Minnetonka's New No-Smoking Policy
The City Council recently established guidelines for the use of tobacco in Minnetonka city parks.
“We’re making sure our youth have safe, inviting places to play," said City Council member Amber Greves, who voted in favor of the ban. "It’s incumbent on us as a council to protect them.”
More than routine municipal legislation in favor of Minnetonka’s youth, the ban was also the culmination of more than a year of work by a group of civically minded local youth. Students Promoting Positive Actions, an organization at Hopkins North Junior High School, is credited with starting discussion for the new city policy. Their efforts began in the fall of 2009.
“The students got together and said, ‘We hate cigarette smoke,’” said Denise McKizzie, the organization's staff advisor.
About 10 students active in the group canvassed the community for signatures on a petition asking the Minnetonka City Council to implement a smoking ban within 100 feet of city parks and recreation centers.
“They really took it to heart,” McKizzie said. “It was community organizing [and] a really good civics lessons for them.”
Last May, the students presented their idea and petition to the Minnetonka Park Board. After what Minnetonka’s Recreation Services Director Dave Johnson called “vigorous discussion,” the board recommended a policy prohibiting tobacco use in city parks and walking trails within those parks. Other city trails, however, wouldn't be affected by the new policy.
“The legal use of tobacco on trails and in the natural areas of the park system has not been an issue of concern expressed by residents,” Johnson wrote in a staff report submitted to the Minnetonka City Council.
This new recommendation came in stark contrast to a 1998 Park Board rejection of a similar proposal. In that case, the board blamed enforcement-related concerns for their failure to recommend adoption of a tobacco-free plan. To alleviate enforcement concerns this go-round, the Minnetonka Park Board recommended implementing the smoking ban through city policy rather than city ordinance.
“When it’s an ordinance it’s a law. When it’s a policy, it’s not a law—it’s more a statement of intent rather than something that can be enforced,” Minnetonka City Attorney Desyl Peterson explained at the Feb. 14 city council meeting during which this new policy was adopted.
Still, before the vote, enforcement and potential government overreach were the major sticking points for council members throughout the half-hour discussion on the policy.
“With wide diversity of land we have around our community, we just don’t have the resources to go out and police all those areas,” Minnetonka Mayor Terry Schneider said, referring to the 1,110 acres of public park property throughout the city. Schneider instead advocated signs in parks promoting the city’s no-smoking policy. He said that through peer pressure, these signs “would be a lot more effective than calling a police officer."
“Residents own our parks and some of our residents are smokers, [and] smoking is, indeed, legal,” said council member Brad Wiersum, who argued in favor of a policy over an ordinance. The discussion wound down with agreement among most members that the smoking barrier should be changed from within 100 feet of a park to within 50 feet.
Council member James Hiller cast the lone vote against the policy—not on the substance of it, but on the principle.
“Making it a policy, not an ordinance, means we like the idea but really have no intent to enforce it,” Hiller said. “I don’t want laws on our books that we don’t have the intent to enforce.”
Starting this spring, signs will be placed notifying visitors of the tobacco-free zones. Violators may be asked to leave the area.
The vote was a momentous moment for the six youth activists present to see and hear it. McKizzie said the students were so encouraged by the success of their efforts that some are already planning their next mission.
"Maybe St. Louis Park," she joked.