Delaware City Council has set public hearings for two ordinances currently being considered by the city. Both the ordinance to restrict smoking near recreational facilities in public parks and the ordinance that would help to regulate new massage parlors in the city will undergo an additional reading on March 25, with time also being set aside for the public to weigh in on the matters.
The ordinance to restrict smoking near park recreational facilities stems from complaints about adults smoking during ball games. Originally proposed was a ban on all tobacco products inside city parks, which was first discussed during a July 2018 council meeting in which representatives from the Delaware General Health District and the City Parks and Recreation Advisory Board were on hand to push for the ban.
While some council members have supported an outright ban on tobacco products in city parks, others have not. The issue of why smokeless tobacco should be included in the ban was discussed, as well as why someone should not be allowed to smoke in a park if they aren’t near anyone.
There has also been skepticism from some members about the ability — or inability — of such a law to be enforced. During discussions at the Feb. 18 council meeting, Councilwoman Lisa Keller questioned why adding signs wouldn’t suffice, adding, “I just don’t see the need to pass a law that’s not enforceable.”
City Manager Tom Homan said the proposed ordinance would rely on signage and the “honor system” of people obeying the signs. He said police wouldn’t actively enforce the ordinance, but if complaints are made and smokers refuse to move or obey the signage, they could ultimately be charged with trespassing.
City Attorney Darren Shulman reiterated the law would be enforceable in the sense that, should someone refuse to obey, police could remove people from the parks and issue tickets.
As he has throughout discussions, Councilman George Hellinger suggested the proposal is a “feel good, do nothing” ordinance that will look good on the surface but will accomplish little. Hellinger has said in the past the ordinance should be all or nothing, taking no action or implementing a full ban.
Hellinger has also held a strong stance on the proposed massage parlor ordinance that would force new businesses to be licensed through the state, unless exempt, before receiving a certificate of occupancy.
“Not every unlicensed, non-therapeutic massage place is the ‘happy ending’ massage parlor,” Hellinger said during discussions last month. “There’s a wide variety there, and I think it’s up to our law enforcement to keep illicit businesses in check.”
The ordinance would mirror what the City of Westerville passed last February after a police raid was conducted on a local massage parlor suspected of involvement in prostitution and human trafficking.
Shulman said during last month’s conversation the city hasn’t had any arrests involving prostitution or human trafficking in the past, and that the ordinance would be a preventative measure for future businesses while not having unintended consequences for businesses already established.
Homan said the existing establishments have been notified of the upcoming public hearing should they wish to attend or speak. The meeting will be held in the city council chambers of City Hall at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 25.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @ddavis_gazette.