Smoking ban not enforced at Eagles Club

Posted: Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bar owner Gail Niemi is upset because the city is not enforcing the smoking ban at the Eagles Club.

Private clubs, defined by the type of liquor license, were never specifically included in the city's definition of bars in the smoking ordinance that went into effect Jan. 2.

Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho said that exclusion was probably intentional when former City Attorney John Corso drafted the ordinance in 2001.

"There was an effort to exclude the Eagles," he said.

City Attorney John Hartle testified before the State Alcohol Beverage Control Board on Wednesday he was not interested in a legal fight with the fraternal organization.

"They do good work," he said.

The board said it could apply "conditions" to the club's liquor license, but Doug Griffen, board director, said the best remedy would come from the city.

Niemi, who is also a liquor control board member, told the board the lack of enforcement of the new smoking ban will bankrupt at least two bars in the Mendenhall Valley.

The control board agreed to listen to the case after Niemi sought its help with her "unfair practices" complaint. Niemi went to her own board after the city and police did not act on her complaints.

The one bar that allows smoking is benefiting, according to Niemi.

"The bars following the ordinance are losing money," she said.

Niemi said she recently checked patron numbers and found 40 people at the Eagles while fewer than 10 were at G W Teal night club and her own bar.

Juneau police Lt. Kris Sell said smoking tickets written at the Eagles Club would not be prosecuted and that Hartle told her the current ordinance didn't "capture the Eagles."

Eagles trustee Jim Pound testified that his was a private organization with keycard access.

"Under the ordinance we're not included," he said.

Pound said nothing about patrons smoking and was not asked if the club allows members to smoke.

Eagles President Larry Paul hung up on a phone call when asked if the club still allows smoking. During a second call, Paul directed all questions to Eagles member Mark Page, who said the club was private and would stay that way.

"What goes on here is not anybody else's business," Page said. He then hung up.

Hartle said he heard that smoking was still allowed at the Eagles Club, but couldn't say if police investigated any complaints.

Niemi said when she complained about the smoking violation to Juneau police, she was told the ban didn't apply to them.

Sell said there was no police investigation because the Eagles were breaking no current law.

If the Eagles served food or had more than four employees the current ordinance could apply, Sell said.

"I would have liked them to go look and see if they broke the law," Niemi said.

During the first week of the ban, police promised to investigate any complaints of smoking ban violations.

The city's long-term solution to create a level competition for bars would come from rewriting the ordinance to specifically include "club liquor licenses."

Hartle said the Juneau Assembly directed him Monday to take care of any smoking ordinance loopholes. It will be March before final action could be taken and then 30 more days before the new law could go into effect.

"That will close any claimed loophole," Hartle said.

The control board did not take action Wednesday because it lacked a quorum, but board members Billy Andrews and Shirley Gifford said they would vote that Eagles comply with city law.

Wendy Hamilton, tobacco program coordinator for the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Juneau, said Pound's interpretation was the newest in a line of excuses. First, they said they didn't have any employees and this latest thing is a misworded statement.

"Private clubs knew it applied to them," she said.

• Contact reporter Greg Skinner at 523-2258 or by e-mail at greg.skinner@juneauempire.com.



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