Three members stood outside the side doors of American Legion Goff-Moll Post 101 smoking cigarettes while light snow flurries fell from the sky on Wednesday night. After a few moments, three more people stepped outside and lit up.
Inside, tension was building as post leaders and members grappled with the complexities of a potential exemption from Brentwood's new smoking ban for the post. City officials and post leaders have discussed a potential exemption multiple times dating back to December, but nothing firm has been established, and any exemption would require the post to modify its operations.
At the request of Fourth Ward Alderwoman Lorraine Krewson, the post voted on Wednesday to determine how many members wanted an exemption. It sent out e-mails and letters to all members prior to the meeting.
After a brief explanation from Leo Lang, first vice commander of the post, members stood up—often confused by the language and wary of changing post guidelines—to ask questions.
One member was afraid the post wouldn't be able to pay bartenders if city code was changed. Another asked if pursuing different alcohol licenses would cause problems when the post sells beer at the annual Brentwood Days festival.
Not all of the answers were immediately available. First Ward Alderwoman Barbara Clements said during a city meeting on Jan. 11 that the city's attorney is looking into some of these more complex issues.
"We're trying to abide by what the city of Brentwood wants and by the law," member Gary Langley said to the group. "We'll do the best we can. That's all we can do."
Of the 24 members who were present, 19 voted in favor of an exemption and two voted against it. The post also recorded nine write-in votes in favor of an exemption.
The Ladies Auxiliary of Goff-Moll Post 101 voted in a separate meeting room. About 25 members were present, and each one voted in favor of the city granting the post permission to make the decision whether it wants to allow smoking or not, president Loretta Sheerin said.
"Even with the snowstorm, we had a full house," Sheerin said.
She said it wasn't about allowing smoking or not allowing smoking; it was about giving the private organization its own choice.
The city's ban—enacted on Jan. 1—requires any building open to the public and all places of employment within the city to remain smoke-free.
To meet the first requirement, post members voted in November to become a private club that only allows members and invited guests to enter the building. To satisfy the other requirement, Third Ward Alderman Andrew Leahy introduced a bill to the Brentwood Board of Aldermen in December that would redefine "places of employment" in the city code, thus giving the post the option if it wants to allow smoking.
In the bill's language, when the post holds public events—such as the annual G.I. Joe breakfast—no smoking would be allowed in the entire building during the event.
Post leaders have repeatedly asked city officials to grant an exemption for the nonprofit organization, fearing that their membership will flee Brentwood and join the ranks of American Legion Post 103 in Maplewood or the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3500 in Richmond Heights, two veterans' halls where smoking is still allowed inside.
Lang said a loss in membership and sales from the bar—the only spot where smoking was originally allowed in the post—will result in fewer community services and outreach projects. He said 90 percent of the post's revenue comes from bar sales.
But First Ward Alderman Anthony Harper, who's also a veteran, said he felt uneasy about offering an exemption during a Board of Aldermen meeting in December. He said he didn't think an exemption would be fair to other Brentwood businesses.
The vote on Leahy's bill was tabled at meetings in December and January. The Brentwood Public Safety Committee debated the potential exemption with post leaders during a meeting on on Jan. 11 and will pass a recommendation to the rest of the aldermen before the Feb. 7 meeting, when a final vote is expected to take place.
Editor's note: How do you feel about the smoking ban? We would love to publish your thoughts in a Letter to the Editor.