by Max Brantley
Mayor Mark Stodola thought he'd struck a blow with those hoping to see smoking stopped in the Little Rock Zoo by encouraging extension of a no-smoking policy from other city parks to the zoo, which sits in a park.
The policy is only advisory. It's largely unenforceable because nobody is systematically urging its observation. It's widely ignored, cigarette butt litter testifies. If Stodola thinks there are few complaints, I'd guess it is only because people who'd prefer not to endure tobacco smoke or wade through cigarette butts don't bother to complain to a city that does an understaffed job at most endeavors, much less patrol parks for smokers.
After he sent me his letter on the issue, I ssuggested real leadership might be a city ordinance banning smoking in parks. Stodola's response:
The policy banning smoking in the city parks is an effort to find a way to try and properly balance city resources. It is primarily a personnel resource allocation issue. An ordinance banning it includes several additional steps including authorizing the police, or other staff, the authority to investigate violators; adopting uniform procedures for citation issuance; court time for docketing; witness preparation and attendance at trial; and prosecution in court etc.
Experience has shown that with posting, and a warning, as well as removal of the violator from the park for refusal, compliance is almost universally obtained. As I mentioned, there were only 4 complaints at the Zoo last year. It has rarely been a problem complained about since the park policy went into effect. If it becomes more of a problem, we can always turn the policy into an ordinance. You may disagree, but I think real leadership is accomplishing something that makes sense and strikes a proper balance between the zealous advocacies that have been displayed on this issue in the past. I can only imagine how long the City Board of Directors debate about passage would last.
I don't think there's much to debate or much to commend in the notion that we should balance decisions on health. But, even then, the possibility of debate seems a poor reason for avoiding an issue. Enforcement costs are a red herring. Many laws on the books are unenforced now, but nonethless have some deterrent value. See, to name one, texting while driving, addressed in this week's issue.