I would like to address an issue that has come to light in the last few weeks, involving the use of tobacco products within village-owned vehicles.
My wife recently observed an employee of the police department smoking – or, if not smoking, “vaping” – while in uniform and driving a marked Village of South Jacksonville Police Department vehicle. I won’t publicly name the employee, solely because my wife told me that she wasn’t able to get a clear view of their face to positively identify them.
It surprises me to hear this because it was my belief – apparently erroneously – that smoking in village-owned vehicles was, by ordinance, not permitted. If, in fact, there is no policy against the use of tobacco products while driving taxpayer-owned vehicles, I believe that an ordinance should be drafted, presented for a vote, and passed by the Board of Trustees without delay.
In fact, such an ordinance should already exist… because state law says that it should.
In January 2007, Senate President John Cullerton introduced legislation that would make Illinois workplaces and public places smoke-free. On January 1st, 2008, Smoke Free Illinois became law. Included as part of Smoke Free Illinois is the following, from Section 15:
“Smoking in public places, places of employment and governmental vehicles prohibited… No person may smoke in any vehicle owned, leased, or operated by the State or a political subdivision of the State.”
Unless the Village of South Jacksonville Police Department employee in question (and, for the record, there have been employees of other departments who have been seen smoking in village-owned vehicles, according to several private messages sent to the My Social Jacksonville Facebook page) would like to claim that the Department does not qualify as a “political subdivision of the State”, the Smoke Free Illinois Act is being violated every time somebody lights up a Marlboro in a squad car.
It should be pointed out that the penalties for violating Smoke Free Illinois include a fine of between $100 and $250 per offense for the individual committing that offense PLUS fines ranging from $100 for the first offense, a minimum of $250 for the second offense, and a minimum of $2,500 PER OFFENSE for additional offenses within the first year for the owner of any business or – in the case – vehicle that permits these offenses to take place.
Some will say that this amounts to little more than a “witch hunt” or “just looking for something to complain about”, but neither phrase is accurate. This is about accountability for one’s actions and leadership. This Village lacked a leader who led by example and followed the rules to a “T” in the last several years of his time in office. It is my hope that the current leader of this Village, and the elected officials who serve with him, will not let the same situation develop. Please nip this issue of smoking in Village-owned vehicles in the bud right now. If there is no ordinance on the books reinforcing the state law, including the exact penalties at the Village level for any person who violates it, please correct this error as soon as possible.
(Author’s note: While this specific post is in regard to the Village of South Jacksonville, we have observed City of Jacksonville employees smoking while driving their city-owned vehicles, as well. This is a problem that appears to exist in multiple communities in our area.)