A Clayton police officer handed the ticket to Ritz general manager Patrick Franssen that night, and Police Chief Thomas Byrne also dropped by the hotel.
Byrne said Franssen said the hotel’s attorneys believed it had not violated the ordinance, specifically noting a section of the law allowing a hotel to exempt 20 percent of its rooms. The lawyer, Byrne said, considered the ballroom to be one of those rooms.
Ritz management did not return phone calls Tuesday asking for comment.
The Ritz has an exemption for a lounge where the Cigar Club regularly meets. But the Saturday night event was in the hotel ballroom.
Apparently, Byrne said, “they couldn’t fit the 400 people at the party in the cigar bar,” he said.
The penalties for violating Clayton’s ordinance is a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail. Franssen was given a Feb. 16 date in municipal court to answer the charges.
Clayton’s ordinance was enacted in July. The city of St. Louis and St. Louis County enacted anti-smoking ordinances on Jan. 2; Clayton’s is more restrictive than the city’s or county’s.
Mayor Linda Goldstein said Tuesday that the city’s aldermen might tighten the ordinance’s language.
“We have 99.9 percent compliance, and we have great feedback from our hotels and our restaurants and our businesses,” Goldstein said. “Pretty much everybody is happy. But there’s always that 0.1 percent that could misunderstand the intent of the ordinance, so we’ll go back and look at the language.”
She said that the Ritz management ‘seems very apologetic and I do think it was a misunderstanding.”
She added: “There are no hard feelings.”
Byrne said he got a call about the event Saturday night from Pat Lindsey, an anti-smoking activist and executive director of Tobacco-Free St. Louis.
The party offered boxing for entertainment, in a ring in the chandeliered ballroom, and was attended by men in tuxedos and women in formal attire.
That night a hotel manager told a reporter that the event complied with Clayton’s ordinance.
“This is a private event in an enclosed private room for our guests,” the manager said.
DOOLEY URGES COUNTY CHANGES
County Executive Charlie Dooley told the County Council on Tuesday that the county’s ordinance had produced “unexpected results.”
“Some people are getting (exemptions) that we thought would not be getting them,” he said. “We would like to work with you in the future to see if we can tighten some things up.”
In writing the ordinance, County Council members said they wanted exemptions to protect small bars whose owners feared a smoking ban would hurt their business.
But larger restaurant-bars have been among the 110 establishments that have received exemptions.
Dooley told the council that one potential adjustment would be to consider a bar’s square footage. Such a requirement exists in the city of St. Louis, where bars larger than 2,000 square feet are not eligible for exemptions.
After the meeting, Council Chairman Steve Stenger said he would welcome any legislation on the issue from Dooley.
“This is an excellent first step,” Stenger said. He said he would consider removing all exemptions, even those for casinos. The casinos had exemptions for their gambling floors that were built in to the ban that was passed by 65 percent of the voters in 2009.
“All options should be on the table,” he said.
At the council’s public forum, James Mays, owner of the Redbirds Sports Cafe in Hazelwood, urged officials to give the smoking ban time to work before changing it. Mays did not suggest the length of any delay. His business has a pending request for an exemption. Bill Hannegan, an activist opposing smoking bans, urged a six-month delay.
Former Ballwin Alderman Jane Suozzi said her city had avoided problems with exemptions from a smoking ban because it had only one — for a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall.
In Brentwood, Alderman Andrew Leahy said he would ask aldermen at their Feb. 7 meeting to grant an exemption to that city’s smoking ban to Goff Moll Post 101 of the American Legion, 2721 Collier Avenue. The post requested the exemption, Leahy said.
BY MARGARET GILLERMAN, [email protected], 314-725-6758