City Council narrowly passes fireworks possession ordinance

Monday, October 1, 2012 | 11:04 p.m. CDT; updated 11:46 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, October 2, 2012

COLUMBIA — As East Campus resident Sarah Smith walked to the front of the Columbia City Council chambers, she held up a plastic bag filled to the brim with the chalky gray residue of discharged fireworks. 

"This is only a third of what I picked up the other afternoon," Smith said. "When I do flower gardening, I literally pull hundreds of these out of my gardens."

Smith was one of more than a dozen people to speak out Monday night about a proposed ordinance prohibiting the possession of fireworks within city limits, which the City Council narrowly approved 4-3 later in the evening. The ordinance goes into effect immediately.

The council also voted 5-2 to exclude sparklers from the fireworks regulations in the city code, an amendment introduced during the meeting by Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe.

Capt. Brian Richenberger, representing the Columbia Police Department, said the police had received 4,500 fireworks-related calls since 2007 but, in comparison, had  made only 58 arrests. He said officers rarely find people in the act of setting off fireworks and that made the city code difficult to enforce. 

Bob Gerau, owner of Bob's Fireworks, condemned the ordinance. He said Missouri permitted the sale and discharge of fireworks under certain conditions and said five other states were adopting a more firework-friendly approach. 

"I personally shot fireworks for 65 years," Gerau said. "I look at this ordinance, and I say, 'My God, name me another city that has an ordinance like this.'"

MU sophomore Jeremy Brant agreed, arguing that simply having fireworks in one's vehicle should not be an issue.

"Possession is not a means of arrest," Brant said. "I urge you all to vote no."

The amendments received plenty of support, however, from residents in the East Campus neighborhood, who said the sound of exploding fireworks often kept them up at unwelcome hours of the night. 

Bonnie Bourne said she thinks the proposed amendments would give the police more tools to crack down on violators, adding that the lack of sleep has affected her mood and productivity.

"I'm not proud of what happens in our neighborhood at night," she said.

Mayor Bob McDavid, Fourth Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley and Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl provided the three dissenting votes against the possession ordinance. McDavid and Dudley were particularly concerned about the ordinance's potential to affect people simply passing through the city.

"I don’t think it’ll change behavior," McDavid added. "College students are college students."

Gerau said he had expected the ordinance to pass but insisted he wasn't overly concerned about the police pulling over his fireworks stand customers.

"They've got bigger fish to fry," he said.

Supervising editor is Zach Murdock.

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Tracy Greever-Rice October 2, 2012 | 7:13 a.m.

"I don’t think it’ll change behavior," McDavid added. "College students are college students." (& isn't predominantly 'boys' who set these things off??? just asking.)

WOW!!! That's an AMAZING quote. Guess we can suspend liquor enforcement activities, stop patrolling downtown Columbia on the weekend, and close Kim Dude's office at MU altogether.

I don't remember quite the same attitude of 'kids will be kids' during a knock-out round a few years ago. I guess when people whom McDavid cares about are hurt, the whole population's civil rights should be suspended to right a wrong, but when residents of historic neighborhoods are continuously harassed by the bad behavior of immature, unsupervised children - to heck with them.

And, no, Mr. Dudley, there won't be any firework possession road blocks set up. No law abiding I-70 driver need re-route through Chillicothe to avoid the CoMo police state. But drunken frat bros shooting mortars off at 3 a.m. on Tuesday morning might finally have to behave like decent human beings to their neighbors.

The split on this vote (and rationale for voting) perfectly captures all that's right and wrong in our little burg.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams October 2, 2012 | 9:28 a.m.

The split on this vote (and rationale for voting) perfectly captures all that's right and wrong in our little burg.

I'm gratified that we have progressive elites that can clearly and accurately...the type of uniformity needed to make all things correct in our own little commune.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking October 2, 2012 | 9:32 a.m.

Tracy Greever-Rice wrote:

"Guess we can suspend liquor enforcement activities,"

Until chronic violators start getting their liquor licenses suspended, liquor enforcement is de facto suspended. There's too much money in serving underage patrons until they vomit for bars to turn them away. Any fines just become a cost of doing business.

"But drunken frat bros shooting mortars off at 3 a.m. on Tuesday morning might finally have to behave like decent human beings to their neighbors."

That's already illegal. I don't see this ordinance adding much to that - if someone knows it's illegal to shoot off fireworks in the city, why should they care more if it's illegal to possess them? The problem here is a lack of enforcement, not a lack of laws.


(Report Comment)
Ralph Turner October 2, 2012 | 10:48 a.m.

Foecking hits the nail on the head, "The problem is a lack of enforcement, not a lack of laws."
McDavid, Dudley and Kespohl, got it right.

(Report Comment)
Tracy Greever-Rice October 2, 2012 | 11:21 a.m.

Well, that's not what the CPD said. They reported they have received thousands of calls, but rarely luck into catching folks actually in the act. So, now they have a tool for dealing with the actual possession. It may not be a perfect step, but it affords victimized neighborhoods a shot at being able to solve a problem, rather than being told 'boys will be boys'.

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders October 2, 2012 | 11:45 a.m.

Yet another reason to avoid The Peoples' Republic of Columbia.

Anyone who believes this solves anything deserves exactly the outcome of living in a make-believe world. Unfortunately, they tend to overlap into the lives of those not so illusioned.

Oh well, at least they wasted time that could've otherwise been spent in their usual pursuit of spending money they don't have on services the public doesn't want, let alone need. All while they crow about cutting costs. I wonder, during these lean years, have they ever actually cut the overall budget? Or does it behave like any other government program, growing beyond sustainability?

Just yesterday, the City gave it's employees a $.25/hr raise. Meanwhile, that move only increases it's unfundable ponzi scheme masquerading as pension program. Yet they do it anyway, knowing full well it will bankrupt them in the future if they don't "do something."

So what do they do but to intentionally make things worse, only so they have a reason to react to later. This my friends, is the only value government provides. It's a con-game designed to pacify today while ignoring all consequences for as long as possible.

(Report Comment)

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