City to look at whether it can designate parks as smoke-free and drug-free zones

·3 min read

Aug. 27—A city councilor is proposing that all city-owned parks be designated as smoke-free and drug-free zones.

Councilor Mitchell Greenwald said the plan is aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles among young people in the city and keeping neighborhoods safe.

"As a city council, it is our responsibility to keep our youth and neighborhoods as safe as possible," Greenwald wrote in a memo to the mayor and council. "Our call for action will not only help protect the citizenry, but also serve [notice] for those who peddle illegal drugs that it is not in their best interest to loiter where our youth congregate for healthy recreation, and enjoyment."

The proposal, which Greenwald submitted with former city councilor Chuck Redfern, went before the council's Municipal Services, Facilities and Infrastructure Committee Wednesday. Members decided to table the plan to allow City Attorney Thomas Mullins to examine whether such a policy could be enforced.

Greenwald said at the meeting that as a Keene resident and a landlord he's encountered a number of "really bad situations" involving illegal drugs.

"It's out there and we need to protect at least areas where kids are on a regular basis," Greenwald, who is chair of the committee, said during the meeting, a recording of which was viewed by The Sentinel.

Redfern told councilors that drug-free zones define areas where, if an individual is arrested for possession or distribution of controlled substances, the penalties of the offenses are enhanced.

However, Mullins said the city wouldn't have the authority to impose enhanced penalties, and may not have the right to enforce a drug-free zone at all in city parks. Under state law, a municipality like Keene can create drug-free zones at schools and areas of public housing, but parks are not included in that language.

"I need to think about it a little bit more only in the context of the rights of the city as a general property owner," he said. "But the other question, penalties, criminal enforcement is just off the table right away."

Keene Police Chief Steven Russo agreed with Mullins, noting the state doesn't allow municipalities to hand down enhanced penalties in these zones.

Andy Bohannon, the city's parks and recreation director, said he thinks it would be a good move for Keene.

"All these environments are attracting a lot of people," he said. "We want these environments to be friendly and healthy and designating all of our parks smoke-free is the right direction for that."

But regardless of whether these zones could be enforced, Greenwald said in an interview Friday that even putting up signs would encourage people not to smoke in these areas.

"What it really does is give a little more confidence for people to go up to others and go, 'See the sign? Do the right thing,' " he said.

Committee member Bobby Williams said, though, he worries a smoke-free park would encourage smokers to congregate just outside of the parks. He said the city should consider adding designated smoking zones to encourage smokers to go to a specific area.

Greenwald said Friday the proposal is expected to go before the committee again at its next meeting on Sept. 21.

Hunter Oberst can be reached at 355-8585, or hoberst@keenesentinel.com.