Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Breathe Free Oshkosh "promotes" double-standard

During a special meeting on Feb. 23, 2004, the Oshkosh Common Council approved the placement of a second referendum on the April 6 ballot concerning smoking in Oshkosh restaurants. This particular referendum, brought forward by the restaurant owners, basically says that the city shall not pass an ordinance to ban smoking in privately-held businesses unless and until such time that a state or federal law is passed banning smoking.

While this was a personally difficult decision for some of the council members, the entire council should be applauded for doing the right thing and allowing this referendum question to be placed on the same ballot as the referendum question from Breathe Free Oshkosh about banning smoking in Oshkosh restaurants.

The most disturbing thing of the evening, however, was when a member of Breathe Free Oshkosh by the name of Marge Davy asked the Common Council to not place the restaurant owners' referendum on the ballot with her group's referendum.

First, she said her group questions whether the subject of the restaurant owners' petition for an ordinance like they're proposing is an appropriate subject for direct referendum. The city attorney said it certainly is. She also questioned the legality of some of the signatures and the process by which some of the signatures were obtained. But the city clerk has certified the petitions and the city attorney said all the legal I's have been dotted and T's crossed.

The most maddening part of Ms. Davy's comments came when she said that "this ordinance attempts to completely remove the Common Council's ability to legislate on a public health issue. Even if we don't agree with every council action, we want a council that can act on behalf of its citizens at any time."

Excuse me!! You Breathe Free Oshkosh people speak with forked tongue and out of both sides of your mouths. If you recall, the Common Council DID act on a public health issue in the summer of 2003 when it effectively voted 4-3 against establishing an ordinance that would ban smoking. Instead of respecting the decision of a council that acted "on behalf of its citizens," Breathe Free Oshkosh moved forward to take the next, very aggressive step - that being to go to direct legislation by obtaining the signatures necessary to put the issue on the ballot as a referendum question.

Well, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. So the restaurant owners began gathering signatures to get their own referendum question on the ballot. When they are successful, suddenly the issue the restaurant owners are raising may not be appropriate for direct legislation, Ms. Davy suggests. Let me see if I have this right. It's an appropriate issue for those opposed to smoking; but it's not an appropriate issue for those who support individual rights and freedom of choice? Give me a break!!!

And how is it that when the restaurant owners push for direct legislation, Breathe Free Oshkosh claims such a movement is akin to removing the Common Council's ability to legislate a public health issue? But when Breathe Free Oshkosh takes the legal steps to essentially usurp the Common Council's authority and decision in this matter, that is perfectly acceptable? The methods this Breathe Free Oshkosh group employs, the logic they state and the tactics with which they seek to get their propoganda to the public and their legislation passed is deceitful and sickening.

First, they commission a study with answers of "DOESN'T MATTER" in some of the questions, but instruct their pollsters to not read that option to respondents. I still maintain that such a tactic skews the results, no matter what kind of B.S. the Breathe Free Oshkosh people say about it. This is common sense, folks: if you don't give people all their choices, you will not get completely accurate results. There's no other way to put it.

Then one of the group's members shows up in a restaurant on a smoking night, despite the fact that this particular restaurant offered all its nightly specials on a smoke-free night. This member was exercising his freedom to choose, but the group he belongs to wants to deny that same right to smokers and restaurant owners.

Next, Kathy Propp - one of the group's spokespersons - takes partial information she was given by someone and proceeds to write a scathing letter to the editor of the local newspaper without having all her facts straight. She later says she'd apologize to the restaurant by writing another letter to the editor, but it didn't happen. And if she did write such a letter, it was not published.

The next amazing thing was that Kathy Propp contacted the city clerk's office stating she'd talked with a woman who claims she accidentally signed the wrong petition. Propp asks that the woman's name be removed from the restaurant owners' petitions. The woman's name was left on the ballot she originally signed and she writes a letter to the editor of the paper claiming certain laws regarding the circulation of petitions were broken. Bottom line here is that people should be reading what they are signing and if they don't, they have no one to blame but themselves - period.

And the final antic this group pulled was having Ms. Davy come to the Feb. 23 Common Council meeting and make the ridiculous remarks she did. In essence she bastardized the restaurant owners for doing the very thing she and her group are doing.

Breathe Free Oshkosh needs to get a clue. They claim the two referenda will confuse people and will not give a true read on what the people really want. Not true. People will either vote in favor of banning smoking or they will say it should not be banned until such a ban takes place state- or nation-wide. As is the case with most referenda, some people may be confused, but by and large, people are going to know how to vote. And if Breathe Free Oshkosh members were so damn sure of their ability to win this, they would not care how many different referendum questions appeared on the ballot. They would be confident enough in the support for their own referendum that they would not be trying to thwart the diligent efforts of others with differing opinions.

- Cheryl Hentz