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Golfers exempt from smoking ban

By KELLEY SMITH Staff WriterMay 16, 2019

MICHIGAN CITY — A proposed smoking ban at city parks, playgrounds and beaches will be up for a vote by the Common Council on May 21, but even if it passes, Michigan City Municipal Golf Course will be exempt.

At the council’s May 8 meeting, concerns were voiced about what a smoking ban could mean in general, especially at the golf course.

“I don’t think that including the golf course in this ordinance is the right thing to do,” said Council President Don Przybylinski, noting that 30 golfers have already threatened not to renew memberships if smoking is prohibited.

At $400 per year, multiplied by 30 members, the golf course could find itself $12,000 in the red, Przybylinski said.

Randy Durham, greens superintendent, said that figure would likely be more like $200,000 after factoring in resulting losses on cart packages, concessions and pro shop merchandise.

“We have tried hard to increase revenue and limit expenses over the years,” Durham said. “In conversations with some of our vendors that cover the Midwest, they’re not aware of one golf course in the area that has a smoking ban. I’ve been all for trying to set us up as unique ... This could be a potential way of being unique all right, maybe in a harmful way.”

City residents Steve Champagne and Tom Orlowski also voiced concerns over a smoking ban on the golf course.

“It just feels like going too far, to me, in terms of government trying to legislate intelligence,” Champagne said. “I would prefer to see people become moderate in usage of things like tobacco; but I think that’s something that needs to start at home being taught, and not come down from on high as a mandate.”

Orlowski said smoking is a different issue with the vast space between parties on a golf course, as opposed to more confined spaces like playgrounds.

“I think, it being a gentleman’s game, there is that respect for that space,” he said. “You’re not going to have a guy blowing smoke in your face when you’re trying to tee off.”

As the group debated, Councilman Ron Hamilton did some Internet research, and found the PGA defers to municipalities on whether smoking should be allowed on courses.

“If the PGA is hands-off – they know the game better than all of us,” he said. “I think, on the golf course, we should probably be hands-off, too.”

Jennifer Wilson, executive director of Healthy Communities of La Porte County, disagreed.

“I know just from working in state policy, anytime we do make exemptions, it’s a lot harder to go back, then, and include it,” she said. “So, we just advocate for including all or nothing, basically.”

Councilwoman Sharon Carnes, who authored the ordinance, also advocated for the all-or-nothing approach.

“We’re trying to de-normalize the use of tobacco,” she said. “La Porte County has a higher percentage of smokers over all of the state, which is not something to be proud of.

“As far as your comment about you’ve never seen anybody object to smoking a cigar (at the golf course),” she said in response to a comment by Przybylinski, “well, I think if there’s no rule against it, I would be pretty reticent to approach a man and ask him to put out his cigar. So, I would urge everyone to reject this amendment ...”

Councilman Tim Bietry said he could see both sides, but sided with Carnes. He likened the golfers’ threats to quit to “blackmail.”

“I’m thinking, it’s a good idea or it’s not a good idea,” Bietry said. “And to me, it sounds like a good idea to not have smoking.”

Bietry and Carnes voted against the amendment to exclude the course, but lost in a 7-2 vote.

But Carnes did recommend changing the potential fine from $100 to $75, and that amendment also passed.

Councilman Bryant Dabney voted in favor of the amendments, but intends to vote against the ban on May 21.

“I was against this from Day 1,” he said. “... I like what it’s trying to do, in terms of looking out for the health of people and things like that. But the first thing I brought up was enforcement – do we have the resources and people to enforce this? I spoke with some actual cops out there, and a direct quote that I got from one of the cops was, ‘This is the silliest thing I’ve heard of in a long time.’”

Dabney said such a ban should be determined by the Park Board. But Carnes confirmed with council attorney Jim Meyer that it is legal for the council to ban smoking, and while the Park Board could pass a resolution, only the council could institute a fine.

“I think it’s kind of out of order in the way it’s happening,” Dabney said. “You saw me vote ‘yes’ for the amendments because … if this does pass, I think the amendments make it better than what it is now. But I’ve expressed my reasons for being against it going forward.”

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