Patrons of some private clubs in York County will be able to light up indoors when an exemption to the county smoking ban takes effect in a couple of months.
The York County Council passed the exemption for nonprofit private clubs in a speedy 4-3 vote in council chambers Monday night.
Qualifying establishments must be licensed by the state as private clubs that serve alcohol. They also must meet other restrictions, which include not serving food, having a governing body with bylaws, requiring annual fees or dues, posting signs and ensuring employees and members acknowledge the dangers of cigarette smoke.
The amended ordinance defines private clubs as nonprofits that exist for purposes other than serving alcohol and turning a profit. Such clubs must be for "social, benevolent, patriotic, recreational or fraternal purposes," the ordinance states.
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The exemption for private clubs will take effect in two months. Until then, the county smoking ban remains in effect, said County Attorney Melvin McKeown.
Councilman Chad Williams said he was "somewhat disappointed" with the vote and the lack of discussion which proceeded.
"Most people had their minds made up," he said.
Williams, who was undecided on the amendment until Monday night, decided to vote against it, arguing the county's original goals of creating a uniform ordinance with other jurisdictions and protecting employees have been left behind.
Chairman Buddy Motz and Councilman Joe Cox also voted against the amendment.
The county staff's recommendation, sent to council members in a memo last week, was to leave the smoking ordinance intact.
In that memo, County Manager Jim Baker argued the exemption fails to protect employees from the dangers of secondhand smoke and threatens the legal integrity of the ordinance, among other concerns.
Those concerns went almost unaddressed, with only Williams and Motz raising any of Baker's points for discussion.
Much of council's concerns for the amendment were to define private clubs in a way that avoids creating loopholes that would make it easy to gain private club status. The latest version of the amendment narrowed the private club definition to exclude for-profit ventures.
A couple dozen private club owners, workers and patrons came out again for Monday night's vote.
"We beat it, didn't we?" said Cousy Simpson of Cousy's in Catawba after the vote.
"I think they done right. They did what they were supposed to do," said Steve Lipe, who owns two private clubs in the Rock Hill area.
For opponents of the exemption, the vote was a defeat.
"Even if you close the loopholes in the private clubs, you still have exposed workers," said Dr. Dave Keely of Rock Hill.
"You've got protected workers, and now you're going to unprotect them," he said.
Betty Rankin said the outgoing County Council has been a good one until now.
"It's sad this is the legacy they're leaving behind," she said. "If they think this is a tight ordinance they're wrong."
She's looking forward to the state stepping in.
"Hopefully, the state will come to its senses," she said.