Emergency authority is one option as city re-visits fireworks issue

By Burk Krohe

Fireworks have been a hot topic in Manhattan the last few years, and now city commissioners look poised to make changes in the city’s fireworks regulations.

Tuesday’s discussion stemmed from a Fourth of July season that saw a tripling in fireworks-related incidents and significant loss of property, including a $340,000 house.

Commissioners were uninterested in an outright ban, to the relief of organizations that run fireworks stands for fundraising purposes. There wasn’t strong support to amend fireworks sale dates (June 27 to July 5) or discharge dates (July 1 to July 4), either. But a majority of commissioners favored considering an amendment that would give the city authority to declare an emergency ban on the discharge of fireworks, although there was disagreement as to how it would be handled.

Commissioner John Matta agreed that the power to enact an emergency ban is an intelligent step, but he felt that decision should be in the hands of the City Commission. Matta said commissioners should make the decision because there is too much delegation in government.

“I think it’s the responsibility of elected officials,” Matta said.

The remaining commissioners thought otherwise. Mayor Loren Pepperd and Jim Sherow suggested that fire chief Jerry Snyder make the determination on any potential bans.

“We should set a policy that gives the fire chief the ability to establish a ban,” Sherow said.

Commissioner Wynn Butler said he generally agreed with Matta’s sentiments but said in some cases it’s better to have a person with all the facts and expertise make the decision. He added the person making the decision should also have a vested interest.

“Those things cause me to lean a little bit away from what John said,” Butler said. “As long as the person it’s delegated to has the expertise and has the responsibility and knows what he’s doing, I think maybe a better decision can be made.”

Commissioner Rich Jankovich also said the city should consider limiting the sale of aerial fireworks that launch more than six feet in the air.

Sherow agreed, saying that in his own neighborhood he saw people lighting fireworks in the middle of the street that exploded in the branches of trees and over roofs—a dangerous situation considering the exceptionally dry summer.

His comments touched on the problem of enforcement. Commissioners and Snyder noted that enforcement becomes a problem because it’s hard to determine exactly who set off what. Residents in attendance who favored an outright ban due to increasing safety concerns said they felt as if they had no recourse when observing such behavior.

Commissioners questioned Snyder about the ability of the Riley County Police Department to increase its presence on July 1 through July 4. Brad Schoen, RCPD director, was not present to speak to the question, and Snyder said he couldn’t speak for the RCPD.

Pepperd advised city staff to draft preliminary language and asked that Schoen be present during the next meeting to explore the enforcement issue.

Terms of Service | Privacy Policy | The Manhattan Mercury, 318 North 5th Street, Manhattan, Kansas, 66502 | Copyright 2016