Thursday, April 12, 2007

Esslinger "smoking" party sends wrong message

By now I think many people have seen the picture of the sign from Paul Esslinger’s election night party at Kodiak Jack’s which read “Paul Esslinger Party Smoking Allowed.”

Some people have questioned whether this was a violation of the smoking ban in effect for restaurants in the city of Oshkosh. While some believe it wasn’t because the party was considered “private,” others believe it did violate the law because they say there were certain criteria with respect to what constitutes a “private party” or “private function” and a “private hall” that were not met. That matter is one of a legal nature and will have to be argued by attorneys, should it ever get to that point. But the problem as I see it is also a moral one, not to mention a question of both leadership and responsibility.

Mr. Esslinger wanted the additional leadership role of mayor, but I don’t believe he showed much leadership that night. Instead, I think he sent a message that basically said “City ordinance and public health issues be damned, as long as my group of friends and supporters are comfortable.” I doubt that's actually Mr. Esslinger's feeling, but it's the message conveyed by the actions that I'm talking about here. And frankly, I just don't see how one could glean anything different from the photo and activities of that evening.

Let’s keep in mind, this event came just one week after the smoking ban issue was in front of the Common Council because of a related concern. Also, by Michelle Monte’s own admission on Babblemur’s blog “While my, Paul’s, and Dan’s campaign parties were declared “smokable,” few were actually smoking….”

That comment, then, begs the following questions: If so few people were smoking and the desire to smoke was apparently important to so few people, was it necessary to even “allow” smoking? Could these few smokers not have stepped outside or refrained from smoking during the course of a few hours? Also of importance here is whether or not there was there a separation between the room in which the Esslinger party (along with those of school board candidates Dan Becker and Michelle Monte) was held and where the general public in the rest of the establishment congregate. If not, I believe the spirit of the law was certainly broken and perhaps the law itself because it caused others not at the party to be exposed to second-hand smoke. And certainly those non-smokers in attendance at the party were exposed to second-hand smoke, as well.

We recently taped a show with two people from Breathe Free Oshkosh and in talking to them before-hand, one of the questions they raised was whether signs for these functions read that they were private parties, or could anyone wander into the area? After all, most election night parties do not require an invitation to get in and the general public frequently ends up mingling with the party attendees.

I’ve heard from some people that there was no separation between the areas accessible to the general public and the parties being held there – that there is not even a way to accomplish that as Kodiak Jack’s is currently set up. Again, I will leave the legalities of this issue to attorneys, but it just seems to me this was a poor choice by Mr. Esslinger. I believe that as a Common Council member and a mayor-wannabe, he should be leading by example. Clearly, this was not such an example.

(photo taken by Laura May, published here courtesy of the Oshkosh Northwestern, originally published in its online version on 4-9-07)


Blogger Michelle A. Monte said...

Cheryl, interesting take on a photograph. Exactly what do you have to back up your assumptions? "Some people have questioned..." Really? Who and why did they not question anyone with the actual answers?

Just to save you some time, and to return the courtesy, here is what a thorough investigation would reveal as any lawyer would have to do. Then again, they would not operate on assumptions based on one photograph and a cropped quote.

(1) The decision to allow smoking was Lee Engleman's, the owner of Kodiak Jack's. I did not know until I got there that there would be smoking allowed. I don't think Dan or Paul knew either.
(2) The parties were combined, private, and invitation only. It was posted as you clearly saw in the "infamous" picture.
(3) Unless invited, a "wanderer" would have no way to purchase drinks at that bar in the private bar area the party was in. They would have to "wander" back out.
(4) A "wanderer" would be wandering past the smoking allowed sign and would be making a conscious decision to willingly enter an area that allowed smoking.
(5) Kodiak's was in line with the city ordinance.
(6) The bar area of Kodiak's is completely separate from the restaurant area by a wall of glass windows and doors.
(7) Smoking is not a "moral" issue, it is a personal choice. Standing next to a person who is smoking in an area that allows smoking is also a personal choice.
(8) Your interpretation of what Paul thought or the message one photograph supposedly conveyed is a matter of opinion. While the sign was there, was anyone in the photo holding a cigarette? Blowing smoke in anyone's face? Holding a flaming "Breath Free" banner? Now that would be damning ordinances and showing a disregard for leadership.
(9) I am a nonsmoker and what I saw in that picture was a group of people watching a big screen and talking to each other. As for any other activities, the picture reveals none. I think interpretation is completely subjective.
(10) The remainder of my quote also spoke of an all or nothing smoking ban. I believe that businesses should not be penalized by a half law that affects only a specific few. Either have no smoking across the board or don't bother. That is my opinion.
(11) As for your comments on allowing smoking when the few could have gone outside, see point (1).

I agree that the smokers could have gone outside. However, they did not have to. It was a clearly marked private party.

I have to say it will be interesting to see what the attorneys you refer to will have to say.

April 12, 2007 5:07 PM  
Blogger Cheryl Hentz said...

Michelle, it seems to me that despite your election season “make-over,” it was short-lived and you are back to being your usual hypocritical self who believes others should follow the expectations you set for them, but you needn’t follow those same expectations. As to your specific comments:

First, there is no “interesting take” on the photograph and I made no assumptions about what was depicted there. The photo speaks for itself. The sign shown in the photo shows a hand-written note saying that smoking was allowed. You claim that a quote was cropped. If you are referring to your quote from Babblemur that was cropped, it should be apparent even to you that the quote was cropped because the only part relative to this editorial was your acknolwdgement of the fact that "very few" were smoking, obviously meaning that some were.

In reference to my comment that people are wondering about this situation you then asked, “Really?” in that “tone” that has become a Monte signature. It’s condescending and unnecessary. Are you really so naïve as to think people are not discussing this matter? Perhaps you don’t have the same number of people approach you in a week that I do to discuss local issues. Maybe you don’t overhear the same conversations in public places that others do. Maybe you consciously choose to not hear the things others do, especially where you, your husband, your friends or your favorite issues are concerned. Whatever the case may be, I can assure you, this issue is being discussed.

You wondered why these people did not "question anyone with actual answers?” Thank you for now acknowledging that some people in the community are wondering about the smoking being allowed there that night. As to why they didn’t call someone with answers, I don’t know, Michelle. Perhaps they went to the same “Contact the Source Directly” school that you did – or have you forgotten that you told me it would serve no purpose to call Dan Rylance when you publicly suggested two weeks ago that I did not contact him about an issue on another blog? I even gave you his phone number but you opted not to use it to verify what I said. Instead, in what seems to be classic Michelle Monte style you suggested I'd lied about it.

As for your so-called “thorough investigation,” I certainly appreciate your donning your Dick Tracy overcoat and hat, but like others in this community, I put little stock in the thoroughness of your “investigation.” But since you took such time to respond, I will address your comments anyway.

(1) You said the decision to allow smoking was Lee Engleman's, the owner of Kodiak Jack's. I cannot imagine a business owner taking it upon him or herself to allow smoking at a so-called private party without first discussing it with the host(s). But if, as you claim, that’s what happened, fine. The fact remains, that since it was you, Paul and Dan hosting the parties, one, both, or all of you certainly had the option to say “no.” I doubt Mr. Engleman would have insisted that smoking be allowed for your private guests if one of you had done that. That, I believe, would have shown true leadership and responsibility. Sadly, it didn’t happen.

(2) Inasmuch as you say the parties were attended "by invitation," might I ask what measures were in place to ensure that someone from the general public did not wander in? Were there written invitations that had to be presented to someone “at the door?” Unless that was the case, you cannot guarantee that the general public was not co-mingling with guests of one, two, or all of you.

(3) You stated that “Unless invited, a "wanderer" would have no way to purchase drinks at that bar in the private bar area the party was in.” What was it people presented to the bartender before purchasing drinks to show they were invited guests only? And how can you guarantee that only invited guests actually purchased drinks in the bar area?

(4) Your statement that “A "wanderer" would be wandering past the smoking allowed sign and would be making a conscious decision to willingly enter an area that allowed smoking” assumes that such a person actually saw the sign. I don’t think you can make that assumption.

(5) You assert that “Kodiak's was in line with the city ordinance.” I never said they weren’t. However, as you are no doubt aware, the city ordinance seems to have some ambiguity to it. As such, I don’t think that unless this issue actually went to court, anyone can assert with the vigor you have that they were 100 percent right in this matter. Again, I made it very clear in my original piece that I was not going to get into the legalities of this issue; that for me it was one of morality, leadership and responsibility.

(6) You said “The bar area of Kodiak's is completely separate from the restaurant area by a wall of glass windows and doors.” I never stated factually that it wasn’t. I said I was told by some people (from Breathe Free Oshkosh, as well as a few others) that such was not the case. And I certainly do not recall seeing a completely partitioned off area when I have been there. But if that is the case, that’s terrific. Lee Engleman runs a fine, upstanding establishment; I have been a good customer of his for years and I would expect nothing less. Thank you for your clarification.

(7) I did not say that “smoking” was a moral issue. I said for Paul to have allowed it was a moral issue and, again, I believed it to be one of poor leadership and lack of responsibility. Moreover, second-hand smoke affects more than just those standing next to someone who is smoking. Your suggestion in that regard is really somewhat silly.

(8) Your statement that my “interpretation of what Paul thought or the message one photograph supposedly conveyed is a matter of opinion.” I’m glad you recognize that I’m entitled to my opinion. And as such, your examples notwithstanding, I still believe the decision to allow smoking – and ultimately that final decision or authority rested with the host(s) of said private party – was one of poor leadership and showed a disregard for a public health issue that an ordinance has tried to address.

(9) You said that what you saw in the picture was “a group of people watching a big screen and talking to each other. As for any other activities, the picture reveals none. I think interpretation is completely subjective.” I don’t need to "interpret" that smoking was allowed, Michelle. The sign says it was; and your own earlier comment said some people were smoking. It may have been “very few” but still, it was going on when the host or hosts could have said “no.”

(10) I agree with you, amazingly enough, that a total statewide ban would be the most fair to all businesses.

Finally, you have chosen to attach your own interpretations to my editorial. You seem to be suggesting this is headed for a court battle. I clearly said in the outset of the piece, with respect to the legality of the issue that it is “one of a legal nature and will have to be argued by attorneys, should it ever get to that point.” I referred to no specific attorneys nor any pending litigation. That is not to say it may not happen, but I am unaware of any such activity or plans for such activity at this time.

April 12, 2007 8:17 PM  
Blogger Kent Monte said...

Ok Cheryl, it is now my turn. I was going to do the original response, but we decided that Michelle would do it instead.

I will only address some of these issues as I am sure others can read and see through your inaccurate statements, implications and outright lies.

1) Invitation only meant just that, INVITATION ONLY. In order to assure that the party would remain that, we issued colored chips to anyone who wanted a drink from the bar. No chip, No drink. Each chip was given to the guests by a candidate or myself. Each candidate had a different color to establish which one of us would pay the tab for those guests. Again, without a chip from one of us 4, no drink.
2) You would have to see the sign as you entered. What the photo doesn’t show is that the area surrounding the sign is only about 5 feet in width. The rest of that entry was roped off to prevent easy entry.
3) You IMPLIED that laws/ordinances were violated. Period.
4) You also implied that Michelle wanted smoking, even selected PART of a quote. Here is the ENTIRE thing; “I agree that the ban should be all or nothing. I am a former smoker and do not enjoy the smoky atmosphere of bars. While my, Paul’s, and Dan’s campaign parties were declared “smokable,” few were actually smoking and the area was pretty well ventilated. At least, I did not go home with wreaking clothes.
I’ve seen how the ban has hurt friends of mine here in Oshkosh and in Appleton where you only have to drive a few minutes to be able to smoke inside. Exemptions may prove only to hurt more businesses than an all out ban.”
5) WE threw a private party. Again the photo did not show the signs for Michelle and Dan. Both had signs showing that it was a combined party. As for the moral issue, some of our closest friends smoke. We don’t care, it is their life and their choice. Are you saying that smokers lack morals??
6) You say that it is poor leadership to allow smoking at OUR private party. WHY??? It was perfectly legal to do so; it was a conscious choice by consenting adults, and well within our rights. Why is it poor leadership?
7) YOU WERE AGAINST THE SMOKING BAN YOURSELF!! Or don’t you remember? Perhaps you have selective memory as it suits you.
8) Finally, nothing stopped you from calling Lee Engleman yourself and asking HIM because we all know what you think of us. More bias, we get it already.

This was a private party in a private area of an establishment. It was only attended by people that were personally invited. Nobody was allowed to get drinks without talking to one of the four of us so we were quite sure that it remained “private”. Even the photographer was the daughter of an invited guest.

You can reply to this if you want. I am sure I left enough holes for you to poke your fingers into but I really don’t care. We are done discussing this issue as we did NOTHING WRONG! We all know how you like to get the last word… so enjoy.

April 12, 2007 8:36 PM  
Blogger Teresa Thiel said...

I see Mrs. Monte is at it again. What a ridiculous question "Exactly what do you have to back up your assumptions?" There are NO assumptions being made, the photo says it all "Smoking Allowed".

I also question why elected officials and wannabe elected officials would have a "private" party? Seems exclusionary to me. Of course they have every legal right to do so but I just question why those who purport to "listen to everyone" would have a "private" party. Makes you wonder doesn't it?

April 12, 2007 8:54 PM  
Blogger Michelle A. Monte said...

There is nothing to wonder about, Teresa. It was posted as a private party because, as much as I would like to, I cannot afford to buy drinks for everyone. I live within a budget.

April 12, 2007 10:59 PM  
Blogger Cheryl Hentz said...

Kent, a couple of points regarding your explanation of the “private party” process to us: You made reference to using colored chips in order for people to purchase a drink at the bar. Sounds good, but not everyone drinks, Kent. Despite that, are you saying it still would have been impossible for someone from the general public to enter the area where the parties were being held? I am also confused by what you and Michelle have said. She says the area is completely separated from the rest of the restaurant by a wall of glass windows and doors. You say it was roped off to prevent easy entry. Can you help us visualize this, Kent?

As for the rest of your comments, they grossly misstate what was actually said and they speak for themselves, just as the photo does. And while I’m sure you and Michelle are both delighting in your belief that you have somehow tag-teamed me, you are right in saying that your comments left a lot of holes.

First, what exactly is the outright lie, Kent? Where are the inaccurate statements and the implications? Let’s take a close look at my original post and its intended purpose. Was there or was there not smoking allowed at this party? Answer: YES. Were people or were they not exposed to second-hand smoke? Answer: YES. Should an elected official be more sensitive to the needs of all those in attendance at a gathering and see that even the spirit of the law is upheld and smoking not be permitted, even though there may have been a legal mechanism by which it could be? ANSWER: YES, I believe he or she certainly should.

You each invited people to your parties and I bet many of them are non-smokers. Michelle claims to not have known smoking would be allowed and she questions whether candidates Esslinger or Becker knew it either. It stands to reason then, that your guests also would not have known smoking would be allowed. Since they were not expecting smoking should they not be given the respect of having that expectation honored? You and Michelle seem to think it was perfectly acceptable to allow the smoking – insignificant as you each apparently believe it was – despite others in attendance not smoking and obviously not realizing smoking would be allowed. That is what my editorial was about – pure and simple – and for you to make it seem like something else, is just another example of your twisting things to bolster your argument – something we’ve come to see quite a bit from both you and Michelle during the past two years.

As to your comment that I implied the law was violated, you are, once again, wrong. I wrote that some believe the ordinance was violated; others believe it wasn’t. That is a fact. I also stated the following “Also of importance here is whether or not there was there a separation between the room in which the Esslinger party (along with those of school board candidates Dan Becker and Michelle Monte) was held and where the general public in the rest of the establishment congregate. If not, I believe the spirit of the law was certainly broken and perhaps the law itself because it caused others not at the party to be exposed to second-hand smoke.” As anyone can see, at no time whatsoever, did I assert that the law or ordinance itself was, in fact, broken. So please tell us where that occurred, Kent? Or are you being misunderstood once again?

Nor did I imply anywhere that Michelle wanted smoking. But I do maintain that if the host(s) did not ask for smoking, and would have preferred that there be none, all any of you needed to do was make that point clear to the owner. The fact that that did not occur suggests that the smoking was acceptable to you hosts. Your comments back that up.

As for Michelle’s quote, I pulled the part that specifically addressed the fact that some people, though “very few” in her words, were smoking. That is the part of the quote that dealt with the comments I was making. It’s a shame neither of you can understand that simple fact. If I was trying to mislead someone about what she said, I certainly would not have provided a link to the entire article or quote on Babblemur’s blog. I guess that fact escaped you both, too. But thanks for reprinting the entire quote here so everyone can see how the rest of her comment was not related to the point I was making in the original piece.

With regard to the issue of morality, Kent, I never said smokers don’t have morals. There are, however, different kinds of morality. The kind I am referring to goes to the message I believe this “smoking allowed” event sent. Or did you miss the title of the piece? Your point #6 asked why I think the decision showed poor leadership. Perhaps you need to re-read the piece. It was explained pretty well.

As to your comment about my calling Mr. Engleman, I did not feel the need to call him. I merely presented in my editorial the questions people around town have been asking. I made it very clear I have not taken a position on the legality of the issue. But remember, Kent, the phone lines work in both directions. Perhaps you and your wife should remember that before making some of the written comments you do.

The next comment you made had to do with my original opposition to the smoking ban. Yes, I certainly was against the smoking ban when it was first proposed. Did you see me deny that anywhere? But it did pass and I think most have adjusted to it. It certainly makes for a nicer dining experience and I’ve heard that from smokers, as well as non-smokers.

But I also don’t recall this post being about the rightness or wrongness of the smoking ban. My comments had to do with what I believe was a wrong message and a poor example on the part of Mr. Esslinger (as it was his party’s sign shown in the photo). Now, when people read your and Michelle’s comments, some may think it showed equally poor judgment on her, your and Dan Becker’s parts too. That is up to each individual to decide.

But by your bringing up my original opposition to the ban and trying to rub my nose in it, you have made yourself look ridiculous. Or are you actually suggesting that someone is not entitled to change their mind about an issue when they either have been given new information; given more thought to an issue; or had an event occur in their lives that prompted them to change their minds? I think most would agree it is a sign of maturity to be able to revisit an issue at a later date and say “You know what, maybe I hadn’t considered all the points in this issue” or whatever the case may be that caused them to change their mind. If you are incapable of doing that, then perhaps you are more closed-minded and opinionated than I thought and I suspect in that regard you’d have made a poor public servant.

April 12, 2007 11:06 PM  
Blogger Cheryl Hentz said...

[we have received the following comment from Margy Davey, a member of Breathe Free Oshkosh, who asked that it be posted here. We are pleased to do that for her...]

It looks to me like this issue could use some new insight; perhaps I can provide that.

First, I'd like to thank you, Cheryl, for bringing this issue up for discussion. In my opinion, it's an issue that needs both more public awareness and discourse. And thank you, Michelle, for requesting a response from someone with "actual answers." While I'm not sure there is such a thing (compared to what? non-actual answers? actual non-answers?), I do know about as much about the Oshkosh smoking ordinance as anyone, so perhaps can contribute some sort of answers.

A business owner, in this case Lee Englemann, cannot make the decision for a private function to allow smoking; only the host(s) may make that request. If this was Mr. Englemann's decision, it's already a violation of the ordinance. In addition, Kodiak Jack's was not in line with the Oshkosh smoking ban ordinance if there were any other people in the building other than those who received invitations to the candidates' party. Given the amount of business Kodiak Jack's does, I'd be absolutely shocked to learn they were able to rent the entire building for their private party.

If Kodiak Jack's had chosen to install a separate ventilation system and incorporated it with a separate entrance to the bar area, it would have met with the conditions of the ordinance. I confirmed with the health department last week that those conditions have not been met. Having a separate "private bar area" does nothing to protect
other people in the building from the health risks of second-hand smoke; it doesn't have anything to do with purchasing drinks or roping off a section. And a glass wall doesn't provide protection, either, unless there's no door in it - and I'm certain there's a door!

While smoking may not be a moral issue in itself, smoking in public is very much a matter of morality. Particularly given the discussion the City Council had just one week before this election party, I feel that having a "smoking allowed" sign showed an extreme lack of responsibility, and certainly doesn't exhibit the leadership I'd expect from elected (or non-elected, as the case may be) officials.

Whether you are for or against the smoking ban in Oshkosh doesn't really matter; it's the law.

I thank the candidates involved for providing yet another fine example of why Wisconsin needs a 100% workplace smokefree law, so no question of ambiguity can be raised. It's high time we join the states and countries who recognize that smokefree air isn't a political or moral issue; it's literally a matter of life and death.

April 17, 2007 11:00 AM  
Blogger Cheryl Hentz said...

Margy, thank you for your insight. It is appreciated. It seems to me the city Health Department should be looking at this issue because the fact that smoking was allowed was very apparent from the photo taken and published by the media and by some of the hosts' own admissions. It hardly seems like this should be a case where someone needs to file a formal complaint before the health department investigates it.

Someone else also made an interesting point in talking to me about this earlier today. If security at this party was as tight as the Montes claim, then why did Michelle Monte also make the comment that if someone did "wander in" they'd have to "wander" right back out because they wouldn't have a colored chip to get a drink from the bar? The point, of course, being that the general public should not have been able to "wander in," period, if it was a private party. Yet she seems to suggest that it was possible.

Another point that was made had to do with the entry area being mostly roped off, as Kent Monte referenced. While a rope may stop people from entering it doesn't stop smoke from exiting and going into other areas of the restaurant and bar. Of course, I had asked Mr. Monte in an earlier comment to explain the rope he described versus the wall of glass and doors his wife says was in place. It seems quite a bit overdone to think of needing both ropes and doors and glass to keep people out. But we'll have to keep guessing because they haven't answered the question.

One other note for people, I see Jef Hall has referenced this story on his blog, but criticizes former mayoral candidate Esslinger for displaying such exclusivity at his party when he claims to be a common man and man of the people. Jef's story can be found here:

April 19, 2007 5:17 PM  

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