Maybe There’s Another Way of Looking at the Newington Smoker Story

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There’s something a little off about the Nowicki saga. I know the fashionable interpretation is that this is a heartless bureaucrat (or two) mercilessly pounding away at a man who served our country heroically in its darkest hour.  But hold on.

Housing Authorities don’t serve eviction notices on a whim. It’s a huge pain in the ass to evict someone. Much easier to work out a compromise, especially over something like a rule violation.

I got some of Melinda Harvey’s side of this story.  Try looking at it this way.

You’re the director of a public housing authority. Your board of commissioners instructs you to phase in a no-smoking policy. You spend 8 months getting everybody used to the idea before you enact it. It’s not even a very tough policy compared to what — for example — veterans’ facilities are doing these days. But there is a rule that you have to be ten feet away from a first floor window if you go outside to smoke. This makes a certain amount of sense. People in senior housing have all kinds of respiratory issues, so you don’t want smoke wafting in their windows.

During the 8-month run-up, some of your tenants kick about the policy. Some of them quit the habit. Some of them move, so they can keep smoking. A few try not complying. You issue warnings. Sometimes you have to seek a legal stipulation. (All of the tenants signed new leases agreeing to the new policy.) Eventually, everybody is complying except one guy.

You have a process you have to follow in a case like this. A spoken warning. A written warning. Then what’s called a Kappa Notice (which is the prelude to a Notice to Quit).  Finally, the Notice to Quit. For anybody receiving these notices, you have a formal multi-step grievance process, where the tenants can meet with the authority and try to work something out. But this tenant never exercises that right.

So finally, you reach point where you’ve moved through all the preliminary steps. Not a peep out of the tenant. Meanwhile, you’ve got a whole housing complex where everybody else has either complied (sometimes unhappily) or moved out. You’re out of options. So you serve the Notice to Quit. At that point, the tenant and his family go to the press.

To whatever extent she’s being painted as a horrible person, Melinda Harvey is getting a raw deal. I have no idea of what sort of person she is, but it does seem as though the Nowicki family should bear at least some of the blame for playing a game of brinksmanship instead of sitting down with the housing authority.

And one of the arguments being offered up by the daughter and the lawyer is crazy. You should be exempted from smoking policies if you started smoking during World War II? What sense does that make?

Anybody with half a brain can figure out some compromise that helps out Andy Nowicki and respects all the other people who actually followed the rule. But to do that, he has has to sit down with them and talk about what would work for him and what wouldn’t.  And he apparently never did that.

Meanwhile, Melinda Harvey has just been doing her job.



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12 thoughts on “Maybe There’s Another Way of Looking at the Newington Smoker Story

  1. Joyce

    Absolutely. This is not about being unsympathetic of the man or in giving him special dispensation because he served his country. It’s about following the rules and living by codes that you expect others to follow, whether its stopping for a red light, paying a toll or paying your taxes. It’s why we have a country like we do, and it is what he fought for, the process, the democratic process that provided a way for him to voice his opinion and ask for special ruling. Or, the right to move out and smoke in your own home. The home he lived in is a space in which he resides until someone else takes it, and not smoking in it gives that person the freedom to breathe cleanly.

  2. david edelstein

    i’m surprised that this is “another” way of looking at this story instead of “the only” way of looking at this story.

  3. Billy

    So there are two issues today I’m glad I do not need to rule on. These smoking violations and the upcoming vote on Syiran attack.

  4. Mark

    Be careful, Colin. This kind of thinking about rules, their applicability to all, individual responsibility to adhere to them, necessary consequences if you don’t, and the denial of “special” interest might make you a conservative. Egad!

    1. peter brush

      Progressives early in the 20th century had argued that improving the physical environment of poorer citizens would improve their quality of life and chances for success (and cause better social behavior).
      Liberal social engineers respect the rule of law if the law is aimed at “better social behavior.” If they don’t approve of the outcome, the law’s importance is much reduced. Would that we were to have someone like the Newington Housing Authority through Ms. Harvey enforcing U.S. immigration law. Would that we had someone so fastidious adhering to the limits on government action described in the U.S. Constitution.
      Mr. Nowicki’s best shot is to get himself and his wife’s self into some sort of victim category. Would the government housers allow him to smoke in his breezeway if he identified as an aborigine? Tobacco is very important in some aboriginal American cultures. How about if he were to get a sex change operation? I understand that smoking reduces the stress inherent in such
      C’mon. Let the guy smoke. Apply the excellent anti-smoking regs to new residents. Mr. Nowicki’s smoking not likely to continue more than a decade or two. God Bless him, and thanks for his service.

  5. Richard

    Nowicki should go out in style. Start smoking cigars. Cuban cigars. The embargoed ones..Either that or roll up a big Marley and apply for a medical exception.Tell them you have constant headaches from Melissa Harvey and need pain relief.

    It annoys me the waiting list for housing is so long and lists arevoften closed yet administrators have time for this stuff. No, I don’t smoke but time will cute this I’ll. I’d rather Harvey spend every waking moment lobbying for funding to whittle down the waiting lists.

    1. peter brush

      Yes; the reefer suggestion very plausible. Mr. Woznicki appears to have glaucoma to me. Maybe he can get the wife on the medical pot, too, for her alzheimer’s. It might require litigation, but I bet Wosnicki could win in one of our very fine courts, or at least postpone the eviction until smoking no longer an option, let alone a medical necessity.
      God Bless them. Thanks for his service.
      SB420 bars marijuana smoking in no smoking zones, within 1000 feet of a school or youth center except in private residences; on school buses, in a motor vehicle that is being operated, or while operating a boat. Patients are advised to be discreet or consume oral preparations in public.

  6. Privyboy

    Back down Colin. How can we expect such a war hero to have the strength and respect for his fellow man to either quit smoking or not be a burden to his fellow tenants?

  7. Jon Hendry

    Here’s a solution.

    Somebody go on eBay and buy an old phone booth. Or find someone who has one they could donate.

    Put the phone booth where he likes to smoke, close enough so that someone with limited mobility could get to it.

    Add a PVC chimney pipe that extends up well above the roof line, and a fan to pull smoke into the chimney. (Or, if the building is a hi-rise, have the pipe extend at an angle so that it ends at the regulation 10′ distance from the windows.)

    Done. It’d be useful to any resident who still smokes. The smoke would be emitted high enough to not bother any residents. It wouldn’t be terribly expensive. And it would provide a bit of shelter to the person who is smoking.

  8. T

    I think housing authorities and HOA’s are all just stuck up, grouchy, heartless people on power trips who invent menial rules for so called safety purposes. AKA the associations conveneince. I used to live in a community with an HOA and they were just a bunch of stuck up grouchy individuals on power trips who nit picked anything they could in order to charge a non compliance fine or act on an insurance incentive for more money in there pockets. If smoking was an issue in that or any complex of that nature, the best solution would be to just put a shelter of some kind in an easy to access location so that those who wish to smoke can do so without bothering anyone who may be sensitive to it. The solution was not to attempt eviction when the guy couldnt physically get the required distance away on every occasion. We lose personal freedoms every day it seems because someone finds something offensive.

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