FLORENCE, SC - Three months of often contentious debate reached a dramatic conclusion Monday as Florence City Council approved final reading and adoption of a long-debated smoking ordinance with a 5-2 vote.
The ordinance, which applies to most indoor public gathering areas, will take effect in November.
The council spent more than an hour on the ordinance, listening to final comments from the public as well as additional thoughts from council members.
A vocal majority of the packed council chamber spoke out against the ordinance employing various last-minute rhetorical strategies they hoped would sway a council that consistently held a 5-2 majority favoring the ordinance.
When discussion ended, that 5-2 majority held together and approved the ordinance, much to the disappointment of the opposition.
While they weren’t happy with the result, those opposed to the measure said they weren’t surprised.
“The council did what they intended to do months ago,” Bill Pickle, chairman of the Florence County Republican Party and a vocal opponent of the ordinance who spoke during Monday’s meeting, said. “I don’t think there was any doubt that it was going to end up this way, but there’s a lot of disappointment.”
Among those disappointed were Councilmen Steve Powers and Ed Robinson, the two lone dissenting votes. The two tried multiple legislative tactics in an effort to delay, amend or even dismiss the ordinance.
Powers and Robinson moved for six such actions during the course of the discussion. All six were voted down, 5-2.
Following the meeting, Powers summed up his feelings on the final vote in one word:
Points of contention from Powers, Robinson and other opponents at Monday’s meeting ranged from disputing medical evidence suggesting secondhand smoke is a hazardous to others’ health to alluding that members of council were somehow influenced by anti-smoking stimulus funds awarded to area medical institutions.
Mayor Stephen J. Wukela reminded speakers as well as council members that accusing elected officials of corruption is serious and requires evidence.
Robinson moved to delay the vote until council could investigate the allegations further, which was seconded by Powers. That motion, like the others proposed by the pair, failed 5-2.
Supporters of the ordinance were noticeably absent from Monday’s meeting and no council member who supported the measure commented on it during the meeting.
Of the 10 speakers who addressed council, only one spoke in favor of the ordinance. Members of Smoke Free Florence were outnumbered and silent for most of the meeting.
The few supporters present applauded council when the ordinance was passed.
Pickle said he did not anticipate any legal action being taken against the smoking ordinance, but said if he thought a case could be brought against it, he would support it.
“If I had the funds, I would probably file a federal court case against this,” Pickle said.
Enforcement of the ordinance will rest with the city administrator and appointed designees. Fines of no less than $10 and no more than $25 will be assessed.
By John Sweeney