Bennington makes public sites smoke-free
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | February 13,2013
BENNINGTON — The Select Board voted unanimously Monday to ban smoking at several of its properties including two public parks.
Smoking will no longer be allowed at the Stark Street playground and the community-built park in Willow Park as well as the Bennington Senior Center and the Bennington Recreation Center.
Bennington Town Manager Stuart Hurd said he wanted the policy that bans smoking to be something that would be communicated to the public by staff members at those sites. He said he was hopeful that most people would respect the rule and not smoke in those locations.
The Select Board first heard in 2009 a request to ban tobacco use in public parks. The idea came from students taking Bruce Lee-Clark’s pre-law class at the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center in Bennington.
At the time, Select Board members said they were not in favor of passing an ordinance. Instead, the board supported the placement of signs which discouraged people from smoking.
Greg Van Houten, a Select Board member, suggested that the signs have not been “terribly heeded.”
“I’m not a big fan of writing law about common sense but I think when common sense doesn’t happen it makes sense to step in for public safety and liability,” he said.
Hurd said he thought the town needed to take the step of banning smoking because people were still smoking where children were playing and people were congregating.
James Carroll, who said he believed he was the only Select Board member who smokes, said he supported the ban.
“I’m not proud of it but I can certainly recognize the dangers, not only to older people but to children in particular with respect to the second-hand smoke,” he said.
Jason Morrissey, who was on the Select Board in 2009, joked that voting against a ban was like voting against “baseball, motherhood and apple pie,” but said he was still concerned about whether police would be called to enforce the ban. Morrissey said he didn’t believe that would be the best use of a police officer’s time.
Hurd said the ban would allow town staff to tell people who were smoking to put out their cigarettes or leave the premises. He said he didn’t expect police to be called unless someone became unruly after being asked to stop smoking.
Lee-Clark said the students from his class at that time have now graduated but he said he hoped to notify them about the smoking ban. He also said he planned to discuss it with his current students soon.
“Here’s the lesson, and this is the lesson we were working on back then, it is possible — in fact, it’s intended — that ordinary citizens can affect their local government and their government in general. ... This is a demonstration of how this works and it doesn’t work maybe immediately but it works and that’s what our founders were intending, it seems to me,” he said.
The ban will be effective in Willow Park near the playground but Hurd said it wouldn’t affect the pavilion at the top of the hill in the park.
The pavilion is rented out for events and doesn’t attract the same kind of concentration of children as the playground, he said.
The policy will take effect once the town is able to get signs in place, Hurd said. Cards will also be printed and given to staff explaining the policy of smoke-free sites which will be handed out to people who are smoking in the four sites named in the new policy. Hurd said he hoped that would help educate the public in a non-confrontational way.