Smoking ban opponents should also keep a civil tone

Opinion

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I was surprised and saddened to read the letter to the editor from Rich Carollo, director of the Oak Park Area Convention and Visitors Bureau ("Smoke Free campaign should also be bully free," April 20).

I was surprised because I am an active member of the Campaign for a Smoke-Free Oak Park, and I had met with Mr. Carollo just a few days before, to discuss the possibility of working together on a future plan to make Oak Park's indoor air smoke-free.

During that meeting, Mr. Carollo stated that he believed his members might consider supporting a new indoor clean air ordinance if the Campaign would contribute money to their marketing fund, to help Oak Park restaurants through the transition. We talked about the possibility of a public-private partnership that would make marketing assistance available to local merchants, and discussed some ideas on how best to promote the new healthy breathable air of Oak Park's restaurants.

In our conversation, I told Mr. Carollo that I was sorry that tempers had become heated on both sides of the issue. I assured him I would work hard to promote a more civil tone as we continue our efforts to promote healthy indoor air in our village. He agreed that conciliation would be the wisest course as we tried to find a way for both sides to work together for a healthy, economically successful Oak Park.

Imagine my distress, then, when I read Mr. Carollo's letter, which I felt to be angry in tone, and which I know to be erroneous in fact.

In his letter, Mr. Carollo said our campaign had failed to reach out to local business owners and community leaders. Weeks before the village board vote, I personally spent more than an hour on the phone with Mr. Carollo talking about the importance of clean indoor air in Oak Park. At that time, Mr. Carollo told me that at least one other active member of the campaign had tried several times to contact him, and that he had chosen not to return those calls.

I personally have spent hours and hours talking with local business owners about clean indoor air in Oak Park. Many of those business owners have chosen to endorse our campaign, and I deeply appreciate their support. Others have shared with me their feelings that, at this time, the current ordinance is acceptable. While I disagree, I believe that our candid and civil conversations have been fruitful on both sides. For that reason, I was looking forward to working with Mr. Carollo and the merchants he represents.

Then I read Mr. Carollo's contention that advocates for clean air in Oak Park drive, on average, two to four SUVs. That's absolutely untrue?#34;-not to mention silly. For the record, my husband and I drive, on average, absolutely no SUVs.

I was astounded that Mr. Carollo accused the Oak Park Board of Health of holding a "private" vote on whether to recommend a clean indoor ordinance to the village board. If that were true, it would be a clear violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act-?#34;and would leave the Board of Health members open to felony charges.

However, I am happy to say that no such "private" meeting occurred. I personally attended the Board of Health meeting at which the vote was taken. A number of Oak Park merchants were present, and shared their concerns with the Board of Health. At the same time, clean indoor air advocates also presented evidence that restricting smoking in restaurants and other workplaces improves community health without injuring community businesses.

As I explained to Mr. Carollo during our meeting last Monday, the Board of Health did preside over a public hearing after its vote. But that was at the request of the village trustees, who chose not to attend their own meeting on this important subject. That hearing was videotaped for the benefit of the village board.

I am a longtime member of this community, and I know how important it is for us to support the fine merchants who make Oak Park such a great place to live. After talking with Mr. Carollo, I had sincerely hoped we could turn a new page on this debate. I believed we could start working together to do the right thing and develop a plan that would protect the physical-?#34;and economic-?#34;health of our village. So I was bitterly and personally disappointed by Mr. Carollo's letter, which seemed to serve no purpose but to continue an angry and fruitless dialogue.

I enjoyed talking with you, Mr. Carollo. I thought we agreed on some important issues. I am very sorry to see that you were just blowing smoke.

Elizabeth Austin
Oak Park

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