Commissioners agreed Tuesday that someone needs the authority to ban the sale and use of fireworks in emergency situations, and they also agreed that floating “sky lanterns” should be prohibited.
That authority apparently will rest with the city’s mayor, acting in consultation with appointed city officials. Mayor Loren Pepperd proposed that the prohibitory power go to an elected official in consultation with the fire chief and city administrators. He said city staffers did not need to deal with the public should the ban of the sales and use of fireworks upset the public in an emergency situation.
The rest of the commission, except commissioner Jim Sherow, said they would support Pepperd’s proposal. Sherow wanted a total ban on fireworks in the city.
The proposal informally agreed to by commissioners still must be drafted into the form of an ordinance, and must be accepted at a formal commission meeting before it becomes law.
Even if that happens, it’s not clear how much actual impact the ordinance will have. Since the ordinance would only apply in declared emergencies, the mayor would have to make a finding that dangerous conditions — presumably drought, although the specifics were not discussed Tuesday — require such a prohibition. That possibility was widely discussed just this past July.
Beyond that is the question of how such a prohibition would be enforced, especially if it was imposed after fireworks sales have already begun.
Brad Schoen, director of the Riley County Police Department, acknowledged that even current city ordinances — as well as state laws banning the setting off of fireworks in city streets — are not being enforced. He said they still receive complaints of people shooting off fireworks between midnight and 8 a.m., a violation under the city code, and said many people shoot fireworks off in the street.
Commissioner Wynn Butler suggested the city allow shooting of fireworks in cul-de-sacs or on quiet side streets.
Pepperd said he thought about that as well, but noted the existence of the state law.
Schoen told commissioners that even if the commission made any ordinance banning the use of fireworks, police would not prosecute juveniles for violating that ordinance.
He said there is no place for courts to detain juvenile suspects, and added that the the court system would dismiss the cases for reasons of cost-inefficiency. Finally, he said it is hard to build a case around an empty cardboard tube.
Schoen did say the only time the department would enforce any ordinances concerning the ban or use of fireworks with juveniles was if that violation occurred in conjunction with a traffic violation, meaning any juvenile over 16 years old.
Commissioners agreed that even though it would be difficult to enforce, they wanted both the sale and use of sky floating lanterns to be banned. Several fireworks stand owners said they would not be affected with their sales if the lanterns were banned; they would just inform their distributors about the ordinance, and the distributors would not send any.
Jerry Snyder, Manhattan fire chief, predicted that the Riley County Fire Department would take whatever ordinance the city adopts to the county and ask for its adoption, helping the police department with enforcement and limiting the availability of lanterns in Riley County.
Commissioner John Matta suggested the ordinance also be changed to include an alternate day to allow people to shoot fireworks on the chance it rains on the days people are allowed to shoot them, July 1-July 4.