The St. Louis health department's decision to cave in to pressure from wealthy and politically connected constituents at the Missouri Athletic Club by agreeing not to enforce the law as it regards that establishment has now opened the door to all St. Louis bars and restaurants to request similar arrangements. After all, a precedent has now been set that for no health-related justification at all, the City of St. Louis is willing to look the other way if your business complains loudly enough, or at least has the right political connections.
As our own Bill Hannegan has pointed out, the Missouri Athletic Club kicked off its negotiations with the city health department by actively flouting the ordinance. In how much better a position, then, are the hundreds of bars and restaurants that have been following the law? Should they not be in a better position to negotiate with the city, since they have taken the moral high ground and diligently followed the law? Should they City not consider their good behavior in negotiating with these establishments? And if the bad behavior of the MAC resulted in the city agreeing to look the other way, should not the good behavior of these other bars be rewarded by the city happily looking the other way?
Now that it has established that businesses can successfully negotiate with it to get out of having to follow health ordinances, the St. Louis department of health is going to need to set up an "Exemptions Department" to handle all these negotiations. The line will be out the door.
St. Louis is now the only city I am aware of where if you don't like a health regulation, you can negotiate with the city health department to be excused from having to adhere to the law.
The Rest of the Story
The irony of the situation was not lost to cartoonist Dan Martin of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch who mockingly depicts health director Pam Walker sitting at a desk signed "Smoking ban exemption application division," taking requests from local businesses to get out of having to comply with the smoking ban.
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