Council douses ban on smoking

By JAMES KATES / The Capstone

No one argues that smoking and vaping are good for health, but the Whitewater Common Council proved unwilling again Tuesday to ban the nasty habits in city parks.

After considerable discussion via a remote Zoom meeting, the council declined to vote on a smoking ban proposed by member Matthew Schulgit. The proposed ordinance was similar to one that Schulgit’s brother, James, urged when he served on the council two years ago. The earlier plan failed on a 5-2 vote.

Councilmember James Allen said he would vote against the plan because it was unenforceable, adding: “We beat this horse to death two years ago.” By the end of Tuesday’s debate, Allen said the council had “beaten it to death again.”

Others on the council were not as blunt, but they also expressed doubts that the ordinance could be enforced fairly. Member Carol McCormick said the ordinance could be viewed as “government overreach” in a time already full of political tension.

Council President Lynn Binnie noted that only three Wisconsin cities – Oshkosh, La Crosse and Wisconsin Dells – currently ban smoking in city parks. He said more specific laws, perhaps banning smoking within 20 feet of children’s playgrounds, might be more appropriate.

Schulgit promised to revisit the ordinance to look at less restrictive versions. He said a smoking ban was timely because of the current spate of respiratory illnesses surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

Scooter plan

On another issue, motorized rental scooters might soon be zipping around the streets of Whitewater, but not before city staffers and the Common Council take a closer look at the possibility.

City Manager Cameron Clapper withdrew a proposed memorandum of understanding with Bird Rides Inc., saying city staff needed more time to study all aspects of the plan before presenting it to the council.

The proposed agreement calls for Bird Rides to supply at least 100 electric scooters in the city. Users could access the scooters via a smartphone app that would bill their credit cards. Scooters could be ridden on streets and bike paths, but not on sidewalks.

Bird Rides would collect the scooters, maintain and recharge them, and redistribute them at sites around the city each night.

Based in Santa Monica, California, Bird Rides has deployed scooter fleets to more than 100 cities around the world.

Proponents say the scooters provide eco-friendly transportation for college students and others. Opponents cite safety concerns and annoyance to pedestrians.

In other action at Tuesday’s meeting:

  • Members heard a presentation from the Whitewater Arts Alliance, which is providing socially distanced arts exhibitions and participatory events during the pandemic. Alliance Board President Kristen Burton and Vice President Megan Matthews updated the council on virtual and limited in-person arts shows. More information, including video interviews with artists, is at whitewaterarts.org. The alliance operates out of the former Carnegie Library next to the Birge Fountain on Main Street.
  • The council voted to pay off just over $2 million in tax-incremental financing bonds eight years early, a move that will save the city more than $60,000 in interest. The bonds helped finance construction of housing, and the tax district had raised sufficient cash from property taxes to retire the debt.
  • Citizens and stakeholders can learn the latest on the lake drawdown project via a Zoom meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 24. Clapper told the council that revised timetables and progress reports for the project would be presented at the meeting. The dam near Main Street has been opened to draw down Cravath and Trippe Lakes, which will be dredged and refilled to improve water quality and aquatic habitat. More information is on the city Web site, www.whitewater-wi.gov.
  • Council members agreed to continue holding meetings via Zoom given the pandemic. Binnie noted that overall Covid cases had dropped markedly in recent weeks, but he expressed concern about emerging variants that could bring a surge of new infections.

About katesj

I'm an associate professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. I joined the faculty here in August 2007. I have more than a quarter-century of experience in the newspaper business in Milwaukee and Philadelphia. My book, "Planning a Wilderness: Regenerating the Great Lakes Cutover Region," was published in 2001 by the University of Minnesota Press.
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