New ordinance prohibits smoking within 100 feet of county buildings

By: Jeremy Selweski | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published April 30, 2013

MACOMB COUNTY — It used to be that people weren’t allowed to smoke inside county buildings; soon, they won’t be allowed to smoke anywhere near them.

The Macomb County Board of Commissioners adopted a new ordinance on April 25, prohibiting individuals from smoking within 100 feet of any entrances, exits, windows and air intakes at all county-owned facilities. Anyone who violates the ordinance can be charged with a civil infraction punishable by a fine of $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for a third or subsequent offense within a 12-month period.

The board approved the smoking ordinance by a 10-3 margin, with commissioners Joe Sabatini, James Carabelli and Bob Smith casting the dissenting votes. It was introduced to the full board via a recommendation from the board’s Health and Human Services Committee.

According to Commissioner Toni Moceri, D-Warren, chair of the committee, the ordinance is primarily a means of limiting individuals’ exposure to unwanted secondhand smoke.

“This is just another way for us to create a health-friendly environment for people when they need to do business with the county,” she said. “We don’t want people to have a negative experience when they visit one of our buildings; we want them to feel like their health is a priority for us.”

Moceri explained that the ordinance came about as a result of too many people congregating near the main doorways of some county buildings to smoke. The board also had been receiving complaints from some employees about cigarette smoke drifting into their work area through open windows and other air intakes.

“This ordinance is a way for us to mitigate those concerns and keep everyone as healthy as possible,” Moceri said. “We’re really trying to move Macomb County buildings more in line with modern standards.”

The smoking ordinance was originally intended to go into effect immediately. However, the board added an amendment to delay its publication for 60 days in order to give the Office of the County Executive time to determine how to best implement it. Moceri pointed out that the amendment was included largely because of problems that arose in the wake of the electrical fire that occurred in the basement of the old Macomb County administration building in downtown Mount Clemens on April 17.

Still, Sabatini and his colleagues were not satisfied with the version of the ordinance that was brought before the full board, arguing that it was vaguely worded and contained numerous holes.

“I think this is a good idea in theory,” Sabatini said, “but I just feel like the ordinance itself is way too broad. There wasn’t a very specific plan in place for how this ordinance is going to work, once it goes into effect. How will it be policed? How will (the prohibited smoking areas) be marked? None of that information was clearly defined within the ordinance. If I’m supporting something, I always want to be completely sure of everything that it involves.”

Sabatini also took issue with the 100-foot restriction of the ordinance, noting the logistical troubles that such a large distance could create, particularly in a crowded urban area like Mount Clemens.

“Obviously, some of the county buildings go almost all the way up to the easement, so 100 feet away would put you right in the middle of the road,” he said. “I think there are going to be a lot of people complaining about this ordinance, especially if they end up getting a ticket for smoking too close (to a county building).”

But according to Moceri, the 100-foot boundary does not apply everywhere, as the ordinance only applies to county-owned property. Therefore, she said, county officials can only mandate its restrictions within those confines and cannot force local municipalities like Mount Clemens to follow suit.

As for the nebulous language of the ordinance, Moceri pointed out that this was a deliberate attempt to allow the Office of the County Executive to better coordinate its efforts with the County Sheriff’s and County Prosecutor’s offices.

“We wanted to give the county executive as much leeway as possible with implementing this ordinance,” she explained. “Maybe they will want to have designated areas outdoors where people can smoke, or maybe they will just have the police respond to major complaints. We’re just trying to put an end to this pattern of smokers congregating near the entryways to county buildings, where people are walking in and out all day long.”