Councilors voice dissent over smoking ordinance

By Karl Terry: PNT managing editor

Portales officially went smoke-free Tuesday but did so over the objections of three city councilors.

A formality after the state legislature passed a law prohibiting smoking in public places, the Portales City Council adopted a new smoking ordinance in line with the state law at its regular meeting Tuesday.

With no one speaking for or against the ordinance during a public hearing, councilors Gary Watkins, Mike Miller and Ron Jackson registered their opinion following their “no” votes.

“I think it takes away some private property rights,” Miller said. “People have a choice in which restaurant they support.”

Miller said his vote was spurred after reflecting on similar statements made by Watkins at a previous meeting when the council OK’d an “intent to adopt” measure on the ordinance.

Miller said he appreciates going into a business that is smoke-free but feels the decision to allow smoking should be left with the business and — ultimately — its patrons and employees.

City Attorney Stephen Doerr said one of the ordinance’s main purposes is to allow law enforcement to cite violators through municipal court, rather than going through magistrate court as would be required under state law.

Doerr pointed out that it is the responsibility of each business to have signage designating no smoking. He said without the signage, the business, as well as the smoker, can be cited.

Doerr said his only concern is that some small business owners with only one or two employees might not understand the law applies to their business as well.

“Since it became state law the police department has not had one complaint,” commented Portales Police Chief Jeff Gill.

In other business councilors:

• Passed a resolution supporting the Portales Municipal Schools’ general obligation bond question that would raise $9.5 million from property taxes to match $11.5 million the state has approved to build a new school to replace Lindsey and Steiner elementary schools with one new facility. Early voting on the measure began Aug. 28. Election day is Sept. 18.

• Awarded a contract in the amount of $536,226.74 to sole bidder K. Barnett and Sons for work on streets and sewer line improvements in northeast Portales. The work is being funded through a Community Development Block Grant from the state.

• Approved a notice of intent to adopt an ordinance amending zoning code pertaining to building height in residential zone. The ordinance would remove the maximum number of stories measured but keep the same basic height restriction of 35 feet. It would better define the way that height is measured, however.