After the smoke clears

by Cole Dittmer
Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Staff photo by Joshua Curry 

Alderman Bill Sisson reminds voters about the smoking ban referendum at the Wrightsville Beach polls on Election Day, Nov. 6.

 


In response to the referendum ordinance banning smoking on the beach strand of Wrightsville Beach, the town’s registered voters chose to vote for the ban by a margin of almost 2-1. The final tally of votes for the ban weighed in at 1,036, whereas votes against the ban amounted to 548. 

Anxiously awaiting the verdict of the referendum in the vestibule of the Fran Russ Recreation center after the poll closed at 7:30 p.m. were Dr. Aaron Richardet, Surfrider Foundation of the Cape Fear vice chair Al Meadowcroft and Tim Taylor, the Wrightsville Beach resident who initiated the petition that brought the issue to a referendum vote. By 7:45 p.m. the results were in and the group was elated to learn of the verdict, which was especially significant for Taylor, who began the campaign three years ago. Reflecting on the myriad of hurdles the group of smoking ban supporters had to overcome, Taylor was especially critical of certain members of the Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen. 

“It is unfortunate that it was drug out so long,” Taylor said. “I would say [Mayor Pro Tem] Susan Collins has drug this out for three years; she has cost the town time, cigarette butts on the beach … and she’s cost the town a lot of money.” 

Meadowcroft echoed Taylor’s frustrations about the amount of time it took for the ban to pass, especially after the board of aldermen’s last public hearing in March 2012 during which the board voted against the ban 3-2, despite a large turnout from residents who supported the ban. 

“It is shame when you get all of these people to come out and you can’t get one of three people to realize that you have groundswell of support for this,” Meadowcroft said. 

More than $1,000 of taxpayers money was spent to verify petition signatures and place the referendum on the ballot.

After learning of the passage of the ban, Collins, who was in favor of the issue being decided by referendum vote but opposed to the ban itself, said she would listen to the will of the people. 

“The citizens have spoken and as an elected official representing all of the residents it will be our task as elected officials to give direction to staff,” Collins said. “I think the positive is that the citizens got what they want and I’ve always supported what the people wanted.” 

The two members of the board that have been in support of the ban, Mayor David Cignotti and Alderman Bill Sisson, said they were very excited with the outcome of the vote. 

“I think it proved what we’ve known pretty much all along, which was that the vote of the board of aldermen did not reflect the will of the people,” Sisson said. “This is a case where direct democracy really proved itself.”

Sisson, who encamped outside of the Fran Russ Recreation Center on Election Day despite the cold rain falling most of the day, said it was clear that the issue was bigger than political affiliations. 

“I can tell you just from standing outside all day long; it completely cut across party lines, which is fantastic in any community,” he said. “I think people voted with their heads rather than following some sort of partisan dictate.” 

Now that the vote has passed, Cignotti said the board would discuss the town’s next steps to implementing the ordinance at its Dec. 13 meeting with the hopes of fully enforcing the ordinance before the spring of 2013. 

“For me it was one of the more rewarding elections I’ve been involved with because I truly felt like the majority of citizens did want this to happen,” Cignotti said. “It has been a long journey to this point, almost three years, and to me it was great to see citizens that believed so strongly in their cause that they stayed with this topic.”

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