Not even a last-ditch effort - complete with a petition, more rhetoric and a town health official's surprising endorsement - could stop the smoking ban that went into effect Sunday in Island bars.
Bar owners in Oak Bluffs tried their best last week at a special town meeting to convince voters to support a measure urging the board of health to drop the ban. The push started to gain momentum, especially when board of health chairman Joe Alosso openly questioned the ban.
"I don't feel I should tell 21 or 30-year-olds what they should do," he said. "If you don't want to be around cigarette smoke, don't go into a bar. It's not my job to protect every adult."
Applause followed Mr. Alosso's comments, but still ringing in voters' ears were the words of fellow board of health member, Herbert Combra, who lobbied for support of the ban with this final statement: "Maybe we're going to help save some lives by doing this."
When it came time for a voice vote, the naysayers edged out the supporters. Moderator David Richardson did not demand a precise tally of the voters despite the audible grumblings of some on the floor of town meeting.
On Sunday, the ban that has rankled smokers and worried bar owners went into effect. The Ritz Cafe was smokefree, and Guy Nolin and other patrons were crowding in the doorways outside the bar to grab a smoke.
"It's dumb," said Mr. Nolin, a native of Canada who lives in Oak Bluffs. "These Americans with their stupid laws."
Outside, the four-foot-wide sidewalk made for a tight passage as passersby, some with baby strollers, had to edge past the smokers. Fear of such a scenario is what prompted town selectmen last April to ask the board of health to reconsider its decision to implement the ban on smoking in bars.
But the board of health upheld the ban while exempting two private clubs, the VFW and the Portuguese American Club. That decision made Ritz co-owner Janet King-Stead cry foul.
"If this was enforced across the board, this would be okay with me," Mrs. King-Stead said at town meeting. "But what's going to happen is I'll lose all my customers. Most of the people who sit at The Ritz are in the VFW also."
Her fears weren't too far off the mark if Sunday afternoon was any indication. While the Ritz had just about a dozen people, the VFW was filled with more than 30, many of them smoking. "We're going to get a lot more people in here," said VFW bartender Rebecca Gonsalves.
One smoker, Deborah Conroy, said, "There's a time and place for smoking, and the place is a bar."
But back in the bars on Circuit avenue where the ban has taken hold, there was a sense of relief among some. At the Lampost, Joanna Gleeson said she welcomes the improvement in air quality, and bartender Bard Carvalho also declared himself pleased with the change. "It's nice for me because I don't smoke," he said, "and I was surrounded by secondhand smoke."
Meanwhile, back at town meeting on Thursday, voters plowed through the remaining 20 articles, passing all but a few that were withdrawn by executive secretary Casey Sharpe. In the process, they earmarked or expended all but $15,000 of their free cash reserves.
Voters approved a request for $12,000 for an engineering study that would come up with a plan for battling erosion on East Chop. While former selectman Linda Marinelli questioned spending town money to fix private property, most voters agreed that efforts to protect the bluffs would ultimately protect East Chop Drive.
Conservation officials told voters that the town would likely be eligible for federal and state grants to pay for work on East Chop. "To my mind, the road is one of the assets of the town," said conservation commission chairman Joan Lanza. "The problem is that without work, the road itself will fall in."
With little discussion, voters approved a measure to set aside $110,000 to help pay for pending lawsuits against the town. Voters, after pressing for more details, learned that the bulk of the money might go toward paying for a lawsuit from the Martha's Vineyard Regional Refuse Disposal and Resource Recovery District. For the last three years, Oak Bluffs has refused to pay almost $92,000 to the district for its share of costs for capping the Edgartown landfill.
Last summer, a superior court judge ordered the town to pay that unpaid bill plus another $15,000 in accrued interest. But Oak Bluffs officials believe they have a good shot at winning an appeal of that decision, arguing that the town already shouldered its share back in 1994 when it paid the refuse district $97,850 toward estimated costs of the landfill capping.
In other action, voters also approved a request to spend $60,518 to cover salary and wage increases for town employees recommended by a personnel consultant. Under a new contract, town employees will get a six per cent pay hike in the new fiscal year which just started this week. But employees will no longer enjoy automatic step increases in pay. Job performance will determine pay from now on.
"They don't automatically advance just because they breathe and work for the town of Oak Bluffs," said Ms. Sharpe.
Voters also approved measures to:
* Spend $30,000 on road repair.
* Accept $45,000 from the Friends of Ocean Park to pay for sidewalks and repairs to the bandstand.
* Spend $14,651 to pay for a consolidation of the building department and board of appeal department.