Greenville Daily Reflector: Accountability needed on ban

From the Greenville Daily Reflector (1/16/11): The Pitt County Board of Commissioners corrected a judgment error, and a likely violation of the state's Open Meetings Law, on Monday when it voted to release minutes from a recent closed session. It was in that session that members instructed the county attorney to withdraw support for the Pitt County Health Board's appeal of a court decision about the enforcement of the statewide smoking ban.

While that disclosure helps to shed light on the board’s action in regard to an important public policy, it by no means excuses the board’s mistake nor encourages the public discourse needed on this subject. Commissioners should take the additional step of inviting debate on this action, which could have long reaching implications for the county and the state.

Last year, Pitt County emerged as the most prominent battleground in the fight over the statewide smoking ban passed by the N.C. General Assembly in 2009. Four bar owners filed suit against the Pitt County Health Department, challenging that agency’s enforcement of the state law.

Their argument found favor with Pitt County District Court Judge G. Galen Braddy, who ruled that a loophole in the law that allowed smoking at private country clubs should extend to these private, membership-only clubs. In doing so, Braddy made those clubs the only ones in North Carolina to enjoy such an exemption.

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