City Strobe: News Roundup

A set-up for Tom Owen?

Tom Owen

Tom Owen

Bar owners are understandably miffed about the recently enacted smoking ordinance, which bans smoking in every enclosed public place in Louisville except Churchill Downs (bring on the lawsuits!). In fact, a coalition of bar and restaurant owners has lobbied heavily against such a thing for several years.

Now, that coalition is circulating a video of Metro Councilman Tom Owen, who represents the bar-heavy 8th District that includes the Highlands, advocating an ordinance that would force bars within 500 feet of residences to close at 2 a.m. instead of the current 4 a.m. The e-mail was authored by John Dant, president of the Metro Louisville Hospitality Coalition and owner of the Back Door, and included the video as an attachment.

Here’s the rub: The clip, from a FOX-41 interview, is more than two years old, from August 2004, when Owen was in the middle of a battle between a neighborhood association that wanted to remove alcohol completely from the Baxter Corridor and business owners railing against such a weird, foolish thing.

Dant’s e-mail read: “I want to remind everyone that we are already being put in a position with our businesses since the council passed a smoking ban. It was brought to my attention that Tom Owen wants to cut our business hours after the election. If we are to lose two hours of business and are open 365 days a year you will lose 720 hours, a total of 30 days business. And for those who are only open three or four days a week who knows what affect it could have.”

On Tuesday, Dant told LEO: “I heard from a reliable source that it was going to be brought up after the election. Hopefully we stopped it, if that’s the case.”

Dant said he recorded the initial broadcast, as he does everything affecting the coalition. He edited it to show the part where Owen talks about making bars close earlier and distributed it “as a reminder to the coalition members that this isn’t a forgotten subject, which it isn’t.”

In an interview Tuesday, Owen said he believes such a thing may benefit the entire city, but he does not intend to push the legislation anytime soon. If he did, he said, it would have to apply to the entire Metro area, not just businesses in residential areas.

Owen and bar owners in his district have a bitter history: the liberal Councilman has supported a full smoking ban for several years, and has entertained various ideas — including a possible wet/dry vote — to try and balance the poles of his district, which go from the older and affluent to young people interested in things like bars and 4 a.m. last-calls.

“Some of the venues are dealing with the looming impact of the smoking ban, and I’m not interested in pursuing

Tom Owen

Tom Owen

,” Owen said. He added that he’s never proposed the idea to the full Council, and that he considered the idea set forth in the video for about 30 days before realizing it was unfair and could not work.

Owen also said he spent seven hours over the weekend responding to complaints from bar owners and residents who’d seen the video via e-mail. A fiery e-mail, written and widely circulated by Wick’s Pizza co-founder Meredith Wickliffe, accuses Owen of trying to put business owners in his district out of business. Owen said he’s talked to Wickliffe via e-mail about nine times in the past few days. Wickliffe did not respond to requests for comment.

“I feel that whoever originally got the interview out of their computer and distributed it did the bar owners a disservice and anyone who is trying to improve conditions in the neighborhood a disservice,” Owen said.
Dant’s rationale: “I just wanted to reinforce that we don’t need this going on right now. We’re going into a smoking ban in July. Jesus Christ, what else do they want to do?” —Stephen George

High energy
Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s “Unbridled Energy: The Industrialization of Kentucky’s Energy Resources” conference — are they so bereft of humor that they miss the fabulous irony there? — went off just fine last Friday, despite protests from a coalition of environmental and social justice organizations bent on destroying the very fabric of our economy and … just kidding. They were there, in the long view, trying to keep Fletcher and his coal-sucking goons (like Peabody Coal and the Kentucky Coal Association) from continuing down the unsustainable path of coal dependence.

The cold drizzle kept some away, and the police were called to try and remove more, but the groups — Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, the Sierra Club, Transit First, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Kentucky Heartwood, among others — kept on a-chanting, calling on Fletcher, Sen. Jim Bunning (here for the conference) and others to invest in real forward-thinking energy technologies. Some examples: Wind, water and biomass, which is a collection of plant matter used as fuel. All, they argue, could represent economic growth industries whenever governments like Kentucky’s decide to get on board.

Instead, Fletcher and his coal pals spewed Orwellian rhetoric about the state — home to five of the country’s 154 currently proposed new coal-fired power plants — being a leader in “new energy technology” while proposing fairly contorted ways to continue using the oldest, most outdated form of energy generation still employed in this country.

Call it our unbridled discontent.
—Stephen George

Keep on truckin’
Proving he won’t cut and run from a president with an abysmal approval rating, trucking magnate and loyal incumbent Indiana 9th District Rep. Mike Sodrel gets two-for-one this week, with planned visits to the district by First Lady Laura Bush on Wednesday and another by her better half — W: The President — on Saturday.

Laura Bush will appear in Columbus, and the President will speak at Silver Creek High School. His visit to Clark County — the first by a president since LBJ in 1964 — may be the biggest thing to hit Sellersburg since Bill Murray played in Fuzzy Zoeller’s Wolf Challenge this summer — or, really, since Robert M. Knight came to town to woo his first Indiana University recruit, sweet-shooting Silver Creek High phenom Steve Green, who later matriculated to IU. That was 1971, and a guy named Nixon was in charge. Sorta seems like the good ol’ days, don’t it? —Cary Stemle

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