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Apply smoking ban across the board or repeal it

I am a restaurant owner, and I am not a smoker. I am, however, against the Florida amendment that made it illegal to smoke in the workplace as of July 1, 2003. I find it offensive that a well-organized group of anti-anythings can get a law passed making something that has been legal and accepted for centuries illegal overnight.

While I knew that the law would pass, I was not overly concerned. If all bars and restaurants were in the same boat, and patrons could not smoke in any of them, the patrons would simply have to deal with it and go outside to puff. I knew that I would lose a few customers who would refuse to go out.

What I didn't know was that I would lose nearly all of my smoking patrons to bars and restaurants that are legally (and illegally) allowing smoking.

Was the purpose of this law to drive some bar and restaurant owners out of business while making others wealthy? Probably not, but that is exactly what is happening. Bars that produce less than 10 percent of their gross revenues from food sales, and bars with the license to sell no food at all, have essentially hit the lottery. Listen to the radio. Check the print ads. The biggest selling point these days is, "We are smoker friendly."

Was the purpose of this law to put good, hard-working people out of work? Again, probably not, but it's the unfortunate consequence of pushing a not-too-well-thought-out law down our throats. In order to get under the 10 percent rule, many restaurants have closed their kitchens, forcing their service and kitchen employees to enter the (not so) fun world of unemployment compensation.

Was the purpose of this law to put more drunken drivers on the road? Great idea! Let's get 'em drunk but not feed 'em 'cause if we feed 'em, they can't smoke, and if they can't smoke, they won't drink here! It's a Catch-22: Stay in business and encourage drunken driving or go out of business.

Supposedly this is a "smoke-in-the-workplace" law. Do the "smoker-friendly" bars not employ anyone? What makes the health of their employees any less important than the health of my employees, or the employees of the hair salon or the hardware store?

I am fortunate to have a solid business with a great menu, a great staff and wonderfully loyal patrons. However, with the decline in my happy hour and late-night business, I will probably be forced to either change my hours of operation or terminate some of my people (taxpayers all). This is the unfortunate reality for many restaurants in Florida.

I am not suggesting that we repeal the law (though that would be okay). After all, 75 percent of the voters voted for it. What I am suggesting is that we level the playing field by making all workplaces _ essentially all businesses _ smoke free. If we all had to play by the same set of rules, we could all compete fairly; the kitchens could all reopen; the laid-off employees could go back to work; the guy who just drank three beers could order something to eat; and my customers who smoke could smoke outside, like they have to do at their workplaces.

To summarize: We should make the law fair, or make it go away. I'm cool either way.

John Drozdyk, president

Dogwater Cafe III Inc., Clearwater

Allegations obscure judge's ability

Re: Judge accused of duping voters, story, Oct 24.

Even though I am a practicing attorney in Pinellas and Pasco counties in the area of matrimonial law, I was not familiar with either judicial candidate at the time of the (2002 judicial) election.

I received similar mailings, heard similar bids for votes at local bar association meetings and asked among my peers (who generally practice matrimonial law) about the candidates.

It was my opinion at that time that John Renke and Declan Mansfield had very different legal backgrounds. The extent of the specifics was not of concern to me because my experience has shown me that someone can be an effective judge without substantial jury trial experience.

Whether or not the JQC (Judicial Qualifications Committee) interprets the facts (as alleged in the formal charges) as misrepresentations, I want the voting public to know that by guess or by golly, they elected a very fine individual who has gained significant respect from the lawyers who practice in front of him.

If the truth be told, there were many matrimonial lawyers who thought, "Oh, great, we are going to have to teach this guy everything and come into court with a memorandum of law on every little issue." The same would have been said for his opponent.

That thought could now not be further from the truth. The voters of this community have not been duped. John Renke III is sincere, intuitive and very understanding about the issues and dilemmas that face a family court judge every day.

I am saddened that accusations of misconduct in the election process have been launched against Judge Renke. Based upon the concerns expressed by my clients, friends and family, my impression is that public confidence in the judiciary is waning.

I want to be proud of our judiciary and the judicial system within which I work. I take it personally when the integrity of any judge is called into question.

I have reviewed the eight alleged infractions listed in the notice of formal charges. My belief is that there will be adequate answers to the questions posed by the JQC.

My guess is that the JQC will attempt to satisfy the complainant by finding something inappropriate in Judge Renke's campaign requiring a public reprimand. My hope is that when all is said and done, I can get back to the task at hand: Representing individuals who are not questioning the integrity of the judge presiding over their case.

Linda I. Braithwaite, Tarpon Springs

Editor's note: John Renke III was elected Pinellas-Pasco circuit court judge in September 2002.

Bar's opening not worthy of front page

Re: New pub offers a taste of Dublin, story, Oct. 27.

Advertising bars as front-page news must be a new school of thought at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. I think that other businesses offer a much greater service to the public than do bars and pubs, but I doubt that I will ever see them as front page "news," even in a neighborhood paper. I have nothing against pubs, but there are many events and issues in my city that are really worthy of being reported. Largo is a great place to live; please treat it more respectfully.

Eric Thorensen, Largo

City officials ruining a Clearwater beach

What a joke the Clearwater city commissioners are! Smug and self-satisfied about ruining north Clearwater Beach for ordinary people.

Notice the huge complex they have allowed on the block of Bay Esplanade and Baymont. At least 200 or more condos. Developers were allowed to knock down the inexpensive Yacht Basin apartments on that spot, where many tourists came every year.

What is Hoyt Hamilton doing on the City Commission? His family members are landowners on north beach.

G.L. Porter, Clearwater

Make spaying and neutering affordable

In Pinellas and Hillsborough counties we spend $10-million in taxes to operate the county animal services, which kill 84 percent to 90 percent of the animals that enter the shelters. Does this make any sense to throw our tax dollars away year after year to kill thousands of animals year after year?

The shelters aren't producing the animals, but they do have the money and resources to solve the problem. The only solution to prevent animals from entering the shelters and being killed is to have a program for the public that can aggressively spay and neuter 20,000 animals a year and educate the public about the importance of such procedures.

In the last 60 years, the shelters haven't solved the problem through adoption or sugarcoating the truth about how many animals are being killed each year. Until the community stops the breeding through spaying, neutering and education, the shelters will always be trying to find homes for the animals and the surplus will be killed. The commissioners need to utilize the $10-million more efficiently by offering free and low-cost spaying and neutering programs for all the residents of the county.

If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. Please spay and neuter your pets and adopt your next best friend!

Jay Christianson, Largo

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