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Doty vetoes smoking change

On Monday, its last meeting of the year, the City Council will take up the smoking ordinance, just like it did three years ago. Once again it will try to resolve the long-running, controversial issue that voters thought had been put to rest. The ...

On Monday, its last meeting of the year, the City Council will take up the smoking ordinance, just like it did three years ago.

Once again it will try to resolve the long-running, controversial issue that voters thought had been put to rest.

The council is scheduled to reconsider an ordinance allowing bars and bar/restaurants with smoking areas to offer full food service.

Early this month, the council voted 6-3 passing an ordinance amending the exceptions to the existing smoking ban approved by voters in 2001.

Currently, in bar areas where smoking is permitted, only limited food such as prepackaged frozen items or snacks can be served. The restriction, according to some bar/restaurant owners, has been devastating to business.

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But as expected, on Dec. 9, Mayor Gary Doty vetoed the amendment.

"The amendment recently passed ... reverses what was a big step toward protecting employees and patrons of Duluth restaurants," said the mayor in a memo to councilors. He added that the council action created "an uneven playing field" for restaurants that do not have the physical capacity and/or money to make modifications.

Doty said that in November 2001, voters upheld two separate referendum questions that supported the smoking ban and denied modifications to it. "Please use this opportunity to reconsider your actions and do what the people have asked to be done," he said.

At a news conference, the mayor said that his decision was equally weighted on both concerns.

"People support the smoking ban as evidenced by the election returns and the vast majority of opinions expressed to me," he said. "The whole point of the ban is to make our restaurants safer, and I feel the council's action is counterproductive to reaching that goal."

If councilors stick to their previous votes, they can override the mayor's veto. To accommodate the anticipated crowd at Monday night's meeting, the issue has been moved to the top of the agenda.

Back in 2000, the original ban had passed and was set to kick in Jan. 1, 2001. On Dec. 21, Councilor Russ Stewart, who is behind the current change, was successful in amending the original ordinance. Changes, which were eventually eliminated, allowed both bars and restaurants to have separate smoking rooms and allowed restaurants that sold drinks to permit evening smoking if minors were excluded.

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