County officials tussle over smoking ban
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
A seemingly benign agenda item sparked a heated discussion at Darlington County Council’s April 6 regular meeting.
Council heard a proposal to adopt a 100-percent tobacco free and smoke-free policy in all County buildings and vehicles “to reduce the harmful effects of tobacco use in Darlington County; to educate the employees of the harmful effects of secondhand smoke; and to promote an environment in which all Darlington County residents have the ability to breath smoke-free air in County buildings.”
County administrator Terence Arrington proposed the policy, he said, on behalf of some county employees who work under a supervisor who smokes.
“My position is that employees who don’t smoke shouldn’t be forced to inhale secondhand smoke from people that do smoke,” said Arrington.
Council member Le Flowers asked how E-cigarettes are classified, and Arrington replied that electronic cigarettes would also be banned under this policy. Flowers expressed concern over how this change might affect the Detention Center, where E-cigs are sold to inmates and have proven to be a useful management tool.
“There have been a lot of benefits managing population issues,” said Flowers.
“It has calmed down the population. We don’t have near the fights we used to have… and we’ve cut down on contraband because people aren’t trying to smuggle in cigarettes,” said Detention Center director Maj. Mitch Stanley.
He said the E-cigs are sold to inmates by a vendor and the jail’s cut of the profits is deposited in the commissary account “for the betterment of inmates.” Stanley said the Detention Center made about $15,000 on E-cigarette sales last year, and he expects to take in up to $25,000 this year.
“We take that money in lieu of using taxpayer dollars to buy things for the inmates – food, supplies, blankets, whatever we need,” said Stanley.
Non-rechargeable E-cigs are sold to inmates for $10.25 each, and one is equal to about two and a half packs of cigarettes. The Detention Center receives about $6 per E-cig sold. Inmates are only allowed to smoke them in their rooms, not in common areas.
Council member Mozella “Pennie” Nicholson asked whether the use of E-cigs in the Detention Center would be a violation of state law and asked county attorney Jim Cox to investigate that angle.
Sheriff Wayne Byrd commented that the Detention Center is not technically a public building, even though it has public areas. Nicholson asserted that any building paid for and maintained by taxpayer money is a public facility.
“It may be a public facility, but the law says ‘public access,’ and the jail is not accessible to the public unless you’re a prisoner or an employee,” said Byrd.
Nicholson persisted, Byrd rejoined, and the two began talking over each other.
“The jail is under my authority as an elected official, and you have no say over what goes on there anyway, other than passing the budget,” said Byrd.
Subsequent to this exchange, administrator Arrington commented briefly “elected officials do not have autonomy… there’s a lot of different ways that you can take action on what goes on for elected officials.” He said that the goal for management and elected officials should be to work together as a team and collaborate in the best interests of the citizens.
Council ultimately decided to place the smoking ban policy on the pending list and resume debate once attorney Cox returns with further information. Only Nicholson voted against this procedure.
In other matters, council elected to carry over discussion of Ordinance 15-10, a proposal to institute a countywide business registration fee.
Council also passed final reading of two ordinances creating separate funds for the Roads and Bridges department, keeping those revenues and expenditures separate from the general fund.