Special town meetings are supposed to be tame housekeeping affairs, but Thursday's session in Oak Bluffs will steer voters into some dicey territory — asking them to reconsider the ban on smoking in bars and to release $110,000 to settle unspecified lawsuits against the town.
The meeting starts at 7 p.m. at the Oak Bluffs School. The warrant is 21 articles long, most of them concerning routine money transfers.
The smoking issue comes to town meeting thanks to a petition signed by more than 200 voters. But board of health member William White said his board will be under no obligation to reverse its ban on smoking even if proponents endorse a measure that attempts to scuttle it.
"It's a moot point the way I look at it," he said. The proposal asks voters "to instruct the board of health to allow smoking in private clubs and bars, taverns and nightclubs."
Sunday is the first day of the ban. Last month, the board of health voted to enforce the ban for bars but to exempt the town's two private clubs, the VFW Club and the Portuguese American (PA) Club.
Janet King-Stead, a co-owner of The Ritz Cafe and one of the lead petitioners, said last month's ruling by the board of health that exempts private clubs from the ban is unfair. She wants the entire ban lifted.
"If the health department feels they should worry about lungs, they should worry about everybody's lungs," she said. "The same people drink here who drink there."
Mrs. King-Stead tried to impose an early smoking ban at The Ritz last April when she reopened after a spring cleaning. "It didn't work, mostly because the other bars were still smoking," she said. "So we allowed smoking back in."
With the July 1 ban just days away, the bar owner believes she'll lose patrons to the VFW. "The VFW has to follow all the other health rules," she said. "Why is it any different when it comes to smoking?"
Besides smoking, the other issue that could get voters talking this week is the $110,000 requested for litigation settlement. Top officials in town are keeping their lips sealed about the details, saying only that the money would cover three cases pending against the town. To say anything more, said executive secretary Casey Sharpe, could weaken the town's position in the lawsuits.
In other articles, voters will be asked to approve the following money transfers from free cash:
* $12,000 for an engineering plan to control erosion on East Chop.
* $15,000 to hire two police officers for summer patrols on the harbor.
* $2,053 to fund a salary increase for the tax collector.
* And an unspecified amount of money to cover salary increases for other town employees.