Smoking in public places still is allowed in Webb City, but pit bulls are not unless they were registered before Monday.
The City Council meeting was emotionally charged Monday night, with a first reading on the proposed smoking ban and a second reading on an ordinance banning pit bulls that are not registered with the city.
Several residents used the public comment session to speak for and against each measure, as has been the case at the past three meetings. Arguments from residents continued even after the session ended, to the point that Mayor John Biggs asked several times for order in the room.
Susan Oliver, a Webb City pit bull owner, told the council that she realizes the “dog situation is a problem,” but she asked members to vote against a pit bull ban. She cited misconceptions about the breed, statistics showing that bans have not prevented dog bites, and her belief that a ban would not address the real issue: responsible ownership.
Tosha Burgos, a Webb City pit bull owner, also told the council that the solution is not to ban a breed of dog.
“How can you ban a dog because of an irresponsible owner?” she asked the council.
In the end, the council was evenly split on adopting such an ordinance, which required Biggs to cast a tie-breaking vote.
Biggs said he considered “personal experience” and “four to five hours of reading” he had done on the matter, and voted in favor of the ordinance. He was met with a vocal response by numerous residents, most of whom walked out.
The ban means it will be unlawful to have a pit bull in the city limits unless it was registered with the city before the ordinance was adopted, and numerous restrictions will apply. The penalty for violating the ordinance is a fine of $200 to $500.
At previous meetings, Smoke-Free Webb City leader Krista Stark and her mother, Loretta Randall, had asked the council to reconsider adopting a smoking ban and had presented the council with a sample ordinance.
Although voters backed a smoking ban in a nonbinding election on April 5, it did not get the needed votes at the April 11 council meeting. The council voted was 5-3 against the ban.
On Monday night, Stark presented an emotional plea to the council. She noted that her mother died of injuries she suffered in Joplin’s May 22 tornado, and that she “did not say all that she wanted to say” at the May 9 meeting because Stark had asked her to refrain.
“She wanted to say that if you don’t care enough about the health and safety of (Webb City residents), you’re not qualified to be a Webb City council person,” said Stark. “She wanted to say if you don’t care about the will of the people, you’re not qualified to be a Webb City council person. She wanted to say those things to you, and I didn’t let her. Those are her words from the grave.”
Leslie Brown, a 50-year Webb City resident who also has spoken at past meetings in favor of a smoking ban, said she has grandchildren, four of whom live in Kansas City, and they “don’t have to worry about (going to public places) there, because there is a ban.”
Locally, she said, she can’t take them to establishments where smoking is allowed, including the bowling alley and restaurants.
“What I can do tonight, if you don’t pass this, is I’ll try to get you off of this council,” she said. “I’ll call everybody I know. There’s a lot of people behind me that feel the same way.”
Edward Franklin, commander of the Webb City American Legion post, asked the council to vote against such a ban, saying adopting it would harm attendance at the Legion and the VFW. His comments also drew applause.
Councilman Ray Edwards, of the 1st Ward, said he was “not ashamed to be a council member, and not ashamed to say I’m against this ban.” He said he believes there is enough government intrusion and that smoking is an individual choice.
“I’ve been to every establishment in the town, and secondhand smoke is not a problem,” he said.
Councilman Don Darby asked his fellow council members, “How we can turn our backs on what (the public) voted for” in April.
Brown asked Biggs for a roll call vote, drawing more applause from those in attendance. Voting “no” were Gina Monson, Denny Smith, Brandon Wilson, Jerry Fisher and Edwards. Voting “yes” were Darby, Doug Goodhall and Gene Mense.