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Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016

Tomorrow's leaders tackle today's city issues

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Sikeston Councilman Jerry Pullen talks with Ryan Oetting.
SIKESTON -- Student leaders from Sikeston Senior High School grappled with the idea of whether or not to ban smoking in public restaurants and bars within Sikeston city limits during a mock City Council meeting Friday at City Hall.

The event was part of the Sikeston Optimist Club's annual "Youth in Government Day," which has aimed to promote a greater understanding of government for about 30 years.

"We realize the kids are our future," Michelle Fayette of the Optimist Club said. "They need to see and understand the impact they make as citizens and the importance of involvement in their city's government. Some day they will be the city government and officials."

This year students assumed the position of mayor, council members, city restaurant and bar owners and concerned citizens to discuss and vote on the smoking ban for the city's restaurants and bars.

Discussion over the matter began with a public hearing.

Matt Rushing, playing the part of John Q. Public, a nonsmoker, said it's not fair when people smoke around him in a restaurant.

"But when you say people in bars can't smoke either, that's not fair to the smokers because they don't have a place to go," Rushing said. "So I think the legislation should be reworded."

The junior said people should be allowed to smoke in bars, but high ventilation systems and regulations should be placed at bars. Also the businesses should be given an extended time to comply, such as a year or more.

Charlie Jones, mock captain of Department of Public Safety's fire division, said public smoking isn't a big risk to restaurants and bars.

Another John Q. Public student Andrew Wallace, who identified himself as a bar owner, said he would lose half his business if a smoking ban was in place. Plus he's already spent lots of money on a new ventilation system, he said.

Mock Mayor Jennifer Millington said the council should consider economic factors.

When questioned by one John Q. Public student, mock council members said a regulation would be enforced by fines.

Mock council member Ryan Oetting compared enforcing the no smoking law to speeding.

"Most people speed but it only takes one time to get caught. ... Over time people will become more confident of it," Oetting said.

By meeting's end, the council approved revising the ordinance to make public restaurants smokeless and pose restrictions on public bars with owners having a year to 18 months to comply with regulations.

City Manager Doug Friend said the students did a fine job. City officials look forward to the students stepping into their roles each year, he said.

"We always try to give them a topic in the public eye," Friend said. "What's interesting with this group of kids is from their entire school system, they've been educated about the habits of smoking. Their perceptions are very informed, yet at the same time, they gave a good debate."

Linda Lowes, director of governmental services, also was pleased with the students' portrayals.

"They gave the issue a lot of thought and considered several viewpoints," Lowes said.

Lowes said the council chose this year's issue based on the city of Columbia's recent passage and implementation of a no smoking ordinance. In addition to city officials, the students also said they enjoyed the mock meeting.

Rushing, who played John Q. Public, said he got a better understanding of how city council meetings are held and how the council works.

"If I could do this again, I would," he said.

Mock City Manager Aly Friend, daughter of City Manager Doug Friend, said she left the mock meeting with a greater appreciation for her father's job.

"I thought I knew what he did, but this gave me a different perspective," Friend said. "I knew he had a big job and a lot to do, but I didn't know everything."

Millington, a junior, said playing mayor was a big job, too.

"They definitely put a lot of work and responsibilities into their jobs," Millington said.

Crystie Ressel, SHS Student Council sponsor, said she was proud of how her students conducted themselves.

"The day went really well, and I'm extremely pleased with the students," Ressel said. "They also really enjoyed meeting different people."

Students and their city counterparts met prior to the meeting and then toured city facilities to observe the city's operations first hand. A luncheon hosted by the Optimist Club followed the meeting at the Clinton Building.