Jackson votes to ban fireworks sales, use

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Jackson Board of Aldermen voted to ban the sale and use of fireworks, but the Monday evening decision on a verbal motion won't be the final word.

The board was wrapping up its regular meeting Monday when Mayor Barbara Lohr asked for comments from members. Ward 3 Alderman Larry Cunningham called for the vote to ban fireworks, which passed 4-2. But city attorney Tom Ludwig said Tuesday that the board will have to formally repeal the ordinance allowing fireworks sales and use during the week leading up to July 4.

"I have had this on my mind for quite a few years," Cunningham said. "I think the city is condoning selling bombs to children, and I think it is time that we quit."

Lohr said Cunningham's motion caught her by surprise. There had been no discussion of a ban in previous work sessions and the agenda did not include notice that the vote would take place.

Ward 2 Alderman David Hitt, Ward 1 Alderman Phil Penzel and Ward 4 Alderman Dale Rauh supported the action; Ward 4 Alderman Joe Bob Baker and Ward 3 Alderman Mark Dambach opposed it. Ward 1 Alderman Curt Poore and Ward 2 Alderman David Reiminger were absent.

The issue is safety, Cunningham said. "I just think it is an opportune time after the Fourth to bring it up," he said.

Lohr, who could be called on to cast the deciding vote if Poore and Reiminger oppose the ban, said she is satisfied with the ordinance as it stands. "My feeling is we had a good compromise ordinance, which we worked out with the city of Cape Girardeau, actually."

Jackson and Cape Girardeau already ban the sale or discharge of aerial fireworks such as bottle rockets. Both cities allow fireworks to be used by residents from June 27 through July 4. Cape Girardeau allows fireworks to be discharged for an hour near midnight at New Years as well.

"I did feel it was a good compromise because it still allowed those folks who wanted to have their own individual fireworks displays that opportunity," Lohr said.

Baker said the move caught him off guard. During discussions, he said he sought to wait until all eight members of the board were on hand before taking a vote.

"I think it was kind of forced down our throats, and I can't believe we did this without any public input," Baker said.

Cunningham's motion will have to be written into a formal ordinance repealing the sections of the Jackson municipal code that allow fireworks sales and use in the week leading up to Independence Day, Ludwig said. The motion approved Monday creates an ambiguous situation in city law, but there is time to resolve it, he said.

"The bottom line is we have to clean up the code if that is what the board wants to do," he said.

The fireworks ordinance in Jackson is one of the few city laws where there has been a conscious effort to keep a consistency with Cape Girardeau's ordinances, Ludwig said. That makes enforcement easier, he said.

"It is the only thing we have ever made to make them match, the logic being what good does it do to make an ordinance if you can go over and buy banned fireworks in Jackson and bring them to Cape and vice versa," Ludwig said.

When a repeal ordinance is proposed, it could move swiftly. Jackson's procedures allow an ordinance to be introduced and passed into law in a single meeting.

Penzel said he will have to hear strong arguments in order to change his mind. Penzel said he endures "a massive display in our neighborhood and every year we have to sedate our animals all week long. It even got to be so much for one of our dogs that last year we had no choice but to put him down just to save him from himself."

Penzel said the board should have allowed public input on the decision and said he would welcome that at a future meeting.

When the issue comes up again, Baker said, he will argue for tradition and against the potential loss of revenue when temporary fireworks stands are banned. "What we did was allow four people to decide if we will have fireworks in Jackson. To me, that was wrong."

But Cunningham said neither tradition nor revenue is a good enough reason to continue allowing the sale or discharge of fireworks. "I think from a safety issue that doesn't even have any bearing on it."

rkeller@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

101 Court St., Jackson MO

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