Smoking ban takes effect
New smoking ban may hinder business in Jefferson and Glascock counties
By Ben Roberts
The Georgia Smokefree Air Act of 2005 went into effect last week, making it a crime to light up a cigarette in most public places.
While the law defines a public place as nearly any enclosed business or building open to the public, it's the new law's affect on restaurants that has garnered the most attention.
Joan Ingram, owner of the Old Capital Café in downtown Louisville, admits she's afraid the new law will run off good customers. According to Ingram, she has a daily group of regulars who file into her restaurant when it opens in the morning to enjoy coffee, conversations and, often times, more than a few cigarettes.
"I don't think it's right," Ingram said of the government's interference in an issue she sees as one of personal choice. Ingram says those regulars don't like the new law, but that they'll abide by it while in her restaurant.
"They said it won't keep them from coming in," she said hopefully.
Jenny Watson, owner of the Huddle House located on the U.S. 1 by-pass in Louisville, says she's heard some "low level" grumbling from some of her regular customers as well, but it hasn't amounted to very much.
"There've been no problems with travelers, but we have had a few with some of our locals," she said; "but it hasn't kept the usual smokers out."
Watson, a non-smoker herself, admits she has mixed feelings over the new law.
"I don't like cigarettes, but I'm very empathetic to my employees who smoke. They have to be here for a long time."
Watson says she now has a designated smoking area outside the restaurant for her employees to take their smoking breaks.
One question being asked statewide of the new law is just who's job it is to enforce the ban, which makes violators guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by fines ranging from $100 to $500.
The law actually states that the "Department of Human Resources and the county boards of health and their duly authorized agents" are to "enforce" the new law.
However, Belinda Sheram, an Environmental Health Specialist Three with the Jefferson County Health Department, says such enforcement is currently beyond the bounds of her department.
"Right now, we have no guidelines about who will enforce this new law," she said.
Jefferson County Sheriff Gary Hutchins and Louisville Police Chief Jimmy Miller both admit they've had little guidance as to handling the new law as well; but that it will only be a matter of time before their officers will be involved.
"It's something that we're going to have to do sooner or later. If it's the law, then we're going to have to enforce it," Chief Miller said.
The law does make exceptions for hotel or motel rooms designated as smoking rooms, retail tobacco stores, outdoor areas of businesses and bars or restaurants who restrict persons under the age of 18 or that do not employ anyone under the age of 18.
Watson believes enforcement will fall mainly upon the businesses themselves. This is why the restaurant's ashtrays have been locked away in her office since July 1, when the ban went into effect.
"They're all hidden," she said, "I've even given some away as souvenirs."
Officials halt grant application for Wadley's new library roof
Library Director Charlotte Rogers said she is surprised at council members turning down help with a new library roof
By Ben Roberts
Wadley city officials have put the brakes on a grant application that would pay 50 percent of the cost of a new roof for the Wadley Library because of a "turf dispute."
At their regular meeting in June, city council members rejected a request by Jefferson County Library Director Charlotte Rogers to apply for the grant. Rogers submitted a request to approve her moving forward with the application, along with a bid for the new roof, but Mayor Pro-Temp Albert Samples and councilman Izzel Mack took issue with the fact that Rogers had not come before the council first before requesting a bid.
"I think the authority up there has kind of over-stepped their bound, getting bids to fix city property," Samples said.
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"The way this was done is a slap in the face," Mack said. "They need to come talk to us. I really don't need the grant
I'd rather pay the whole thing than have somebody come down here and tell me what to do."
The 50/50 grant, which would require the city pay for half of the construction cost, can only be applied for between June and August of this year, according to Mayor Herman Baker.
"I'm not going to support it the way it's been done," Samples said.
Baker told the council he would ask Rogers to come before the council to explain the grant process.
In a later interview with The News and Farmer/The Jefferson Reporter, Rogers admitted she was both surprised and disappointed in the council's action. According to her, the library's roof was repaired in 2002 and that the contracted roofer recommended replacing the building's roof at that time. Rogers said she notified Baker in a March 29, 2005, letter that the roof was leaking on computer equipment and again reminded him it needed replacing. She says she received no response from the Mayor or the council.
Rogers said the funds she was applying for are through a major repair and renovation grant, appropriated through by the Georgia legislature during the last session. Rogers said she did not seek approval from the city of Wrens before getting a bid to replace their library's windows, but did request their permission to apply for the grant, just as she had done with Wadley.
Rogers said she is afraid the city has now missed its chance at being rewarded the grant money this late in the process.
Ralph Kennedy also came before the council to seek their assistance in getting properties in the city cleaned up by citing residents for not maintaining their homes and properties, particularly near his home on West Calhoun Street. Kennedy's request renewed discussion as to what should be done with dilapidated houses in the city, as well as residents who refused to keep their property clean.
"It's not just next to you," councilman Randal Jones told Kennedy, "It's all over town. We've been talking about this for eight to 12 years."
The council also agreed to begin their search for a new city administrator by voting to advertise for the position. That vote passed 4-1, with Mack voting against measure.
The city of Wadley has been without an administrator since Aug. 14 of 2002, when Carl Wagster, who had only been on the job five months, was fired.