In a move that mirrors actions being taken in larger cities around the state and nation, the City of Mason began discussion Monday night about the possible enactment of a city-wide smoking ban.
In response to a request from Commissioner Anna Velez, City Administrator John Palacio had polled several businesses around town as to their feelings about such a ban. He and Code Enforcement Officer Greg Mitchell then pulled together a sample ordinance to present to the Commission. At this early stage, the issue was for discussion only.
During that discussion, the City Commission discussed the many variables that could be made part of a smoking ban. Those variables include banning smoking in restaurants, lodging facilities, public buildings, businesses, and even public spaces. It was the discussion of those public spaces that brought about the greatest amount of back and forth between the commissioners.
Public spaces can include sidewalks, parks, or any other space within the City of Mason not defined as private property. Mr. Mitchell reminded the Commission that the only city in the United States that has enacted such a broad-based smoking ban was New York City. Other municipalities that have enacted smoking bans have directed their attention to restaurants, lodging and civic buildings.
After the commission finished their initial discussion, it was decided that Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Palacio would work on refining a non-smoking ordinance in language more closely aligned with the language in other ordinances of the City of Mason and brought back for further consideration at a later time.
The Commission also heard a presentation from Jim Blackwell concerning some options for the City's water treatment facility. Mr. Blackwell explained the current layout of the plant, and noted problems in the arrangement of ponds, as well as problems with the ponds themselves.
He suggested a plan to look at abandoning the current large Pond #1 and splitting Pond #2 into two ponds. Pond #3 would be enlarged and cleaned out, and a new Pond #4, as well as sand filters, would be constructed as the final treatment step before releasing the treated water.
One very important plus in this plan, according to Mr. Blackwell, is that the abandoned Pond #1 could be used for a dual purpose to assist the neighboring landfill facility. Dirt from the pond could be used to cover the daily incoming refuse in the main landfill, and the abandoned pond could be used for construction debris, non-garbage debris such as trees and limbs, and concrete. Such a plan would take a burden off the existing facility, prolonging its useful lifetime.
The Commission voted unanimously to allow Blackwell Engineering to develop a more comprehensive plan and to approach the TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) with the plan to seek out their response. He will return to the Commission in approximately 60 days to report on his findings and to update the status of the plan. At that time, the associated costs and means of obtaining the funding necessary to enact such a project will be discussed.
The Commission also voted to reappoint Dane Phillips as the District 2 Planning and Zoning member, and Wayne C. Hofmann as the District 4 member. The commissioners discussed means to allow more people to become involved with that group; but, it was pointed out that all any citizen has to do is to contact a member of the Commission and express their interest in order to be considered.
The Commission also accepted a revised employee handbook that had been updated by Mr. Palacio by a 3-2 vote. Those voting against the motion were Commissioner William Beaty and Commissioner Bob Vacek.
The City also voted unanimously to continue its relationship with the Mason County Chamber of Commerce, allowing them to be the primary agent for the use of the "bed tax" for purposes of promoting the City and County as a tourist or relocation destination. A new agreement was approved which would allow the City to distribute funds to the Chamber based on trigger amounts rather than on a standard timetable.
Commissioner Anna Velez made all seven of the motions that were placed before the group during their meeting. The Commission adjourned at 7:09 p.m. Their next regular meeting will be held on July 11.