned about people’s rights and they want to explore all options before they make a decision,” County Manager Jack Veit said after the Monday morning meeting in New Bern.
Veit said he did not anticipate the issue coming back before the board by its next meeting on May 1. When the item does return, it will likely come during one of the two monthly commissioners’ meetings that allows public comment.
Veit said he was happy with the way commissioners are going to handle the controversial matter, which smokers have said is a matter of their right to smoke in a public area.
“I would rather hear this (caution) today than have the policy approved and nobody like it,” he said.
The board earlier heard Veit go over the proposal and a number of questions arose, including one by Commissioner George Liner on where county employees would go to smoke. He was told that would include the sidewalk around the courthouse and Judicial Office Building or across Craven Street at the county administration building.
Commissioner Jason Jones, a tobacco farmer, noted that he had been in opposition to banning smoking in county buildings. He said that the current proposal would escalate, predicting that would be followed by requests to prohibit smoking outside the administration building and other county facility properties.
He followed with, “Why not just have a (smoking) location on the grounds?"
Jones also put in a word about the tobacco-growing industry.
“For all the people that have lived in Eastern North Carolina all their lives, tobacco put food on the table, sent people to college and generated revenue,” he said.
Several commissioners, including Theron McCabe and Liner, also mentioned citizens’ rights. Liner also wanted to know the policies of surrounding counties.
The issue came to the forefront following a March letter to Veit from Benjamin G. Alford, the senior resident Superior Court judge.
“One need only to walk through the area between the older courthouse and the new annex to see what a problem smoking has become,” he wrote. “First of all, non-smokers are assaulted by the second-hand smoke generated by the smokers in this area.
“Next, there doesn’t seem to be any particular care among the smokers of what they do with their butts upon finishing the cigarette. The ground is littered with cigarette butts, which is not only unsightly, but probably a health hazard as well.
“Also, it’s possibly costing the county to have to clean this up and provide places for the cigarette butts to be disposed of.”
The reaction of a number of smokers and non-smokers outside the courthouse last week was decidedly against the proposal, most citing the right to smoke in an open public area.
Commissioners Scott Dacey and Steve Tyson were not at the Monday meeting, although Tyson took part via telephone.
Charlie Hall can be reached at 252-635-5667 or 252-259-7585, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @CharlieHallNBSJ