Only four council members Monday night were willing to consider an adjustment in the Rolla Smokefree Workplace Act, so the across-the-board ban on smoking (with one exception) remains intact.

Only four council members Monday night were willing to consider an adjustment in the Rolla Smokefree Workplace Act, so the across-the-board ban on smoking (with one exception) remains intact.


"We want to help small businesses, not hurt them," said Councilman Steven Leonard, Ward 2, who introduced a motion to draft either an amendment to the existing ordinance or a new ordinance altogether that would allow smoking by adults from 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. at Rolla taverns.


Only Leonard and Councilmen Gary Hicks, Ward 3; Lou Magdits, Ward 4, and Jimmy Dale Williams, Ward 5, were willing to ask the city administration to write an ordinance for consideration at a future meeting.


Councilman Tony Bahr, Ward 6, who had been critical last meeting of Leonard for even broaching the subject of an exemption without council approval, questioned whether the smoking ban is affecting the business of these particular taverns. He suggested the opening of two newer bars that are cleaner, more wholesome and attractive might be having an effect on the older establishments.


And Councilman Kelly Long, Ward 3, said the sales tax data is insufficient at this time to make a decision on whether business is being hurt.


After the vote, during the time for Rolla residents to make statements to the council, Michael Greenway, owner of The Grotto, a popular bar for Missouri S&T students, said he tracks business by the academic year.


"Last semester, business was down 12 percent from 2011," he said. "So far this fall, it is down 25 percent. That pretty much puts us in a place we can't continue to operate" (if that trend continues).


In his remarks to open the discussion Monday night, Leonard reminded the council members that he had surveyed bar owners who were in business both before and after the ban took effect in January.


"A steep downward trend" is the way he described the bar revenue in 2012. "I believe their numbers," he added.


Leonard also said there are safety and security concerns because so many bar patrons are "being forced" to go outside at various times throughout the evening to smoke outdoors on the sidewalk or parking lots.


Describing his proposal as "a slight adjustment," Leonard said the adjustment should be only for taverns with Rolla business licenses and state liquor-by-the-drink licenses. Moreover, only businesses that stay open to 1:30 a.m. should be allowed the adjustment. They should have a smoking area open only to patrons 21 years of age and older, and they should hang a sign on the front door noting that smoking is allowed.


Councilwoman Mazanec objected that bar patrons are not "forced" to go outside; they do that because they choose to smoke, she said.


Councilman Magdits said he did not like the idea of an "all-inclusive ban" when the ordinance was adopted late in 2011 to take effect Jan. 2.


Councilman Hicks said he could go along with consideration of an amendment or a new ordinance if the language was changed to reflect that the entire business would have to be open to adults only, not just a smoking area. Leonard made that change in his motion.


Councilman Williams, who has criticized the council for making an exception for the Rolla Lions Club to allow smoking at events staffed by volunteers, said the council is wrong to tell private business owners that they cannot allow smoking.


It is discriminatory because "I can't go and open a business for smokers only," he said. "It's not allowed."


Noting he smokes, but doesn't drink and doesn't approve of drinking, Williams said he might like to see an ordinance enacted that bans alcohol. "Let's close down the bars. I don't approve of drinking," Williams said. He did not mean that literally. He was illustrating what he sees as the unfairness of the city's taking away a business owner's choice to operate the establishment that he or she owns.


Bar owner Greenway said the smoking ban is the cause of the loss of revenue. He said last Saturday night he witnessed his patron spending at least 25 man-hours outside smoking instead of coming inside to buy his products.


He noted that business for him is down, but the sales tax in Rolla is up, indicating that it is not the economy that is affecting his business downturn. He said he has talked to beverage wholesalers who indicated that their sales in Rolla have dropped 5 to 25 percent.


Jennifer Mayo, representing Bruno's, also spoke to the council, affirming that the smoking ban has affected that establishment's business as well. She also said she believes it is wrong in America for a city government to take away a business owner's rights.