After failing to collect nearly 2,000 valid signatures needed for a public vote, opponents of Casper’s smoking ban say they will set their sights on elections as proponents hope to continue education efforts.
“We didn’t hit the threshold, so we have to accept that and closely watch and support the city council candidates,” said Pat Sweeney, local businessman and referendum organizer. “That’s where the next test can be made.”
The city announced Thursday that 1,587 out of 3,636 signatures were confirmed as belonging to voters registered in the city of Casper. Opponents of the ban were short by 412 signatures, which represented a confirmation rate of 43.6 percent.
Administrative Services Director V.H. McDonald said an updated list of voters set the required signatures at 1,999, or 10 percent of registered voters in the city of Casper. Petition signatures were checked against a list obtained from the Natrona County Clerk’s Office on July 18.
“We wanted to get the most up to date registration list there was,” he said.
The majority of signatures were invalid because names or addresses did not match those that people used to register. McDonald said some addresses were not located in the city.
The Casper City Council in June approved an ordinance banning indoor smoking for bars, restaurants and other places open to the public and scheduled the law to take effect Sept. 1.
Councilmen Paul Bertoglio and Bill Brauer cast the only votes against the ban, although they joined the rest of the council in voting for a delayed start date to accommodate the referendum effort. Councilman Keith Goodenough abstained from voting because of a conflict of interest. All members had said they supported a public vote.
“Our small group tried as good as they could to produce the signatures necessary, and we were unsuccessful,” Sweeney said.
Expecting about half the signatures to be invalid based on a similar referendum in Laramie, Sweeney said his goal was to collect 5,000 signatures. About 15 people were involved in the effort to collect petitions and did so from about the time the ordinance passed until a July 17 deadline. The Wonder Bar owner said he knew of individuals, though, who resided outside Casper but still wanted to show their support by signing a petition.
“I didn’t tell them to stop because they’re passionate,” Sweeney said. “That’s why we were passionate on trying to get it on the ballot.”
Don Miner, owner of Industrial Screen and Maintenance Inc. and chairman of the opposition’s political action committee, said he still expects the ban to decrease productivity at his manufacturing shop.
“It’s going to impact our business greatly,” he said.
Miner said about 75 percent of his employees smoke, and breaks to go outside would cause an hour of production loss, which equates to $2,800 a day. He said there’s nothing he can do to prepare for the ban because no location exists for an outdoor patio or shelter.
“Secondhand smoke is not really an issue for us here, simply because of the fact that we do have hundreds and thousands of dollars’ worth of ventilation equipment put in,” he added.
Miner said he was disappointed the referendum failed and expects the group to focus on electing council members with a stated interest in protecting individuals’ and business’ interests.
Councilmen Charlie Powell, who voted in favor of the ban, and Bill Brauer, who voted against the ban, are the only members running for re-election this fall. At least three seats will be vacated by current members who have chosen not to run again.
Mandi Wymore, campaign organizer for SmokeFree Natrona County, said the group hopes to continue working with the city and currently has no plans to expand the campaign beyond Casper. The local organization, supported by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, intends to assist compliance by providing signs and educating businesses about the ban.
“They had a great effort trying to get that out there and get on the ballot, but I think that this shows that this is what Casper citizens wanted,” Wymore said. “They didn’t sign the petition because they want to see the healthier community.”