The Newport City Council decided to reword the Arkansas Clean Indoor Air Act instead of enacting the Smokefree Air Ordinance of 2018 during Monday night’s regularly scheduled meeting after hearing from the public.
Mayor David Stewart thanked the audience for joining the council in discussing the Smokefree Air Ordinance that was presented for a second reading. Audience members included representatives of the health community, citizens and public organizations. The ordinance was read by title only and then the floor was opened for discussion. According to a representative of the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in Arkansas. “Everyone has a right to breathe clean air in their work environment,” he said. Retha Dudley presented statistics to the Council stating that Jackson County is the third unhealthiest county in Arkansas and ranks 60 out of 75 in most smokers and 40 out of 75 in low birth weight, which is attributed to smoking. “We can’t sit on this data and do nothing,” she said, also thanking the council for passing the ordinance to prohibit smoking in the locally owned parks last year. “If this (ordinance) is not an avenue you want to take, tell us what you want to do. Help us help the county.”
Local respiratory therapist Steven Reed told the Council he currently sees 350 patients and has 400 ventilators in the county costing $15,000 a unit. “The insurance and doctors are pushing this because they can’t afford to keep people in the hospital and treated.” Jamie Darling encouraged the Council to consider the need for an ordinance from an economic perspective, stating the healthy employees lead to lower insurance rates and less time from the workplace.
“If Purdy could be here now, he would say do what you can to make Newport a safer place,” Jim McLarty said, addressing the council days after the two year anniversary of John Purdy’s death from lung cancer.
Council members discussed the state’s act and the limitations on citizens. According to City Attorney Rob Ratton, the state’s covers the same general information as the city’s proposed ordinance, but doesn’t include vaping. Mayor Stewart asked if vaping could be added to the state’s act and suffice.  It was decided unanimously to not act on the currently proposed ordinance and allow Ratton to rewrite the act into an ordinance to be considered at the next council meeting.
In other business:
- the Council heard a presentation on a wastewater project to be completed on Commerce Drive where Jeff Sampson plans to build a set of 14 duplexes.
- Roderick Robinson requested the Council to consider allowing him to mount satellites to the tower behind El Puente and the water towers to better serve the community with local internet service. Robinson informed the Council that Suddenlink service is not provided in many neighborhoods in the community and students are in need of the services for schoolwork. He has worked with the Newport School District to create a voucher program that will allow families to have their installment fees waived and a percentage off of the monthly service so that virtual learning can continue at home. Mayor Stewart advised the Council that Robinson has the City’s permission to use the tower behind El Puente and that Robinson will have to present a request to the Newport Water Commission to use the water towers. Robinson advised he is working with other communities to provide the same service.
- In reports and communications, IMAD Director Phillip Brown told the Council that the summer’s pool program was a success with zero incidents to report. While the organization did not make a profit, they were able to get 22 trained to swim and 12 to dive and hired three high school students as lifeguards with the city’s support. The Council was impressed by the work done and thanked Brown for his continued work with the community. Brown informed him there are projects they would like to see in the future.