MANCHESTER — Aldermen on Tuesday night approved a six-month ban on smoking in five downtown city parks and public spaces — Veterans Memorial, Victory, Bronstein and Pulaski Parks, along with Stanton Plaza.
Mayor Ted Gatsas proposed the six-month ban after several aldermen questioned whether the proposed ordinance is too broad, for example, forbidding someone to light up a cigar on the Derryfield Country Club golf course.
“There are going to be people seeing somebody smoking and they will want a cop to come and issue a violation against them. There is a potential here for this to get out of control,” Alderman-at-Large Dan O'Neil said.
“In my opinion, this should have gone to a committee.”
Gatsas said Police Chief Nick Willard proposed the ordinance to give his officers the clout to crack down on the smoking of illegal spice or synthetic marijuana in the parks.
“There were incidents happening at Veterans Memorial Park. The chief came forward looking for an ordinance because they can't come in to see if it was a cigarette or something rolled up that wasn't a cigarette,” Gatsas said.
Assistant Police Chief Carl Capano said those using spice illegally are good at concealing their activities and his officers have gone undercover to issue 20 violations for illegal smoking of spice.
“This is just another tool we would use as law enforcement,” he told aldermen.
Ward 7 Alderman William Shea said he would have supported the city park ban.
“I am in favor of this. Second-hand smoke is a serious problem. I have a friend who passed away recently due to second-hand smoke. We shouldn't be concerned about exceptions; we should be concerned about what is going to happen to the majority of people,” Shea said.
Ward 9 Alderman Barbara Shaw said 40 percent of those answering her online survey were against the ban, which they saw as a crackdown on a legal activity — the smoking of cigarettes.
“Why are we taxing our law enforcement? I just feel it is premature to be doing this,” said Shaw, the only alderman to oppose the six-month trial.
The ordinance will carry a $50 fine for the first violation and $100 for the second. The third will require a trip to district court, Capano said.
Initially, violators will be issued a warning.
“We will always practice discretion,” Capano said.
Aldermanic Chairman Patrick Long of Ward 3, a longtime cigarette smoker, backed the ban, but agreed with the trial period. He said the ordinance's language needs some work.
“If I have to climb a 20-foot tree to smoke, then I will climb a 20-foot tree to smoke,” Long said.