An item in Montgomery Notebook last Thursday omitted the word tax in describing the increase in restaurant tax revenues in Montgomery County. (Published 7/8/04)
Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg) took a swipe at some of his counterparts in the District this week, accusing them of misleading a District judge about the financial effects of a smoking ban in Montgomery County restaurants.
Last month, a D.C. judge threw out a ballot measure to ban smoking in restaurants and bars, ruling that the proposal would have lowered tax revenue -- a determination based in part on earlier public statements by D.C. Council members Harold Brazil and Carol Schwartz.
"We need only look at the experiences of our neighbor to the north, Montgomery County . . . for irrefutable evidence that such a ban has a negative effect on the hospitality industry," Brazil wrote in a letter labeled "Exhibit C" by the court.
But data from the state released by Andrews on Monday show that restaurant revenues in Montgomery County increased by 7 percent -- almost $2 million -- in the six months after the ban went into effect.
He took Brazil and Schwartz to task for presenting the judge with what he called "unsubstantiated assertions."
"They're entitled to their opinions, but they're not entitled to their own set of facts," Andrews said. "The facts are very contrary to their opinions."
Schwartz said she is withholding final judgment on the Montgomery County results until she receives similar data about restaurant revenues in the District for the same time period.
"I'll conclude what I conclude when I see what our figures are," she said.
Schwartz added that she did not intend for her comments to be considered by the judge. "I had nothing to do with the court case at all," she said. "I spoke at a public hearing months and months earlier." Brazil was unavailable early this week for comment.
Smoking ban opponents say Andrews is using misleading statistics.
"Andrews's numbers are a bunch of crap," said Dennis Walsh, the former owner of Flanagan's Irish Pub in Bethesda and Mrs. O'Leary's Restaurant and Irish Pub in Gaithersburg. Walsh said he sold his bars because of the devastating impact of the smoking ban.
Restaurant industry officials attribute the increased revenue to the end of a two-year slump caused by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the sniper attacks.
But Andrews said the numbers speak for themselves. He hopes the statistics will boost efforts to enact similar bans in the District and the state of Maryland.
"Now that the facts are available," he said, "I hope that will carry the day."
Details on Wolle's Death
More details emerged this week about the death of Eric Wolle, the mentally ill Washington Grove man who died in police custody in April.
Police used electric stun devices four times on Wolle, police said this week. Police had previously said that officers deployed Taser stun devices on Wolle twice before he died. However, spokeswoman Lucille Baur said the additional two uses of the Taser were discovered by investigators after the department's initial news release about Wolle's death.
Last week, a Montgomery County grand jury cleared police of criminal wrongdoing in the April 27 death, ruling that the officers' actions were justified. The grand jury was aware of the four uses of the Taser, officials said. The autopsy report on Wolle's death said he died of cardiac arrhythmia in a setting of acute psychosis and physical restraint, officials said.
The report specified that the Taser did not contribute to Wolle's death, Baur said.
As reported by police immediately after Wolle's death, police twice deployed an Advanced Taser M26 at Wolle to subdue him. A diagnosed bipolar schizophrenic, Wolle had long feared that the police would detain him and kill him, relatives said. He told police at the scene that they would never take him alive, authorities said, and struggled with seven officers.
Earlier that evening, Wolle, 45, had pushed his 80-year-old mother to the ground and appeared to believe that the CIA and FBI were coming to get him, relatives said.
After a Taser was used two times at long range, officers began wrestling with Wolle, Baur said, and then fired twice more at close range.
From close range, a Taser is used to cause pain to make it easier for police to make an arrest, Baur said. From a longer range -- as much as 25 feet -- the Taser is designed to temporarily immobilize people with a shock to the central nervous system.