The trouble with those newfangled, modular partitions in the Baltimore County government offices is that they don't stop cigarette smoke, according to Councilman Melvin G. Mintz and county union leaders.
Consequently, when county workers light up in their "private" offices, the smoke spreads to nonsmokers sitting nearby.
Complaints about smoking in office buildings have been constant since 1987, when the county banned smoking in public areas of county buildings. Mr. Mintz, the 2nd District Democrat who sponsored the 1987 law, is ready to act on those complaints.
Tomorrow, the council will vote on and likely approve his suggestion to eliminate the exemption allowing smoking in certain bathrooms.
Also, Mr. Mintz and Councilman Donald C. Mason, D-7th, are embarking on a one-year effort to eliminate smoking in all county offices, including private work cubicles.
Leaders of the county's major labor groups discussed the plan yesterday and said they support its goal. They also said the plan's gradual approach could minimize complaints without being too sudden or arbitrary.
It would give smokers time to adjust, or even quit smoking.
Mr. Mintz said he hopes County Executive Roger B. Hayden will ban smoking in all county office buildings next fall.
Meanwhile, some differences of opinion will have to be resolved.
Kevin O'Connor, president of Local 1311 of the International Association of Firefighters, opposes any smoking ban in county firehouses, but supports banning smoking in office buildings.
"We don't want an edict," he said.
County Administrative Officer Merreen E. Kelly has banned smoking in the Public Safety Building because of poor ventilation.
Edward M. Pedrick Jr., president of Local 921 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and an avid nonsmoker, said he brought fellow union member Gary Weese to yesterday's meeting to help his credibility with smokers in AFSCME. Mr. Weese smokes more than two packs a day.
Mr. Pedrick said he favors county health programs to help workers kick the smoking habit. Similar programs already are in place for workers with weight-control problems.
The gradual nature of Mr. Mintz's plan contrasts with the administrative order signed this month by Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy.
That order bans smoking in all Maryland court facilities starting tomorrow.