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Modest Stevens' impact seen in smoking ban, Sunday drinking

David Stevens isn't exactly a household name in Lexington, but the modest man's work has had a huge impact on the city.

Thanks largely to Stevens, Lexingtonians can drink a little longer on Sundays but can't light up a cigarette inside a workplace.

Stevens, 79, leaves the Urban County Council this month after 15 years.

He has served three terms as an at-large councilman and one term as the District 5 representative. He chose not to seek re-election for his district seat.

He has been involved in many of the major initiatives in Lexington over the last 15 years.

Stevens pushed to extend the hours of Sunday alcohol sales and expanded who was eligible to sell. He helped develop the city's farmland preservation program, the Town & Gown Commission and ethics code.

But what he will be most remembered for is the passage and implementation of Kentucky's first smoke-free law. Since Lexington's was passed in 2003, 20 other Kentucky communities have enacted some type of a smoke-free law or regulation.

Stevens is probably the most significant Lexington figure, said former Vice Mayor Mike Scanlon.

"If you look at any councilman who has ever served, or any mayor who's ever served, I don't think that there's anybody who's going to leave a bigger footprint on Lexington than David Stevens."

Stevens' departure will leave very large shoes to fill because of his institutional knowledge of Lexington dating back to the writing of the city-county charter, Scanlon said. "The council changes all the damn time, but the government is going to be changing because David's leaving."

Last month, the council approved the first revision to Lexington's smoking ban.

Stevens engineered the revision, which extended the ban to all workplaces, not just those open to the public, and closed a loophole that had allowed smoking in bingo halls.

"Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights calls Lexington's law the shot heard round the world," said Ellen Hahn, director of the Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy. "It was so landmark because this region, including the other tobacco states, really lagged behind the rest of the country."

Many people think the smoking ban was his biggest accomplishment while on council, Stevens said. While it certainly got the most attention, "the other things are of equal importance."

The parks master plan he worked on with former Councilwoman Sandy Shafer was important even though the city has never been able give parks enough funding, Stevens said.

Much of his work on council was done with a vision for Lexington that's 50 years out, said Councilwoman Linda Gorton. "That was obvious when he helped write the charter and helped with merger. It will take that long for much of his beautification efforts on the city's corridors to grow."

In addition to the legislation he sponsored, Stevens will be remembered for his dry wit. He has a penchant for delivering a well-timed one-liner.

For example, during Stevens' final budget and finance committee meeting last Tuesday, the council discussed the city's projected budget shortfall in the next fiscal year.

"I will be happy to forgo any salary for next year," Stevens said to a round of chuckles.

Stevens plans to remain active in the community and city government despite his retirement from the council.

He wants to continue his work on the corridors committee, including a project to add sidewalks to Tates Creek Road from Lakewood Drive to New Circle Road. Neighbors are opposed to the idea.

"I'm determined to get those sidewalks down Tates Creek," he said.

Also, he wants to complete a project he began several years ago to document discussions that took place on the commission that drafted the city's charter. He had the audio tapes from those meetings transcribed, but still has to review the tapes to identify the speakers, he said.

Outside of city government, Stevens will continue on as the president of the Blue Grass Council of the Boy Scouts of America and board chairman of the Kentucky Blood Center. He also wants to finish fund-raising for a children's garden at the Arboretum on Alumni Drive.

His one regret while on the council was not pushing as hard as he could have for a dedicated tax for the parks department. When parks explored the idea six years ago, Stevens was running for his third term as an at-large councilman.

"I thought if I spent all my time working on the parks referendum, I might not get re-elected," Stevens said. "I feel kind of bad about that. I let the people in the parks down."

Being on the council is a lot like playing a game of golf, Stevens said.

"When you play a game of golf, you're only going to hit three or four perfect shots out of the 70 in every round," he said. "It's the same on the council, you know, you're not going to hit every one just right."

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