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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

When the smoke clears in the parks

The Spokane Park Board has banned smoking in city parks.. Sort of.

It might change its mind next Thursday after a public hearing on whether to ban smoking in city parks...But don’t count on it.

If the ban holds, a person who lights up in a city park might get the evil eye, or maybe a good talking to from someone who disapproves... But there won’t be any tickets or fines.

Here's what's going on, as best as anyone can tell...

The park board was asked last month by the Spokane Health District and Teens Against Smoking to ban smoking in Riverfront Park. It scheduled a hearing, which was sparsely attended, where supporters from those two groups said it would send a healthy message to the community. One opponent – Bill Burke, who puts on the annual food festival Pig Out in the Park – argued it wouldn’t be enforceable, according to parks spokeswoman Nancy Goodspeed.

The board generally sided with a smoking ban, but thought it would probably be appropriate to phase in for all city parks. Last week, at a special 7 a.m. meeting to sign the contracts for two park bond projects, talk of the smoking ban came up again.

The board members all agreed, and voted unanimously for an all-park smoking ban – start time and phase-in to be worked out later. On Friday, the City Parks and Recreation Department sent out a press release announcing that smoking would be banned.

Then at least one board member questioned whether the panel had actually taken a final vote on the ban, and followed the appropriate process. Other board members were certain that they had voted, definitively and properly, to ban smoking. The park board’s attorney, Pat Dalton, was consulted, Goodspeed said, and he assured the board that even though the policy wasn’t on the agenda for the meeting at which it was adopted, it was OK because it passed in an open session.

Wednesday morning city Parks and Recreation announced the board had approved a smoking ban. Wednesday afternoon, the park board was officially “taking a step back” and reconsidering the ban.

Although the process passed muster, park board members began having doubts that they’d given the public enough opportunity to address the topic, Goodspeed said Thursday. They scheduled a meeting for 1 p.m. next Thursday, to hear public testimony and take “a final vote.”

Or more accurately, a final, final vote.

Because the board has already voted to make the parks “tobacco-free”, it’s not clear what opponents might say next Thursday that would make the board reverse the ban.

“That is the issue I don’t have an answer for,” Goodspeed said.

Barring a significant change of heart by a majority of the board, the ban would start first at Riverfront Park, at some undetermined date. It would then move to other city parks some time later, and finally, to the municipal golf courses.

The tobacco ban is a policy, not an ordinance, so it doesn’t need approval by the City Council, she said. Because of that, there will be no fine or jail time attached to lighting up in a park. The department will post “no smoking” signs – after it finds some money, either in its budget or from a benefactor – and will rely on peer pressure and “friendly reminders” to enforce the ban.

The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.