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City considering poll on smoking ban

Anti-smoking group may pay for poll, or help arrange for it

Powell residents may be surveyed to determine their thoughts on a proposed smoking ban.

City Administrator Zane Logan said Friday the city is considering using data gathered by a polling agency to learn what people want the city to do. However, the poll may be paid for, or at least provided by, Prevention Management of Park County (PMPC), which supports a ban on smoking on public places in the city.

Logan said despite that, city leaders have been assured the poll will be “accurate and fair and scientific.”

After a proposed smoking ban was discussed at the July 15 council meeting, the council decided to issue a letter to business owners asking for their thoughts on a ban. But that plan was rejected later, and a poll was considered.

“After that meeting, we talked, the mayor and I and our attorney, Sandee (Kitchen) ... that it might be the perception was, maybe it seemed liked the city was pushing an agenda one way or another,” Logan said.

Prevention team leader Sharon Altermatt said in an email to the Powell Tribune that she asked the city to reject the letter plan and try a poll instead.

“They’ve switched from doing that to having a poll done. It was my idea,” Altermatt wrote. “Business owners aren’t their only constituents. I’m trying to find someone who can do a valid and scientific sampling.”

However, over the weekend, she backed away from that a bit.

“I told you the poll was my idea. I had thought of it mainly because you need to do a sampling of the community, not just business owners,” she wrote in an email to the Tribune. “But when we met (the mayor, Zane and I) they had thought the same thing. I’m interested in getting a scientific valid sampling of Powell. Whoever does it will be totally independent of our organization. ... I think the majority of people are (for) this and it’s worth it to me to pay for it.”

She noted that the Tribune has done two polls on proposed smoking bans. One showed support for it, while a second posted online in July showed a narrow win for those opposed to a smoking ban.

Logan said Mayor Don Hillman wants to ensure any poll that is conducted is done in a fair and accurate manner. Hillman doesn’t want too many questions on it, either, he said.

“The mayor wants to make it fairly straightforward,” Logan said. “Two or three questions.”

The council may review the questions before the poll is conducted, he said. Kitchen has been charged with ensuring the poll’s reliability, Logan said, and he is waiting to hear from her about it. One reason to involve Prevention Management is that it will pay for the poll, or find a university or some other agency to conduct it.

“We want to try to do it accurately and without a lot of cost to the city,” Logan said. “That way, the mayor and the council know the public’s sentiment. As we know, there’s two sides of this issue.”

Altermatt said the debate over a smoking ban has turned personal.

“Somehow I need to prepare people for how ugly (don’t know how else to say it) this battle always gets,” she wrote in an email. “Having been through it several times, I know what to expect. What usually happens is the average person tends to just avoid the whole issue. The ones that understand it for the health issue it is and would like to see their community healthier aren’t willing to subject themselves to all the vitriol.

“The ones that oppose it view their battle as a holy crusade against what they perceive as a violation of rights, and they seem to believe that their cause justifies any amount of vitriol,” Altermatt wrote. “Add to that the phenomena of the mob mentality and things can get a little interesting.”

She said she has been attacked on Facebook, and some were “very abusive,” so she ended her membership in a page called Powell Forum.

“I can take it, and I expect it,” Altermatt said. “I would just like to warn the community and help prepare people for it. I’m open to any ideas.”

The Powell City Council will discuss the issue again Monday. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at City Hall.