Vote on Courthouse Smoking Ban Due Thursday
By Rick Hiduk
Bradford County Commissioners are in agreement that they do not want to dictate the health habits of people who use the Bradford County Courthouse in Towanda, and they also share the opinion that smoking on stairs to the courthouse and around the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in front of the building has gotten out of hand. Today, they are slated to take a second look at a proposal that, as initially drafted, would ban all smoking in the entire block that comprises Courthouse Square.
“We have a real problem with people smoking on the steps and on the statues,” said Commissioner Doug McLinko. “People shouldn’t have to put up with clouds of smoke to enter the courthouse.” McLinko fell short, however, of fully supporting Ordinance 2011-01 as it was written. The proposal includes the prohibition of smoking on the sidewalks adjacent to the courthouse that line Main, Park, and Court Streets, as well as the Merrill Parkway. McLinko thinks that goes too far. He apologized at the Oct. 6 commissioners’ meeting for not having read the document thoroughly beforehand and tabled the motion for one week after remarking, “I think that it needs a little more work.”
Commissioner John Sullivan appeared to have no problem with extending the ban to the outermost perimeters of the block, but fellow Commissioner Mark Smith seemed to be closer to McLinko on the issue, even though he noted in a phone interview on Tuesday that the three commissioners and chief clerk Michelle Shedden had not yet had an opportunity to discuss the proposed ordinance together and clarify the policy.
“It’s a proximity issue, and we have had a lot of the public and courthouse employees take issue with the concentration of smoking in certain areas,” Smith related. “It comes into the windows and creates problems in some parts of the courthouse.”
For Smith, reducing the frequency of smoking among county employees is just as important as establishing a larger buffer between the county offices and public smokers. Tobacco use among county employees constitutes the greatest single expense to the county in terms of health insurance. “We do encourage county employees not to smoke so that we can keep insurance costs down,” Smith stated.
McLinko, who admitted that he and other courthouse employees are also tired of picking up cigarette butts, expressed concerns about policing an edict that might be over-reaching. “If you pass an ordinance, you’d better be ready to enforce it,” he asserted.
“It’s my understanding from speaking to our lawyers that we can’t enforce that,” Smith said of banning smoking on the sidewalks that abut parking spaces along the streets. Ultimately, he explained, the sheriff’s office would be responsible for enforcing the new ordinance, but Smith doesn’t expect it to be that big of a deal. He believes that most smokers will be understanding and compliant when asked by members of the sheriff’s department to move farther away from the building.
The proposed smoking ban at the courthouse falls on the heels of several ordinances passed throughout the county and across the state in the past year that prohibit smoking in public places. In Louisiana and other states, proposals are being discussed to ban third-hand smoke, which includes clothing that smells strongly of cigarettes, in hospitals and schools.