Apr 7, 2010

Patterson’s mouthpiece spins the facts

Apparently, Oakland County is a little sensitive about its decision not to enforce the workplace smoking ban, and my post about that over at Blogging for Michigan (BFM) drew a response from Bill Mullan, the media and communications officer for Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson.

Here is his rebuttal to my essay posted both here and at BFM.

The "Communications Guru" says it's a mystery why Oakland County will not enforce the State of Michigan's smoking ban. Trust me, the "Guru" knows. Like many who tell half-truths, the "Guru" omitted the rest of the quote that puts it all in context.
Oakland County Health Division Manager Kathy Forzley told The Detroit News that the new law amounts to an unfunded mandate. "With dwindling funding and trying economic times, implementing a new law without attached funding is very difficult," she said.

The "Guru" needs to pull out the Michigan Constitution. According to the Headlee Amendment, the smoking ban is unconstitutional because it is an unfunded mandate.

Section 29 of the Headlee Amendment says: "A new activity or service or an increase in the level of any activity or service beyond that required by existing law shall not be required by the legislature or any state agency of units of Local Government, unless a state appropriation is made and disbursed to pay the unit."

Oh, but why involve a little thing like the Michigan Constitution where public health is concerned? The "Guru" says, "Wow. Thanks for protecting the public from deadly secondhand smoke, Ms. Forzley."

In reply, I say, "Wow. Thanks for protecting the public from unconstitutional laws, Guru."

I know the state Constitution is a pesky little thing. I mean, if you're going to ignore a little item like a constitutional amendment that controls public funding - perhaps the government's most powerful tool - then I suppose you can toss aside such matters as freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the right against self-incrimination.

From a public health point of view, Oakland County Health Division agrees a smoking ban in public buildings is better. In fact, Oakland County will implement and comply with the law on our government campus in Pontiac, and any other facilities we operate.

Indeed, our county government enacted smoking restrictions in its own buildings years before the State of Michigan passed its ban into law, first in 1997, then expanded in 2006.

But if the State of Michigan wants Oakland County to enforce its ban, we're merely saying, "Put your money where your mouth is."

Here are Oakland County's numbers: We have 26 food service sanitarians that are responsible for inspecting more than 4,600 restaurants in the county. In 2008/2009, they conducted more than 17,000 inspections - that's 654 inspections per sanitarian.

When Ohio passed its smoking ban, there were 18,000 complaints against restaurants not enforcing the law its first year. Imagine if Oakland County absorbed merely 10% of that complaint load, we would have to budget for three additional inspectors just to keep up.

Taking a page out of the "Guru's" book, if you want the State of Michigan to do its job, call the Governor's office at (517) 335-6397 and tell them to uphold the Constitution to which she swore an oath when she took office.

Unlike the "Guru," I will not hide behind an anonymous blogging name. I am Bill Mullan, media and communications officer for Oakland County.

Great job, Bill, standing up for the taxpayers of Oakland County, or should I say the State of Oakland.

However the mystery remains why Oakland County would not enforce a popular state law that protects the public health that has not even gone into effect. I assume the State of Oakland County does restaurant inspections, so there is no reason it can't be handled then. Please tell me how that costs you any extra money.

The Michigan Department of Community Health and the Michigan Department of Agriculture have been meeting frequently since the law was passed in December to work out implementation and enforcement issues, and they have come up with a solid enforcement protocol.

Local health departments are responsible for inspecting food service establishments to comply with Public Act 188. Most violations would be no more than a bartender or manager asking the person who lit up to simply stop smoking. However, any complaint recorded by the health department would be logged, and a protocol would be followed. If the local department had to go out and investigate any complaint that could not be cleared up by phone, the business would be charged a fee for that investigation. If the bar or restaurant failed to pay, their liquor or food license would be at stake.

I fail to see the unfunded mandate here.

As for Mr. Mullan’s use of the Michigan Constitution to try and make his point, if you go to Article IV Section 51 of the Michigan Constitution it's pretty clear what the county’s mission should be: "The public health and general welfare of the people of the state are herby declared to matters of primary public concern.” I assume that applies to the State of Oakland County.

I don’t have the power to protect “the public from unconstitutional laws” even if that were the case, but Oakland County has the power and obligation to protect the public health from deadly secondhand smoke. They are shirking that responsibility.

It's great the State of Oakland County complies with the smoking ban in public buildings, so why will it not enforce the law in bars and restaurants?

As for my screen name, if he would have followed any of the links in the post on BFM - other than the one for the Detroit News article, it would have taken you back to my blog here where my name is at the top along with my picture. For the record, it's Kevin Shopshire. For a former research assistant at the Detroit News, that should have been pretty easy to smoke out.


Not Anonymous said...

You don't understand how inspections cost money to the county?

Mullen said he has 26 inspectors I believe. Do you think these people work out of the goodness of their hearts? They are paid for by the County to inspect those that are the responsibility of the county.

His point that the state didn't provide any money to pay the inspectors to inspect the additional places is what he's talking about.

This may not be clear to you, but I suspect you're one of the few that don't understand the concept of paying wages for employees.

Perhaps you would want to wander restaurants all day, when you should be working and providing food, shelter and health care for your family, and call in to a tip line tattling on people for smoking.

Communications guru said...

Yes, I understand how inspections cost money to the county.

The policy is complaint driven, and if a complaint reaches the point of requiring an inspector to go out to the site to investigate, the business not complying will pay for it.

This may not be clear to you, but I suspect you're one of the few that don't understand the concept of paying wages for employees.