I’m writing in response to my friend Steve Knight’s January 20th editorial, “Wallingford Town Council is wrong place to restrict tobacco, e-cigs.” I generally agree with Steve’s perspective and enjoy his columns. In this instance, I’d like to address a few of the points he made.
The Town Council has been discussing the potential ordinance since last fall. At our October 9th meeting, we received an informative presentation from Stephen Civitelli, Town of Wallingford Health Director. Following that presentation, Councilor Jason Zandri asked me to place this item on the agenda for discussion at a future Ordinance Committee meeting (I co-chair that committee and help set the agenda). At the same time, Council Chair Vinny Cervoni asked Wallingford Corporation Counsel Janis Small to review a similar ordinance passed by the City of Hartford in September.
The Ordinance Committee then discussed this issue at great length at our November 8th meeting, which included further analysis of the Hartford ordinance, as well as dialogue with Mr. Civitelli, and Mr. Welch from the Coalition for a Better Wallingford. This discussion continued at the January 2nd Ordinance Committee meeting that Steve references in his editorial.
At the January meeting, we had the additional benefit of having Police Chief Wright in attendance to answer questions about enforceability. Both Director Civitelli and Chief Wright have publicly told the Council of their support for this proposed Ordinance and asserted that there would be no additional burden should this ordinance be passed. Enforcement would be seamlessly included in the activities they already do.
As such, the Town Council has been analyzing and debating this issue in a thoughtful and deliberate manner for the better part of four months now. Indeed, part of the reason this process has moved so slowly is the desire to “get it right” and not simply pass a feel good ordinance. Of particular interest has been the Hartford ordinance, some aspects of which we have agreed are impractical and unenforceable for Wallingford.
There are plenty of laws and ordinances on the books that are difficult to enforce. The town has a noise ordinance that requires costly daily monitoring to legally enforce. Cars routinely zip all around the semi-rural roads in our town, far in advance of the posted speed limits (including right by my house in Yalesville). You’re not even supposed to leave your trash cans out for more than 24 hours (yes, there is actually an ordinance covering that). The list goes on and on. The fact is, no law is enforceable 100% of the time. The “enforceability” litmus test is a convenient one to use against a law you don’t like, but in fact it’s pretty much true of every law we have, local or national.
But, conversely, are these laws 100%ineffective? No. Some speeder who is ticketed might think twice about doing it next time. And that one time might save a life.
It’s in that sprit that I do support this potential ordinance. I do not think it does any harm, and it’s no more unenforceable than many of the other laws we already have. I’m also persuaded by the fact that the proposed ordinance has the full backing of the town health and police departments.
A first draft of the proposed ordinance is expected for our February 5th meeting. Typically, these go through numerous revisions, so it remains to be seen if it will be passed on to the regular Town Council agenda on February 5, or sent back to the Legal Department for further revisions.
I encourage everyone to watch the Health Department presentation from the October 9th meeting, which you can find on YouTube via the Wallingford Government Television channel (direct link: https://youtu.be/5hm4xKSYU6Q ). It’s also worth reviewing the November 15 statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb on the vaping epidemic (direct link: https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/UCM625884.htm) We’ve recently seen the power of public participation in local government decision making, and it’s a great thing.
As Attorney Small said at our January meeting, in her passionate comments on this issue, “You can do something, or you can do nothing.”
Chris Shortell is a Wallingford Town Councilor, and Co-Chair of the Council’s Ordinance Committee.