Were we at the same meeting?
I admit I wasn’t there at the presentation by the Lakewood Parks Department to the City Council during the latter’s study session this past Monday evening, February 10, 2014 during which time discussion was aplenty I’m told on the issue of banning tobacco products in city parks.
However, while physically not present Monday, I – like everyone else with access to a computer could have done – have read the over 10 pages that were provided by Parks to the City Council three days prior to Monday’s discussion (click here and scroll to page 40).
City Councilman John Simpson states in his follow-up article – in which he expresses why he will vote against banning smoking in Lakewood’s parks – that “the premise for why smoking should be banned in the parks rests on the belief that second hand smoke is harmful.”
At least Simpson alleges that is the central pillar of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and the Parks Director’s position.
But is that true? Is second hand smoke the singular Peter Pan-like plank Parks has walked in this political and practical sword slashing duel with city leaders?
No, it is not.
But more on that in a moment.
First, Simpson is to be congratulated on what to my recollection is the first time, certainly in recent memory, perhaps in the entirety of the some 18 years since Lakewood’s incorporation, that a sitting councilmember has gone to print (other than blogging on his own private website) to explain to the public his position.
Good for him. May his tribe increase.
Do you like rushing home from yet another miserable commute from an especially trying day at the office only to grab something – anything – to choke down in order to make it in time to get your three minutes at the microphone and then sit through maybe three hours (if you’re polite and don’t leave before the gavel sounds) of a council session because if you don’t you otherwise wouldn’t know – certainly you’d lack first-hand knowledge – what your elected representatives said because they don’t do what Simpson did: communicate after-the-fact and before-the-vote to those not present?
No? Neither do 128 million Americans who spend upwards of 56 million hours per year in the infernal traffic “which significantly contributes,” writes Tom Spengler in a recent column, “to a lack of interest and ambition to get involved in their communities.”
Spengler’s solution? Put “civic engagement in the palm of your hand.” In this time-congested world, social and print media are readily available to city leaders who seek to connect with their constituents on important issues says Spengler.
Simpson has done that and, as such, may be a pioneer here for blazing a trail to the virtual community in Lakewood.
It’s not like the wheel hasn’t been invented elsewhere.
In an article entitled “Can You Hear Me Now? Reaching Out to Engage Increasingly Diverse Communities,” Sue Enger describes Seattle as having “long pursued a Public Outreach and Engagement Program where virtual online meetings reach almost 5,000 participants. Renton established an active online presence with a website which offers information, forums, and blogs where comments were welcomed and questions answered.”
“Social media is too important to ignore,” said Todd Barnes, communications director for Thornton, Colo. “I think governments are finding out communications have to be as diverse as your audience,” he said. “If you are ignoring something that society is using and using as readily as social media, you’re really going to be missing a segment of your audience.”
It is thus hard to fathom in this high-tech world the low-tech reluctance of representatives to be so reticent to reflect their after action reports when in reality it is of little relative consequence that only 30 attended their meeting in contrast to local online media sources that provide a combined readership numbering in the tens-of-thousands.
Give it to us straight. We’re adults (for the most part). We can handle it.
“Why is journalism so important? Without it, our sense of injustice would lose its vocabulary and people would not be armed with the information they need to fight it” (p.xvi of editor John Pilger’s “Tell Me No Lies – Investigative Journalism That Changed the World”).
All this to say that Councilman Simpson believes that you, his constituents, are important enough to himself be forthright enough to declare to you where he stands on this smoking issue. Simpson is in that respect a most respectable and welcome breath of fresh air (no pun intended) for the hope the future holds for the give-and-take of debate on issues that matter to the community.
“Argument with the aims of convincing and of persuading is a healthy force within a community. Whatever the issue, people hold a range of positions, and debate among advocates of these various positions serves to inform the public and draw attention to problems that need solutions” (“The Aims of Argument” by Timothy W. Crusius and Carolyn E. Channell).
Good for you Councilman Simpson. You’re just wrong on the issue.
In “Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement” there are seven ascending stages of what Paul Graham calls “a rational approach” to issues. The peak of the pyramid is where “the central point is explicitly refuted.”
Simpson says that central point – “the premise” as he calls it – of Parks opposition to smoking is the effect of second-hand smoke. If indeed that is Parks position then Simpson has a case. On the other hand, since almost the entirety of Simpson’s argument is built around that contention, if in fact that is not what Parks has clearly stated then Simpson’s central pillar is cracked and his construct collapses.
Here’s what Parks wrote in the packet delivered to councilmembers on Friday, February 7 – and available then on the city website – three days before the study session to address the issue:
“Why would we ban smoking and tobacco from our parks? (1) To support our image of creating a healthy and vibrant Lakewood community; (2) to create a healthy environment and spaces for our park guests; (3) to eliminate second hand smoke in the vicinity of park visitors; (4) to educate smokers regarding the effects and costs of tobacco related diseases (the number one killer in Washington State killing more people than AIDS, alcohol, car accidents, fires, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined); and (5) to reduce the litter and waste that is discarded and associated with smoking and chewing tobacco.”
Five reasons, not one. And, perhaps most significantly, all the immediately above fit under the umbrella of the Parks “Legacy Plan” which is, in part, to “develop policies to support active living and healthy communities.”
The importance of that statement is that it is almost an exact mirror of the Lakewood City Council’s own self-mandated goal (#4 of 8): “Develop a vision for parks and public spaces to improve quality of life and attract residents.”
Parks gets it. Some on the council do not.
Both entities – Parks and politicians – are up to their armpits in a swamp of alligators on the alcohol issue. Parks says there’s money to be made from allowing beer – permits, insurance, police presence, etc. so fill ‘er up in Lakewood’s parks. Smoking? Not so much and not so fast. Parks, according to Simpson, wants to follow the money while frowning on tobacco. “One vice pays and is allowed,” observes Simpson. “The other vice does not pay and is banned.”
Here though the Captain Hook-like council hasn’t a leg – wooden or otherwise – to stand on being addicted as it is to a most certain vice villain: gambling revenue.
Gambling pays. It stays.
Simpson turns to statistics to substantiate his case citing a significant decrease in smoking among adults, youth and even children over relatively recent years.
And to that end – the cessation of smoking – bans have a measureable impact.
An article in the Tacoma News Tribune, May 6, 2008 (A4), was headlined, “Bans seem to discourage kids from picking up habit.” The habit referenced was smoking and the article described what happened when teens witnessed “a community sending the message frowning upon (tobacco) use.” An excerpt: “Youths who lived in towns with strict bans were 40 percent less likely to become regular smokers than those in communities with no bans or weak ones.”
In summation the question is quite simple enough: Does banning tobacco products from Lakewood public parks fulfill the stated goals of both Parks – “develop policies to support active living and healthy communities;” and City Council – “develop a vision for parks and public spaces to improve quality of life and attract residents”?
The answer is, most unequivocally and demonstrably, ‘yes.’