BENTONVILLE, Ark. – Kelsey Atwood, a 13-year-old who plays soccer and softball in city parks, will have to wait a while before she finds out if city officials will adopt her suggestion to ban smoking in city parks.
The City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday night to table an ordinance to ban park smoking so council members can have more time to assess the impact and get response from residents.
The city Parks Advisory Board, a volunteer group, voted unanimously in March to recommend the ban.
"The parks board has done a lot of work on it. Let's get started with taking care of parks today," said Alderman Rod Sanders, who regularly attends meetings of the Parks Advisory Board and was one of two council members voting against tabling the proposal.
Todd Franke, who serves on the Parks Advisory Board, said the group wants to promote a healthy atmosphere.
"We already prohibit alcohol in parks, why not prohibit smoking?" Franke asked.
Mayor Bob McCaslin urged council members to act on the proposal.
But Alderman Ed Austin expressed reservations about the proposal, while noting that he led an earlier — and successful — effort to ban smoking inside city buildings and vehicles.
"I just think this is probably an over-regulation," Austin said. "I don't think you can legislate a perfect world for everybody."
Another alderman, Jim Grider, suggested that, if the council wants to ban smoking in parks, it should go a step further and prohibit smoking everywhere on city-owned property.
"That way, the city sets a good example," he said.
Grider said Bentonville staff attorney Camille Thompson should research the legality of also banning chewing tobacco, as another council member, Mary Baggett, had suggested.
Baggett said that, while taking part in a city cleanup event, she was amazed by the number of butts she saw littering the city.
"It's unbelievable. It's a shame that people are so nasty with that kind of stuff," she said.
Grider and Alderman James Smith asked for more time to consider what Smith called "a pretty important decision."
The youngster who raised the idea said she had worked on a ban since last fall. She said she was pleased that the council decided to proceed with caution, rather than make a hasty decision.
"I hope they approve it," Kelsey said.
She said her efforts had turned out to be a good exercise in civic governance.
"I learned that you can actually do something," she said. "You can come here, and your voice will actually be considered."