Wish more had given input at City Hall on proposed smoking ban

Monday night’s Alpena Muncipal Council meeting provided a perfect snapshot of the ever-present tension between a government and its people.

At issue was a proposal to prohibit smoking — at least cigarettes, and perhaps vaporizers and electronic cigarettes –in city-owned parks, including those along the shorelines of Thunder Bay, such as Starlite Beach.

Council members have discussed the proposal for weeks, and on Monday set aside time to collect input from the public.

Those who answered that call made stark the choice council members face: One speaker said the littered cigarette butts create an eyesore that affects everyone, smokers and nonsmokers alike. Another, however, said smoking is a personal choice and city government should not take away residents’ freedom to make that choice.

That’s the American experiment in a nutshell: Governing bodies must always find a balance between enacting laws and policies that protect the many without infringing too harshly on the freedoms of the few.

The problem, however: Those two speakers were the only voices council members heard that night.

Too often, we have seen local governments make an honest attempt to be transparent and democratic, only to see low resident turnout on the front-end discussion phase, followed by a large, angry showing after a new policy is enacted.

We know life is busy and it can be challenging to find time to make it to City Hall on a Monday night.

But our responsibility as citizens does not end at the ballot box, and we would have liked to see more people sharing their opinions on Monday night.