Fulton City Council members split Tuesday over whether to pass a proposed ordinance banning fireworks in Fulton to a second reading at the next meeting.
Mayor Lowe Cannell provided the tiebreaker vote — the ordinance will return at the Sept. 8 meeting.
Ward 2's Jeff Stone, Ward 3's John Braun and Ward 4's Rick Shiverdecker and Bob Washington all voted against passing the ordinance along to a second reading.
If passed, the ordinance contained in Bill 1588 would replace the current Section 78-112, which addresses the sale and discharge of fireworks within city limits.
The new Section 78-112 would ban the sale, possession and discharge of all fireworks within city limits, everything from mortars down to snakes, snappers and sparklers. Fireworks could be discharged only by licensed operators with a permit and the authorization of Fulton City Council.
Any person violating those requirements could be found guilty of a misdemeanor.
The introduction of this ordinance follows weeks of discussion about the "firework wars," an annual Fourth of July fireworks battle in Carver Park. Two area residents complained to the city about the battles, and Fulton police claimed the battles damage property and injure participants.
Fulton City Clerk Courtney Crowson said the ordinance was developed with input from the Missouri State Fire Marshal's Office — specifically Assistant State Fire Marshal Matt Luetkemeyer. Crowson said Luetkemeyer explained it's hard to pick and choose which fireworks to ban and which to allow; there are so many varieties, and many consumers don't understand the differences.
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"Someone mentioned keeping sparklers," Crowson said. "Well, a sparkler isn't just what we all think of, there are so many variations of it. That's why his recommendation was, it's really all or nothing. He also felt this approach was very extreme. That's why the comment was, it really needs to be you need to enforce the ordinance you have or ban it all."
That's where the Fulton City Council split Tuesday: whether to work harder to enforce Fulton's current ordinance, which already bans many aspects of the fireworks war, or to simply ban fireworks entirely.
"I believe bringing to us an ordinance to repeal our entire fireworks section is extreme, exaggerated," Stone said. "I think we should be modifying our current ordinance, enforcing our current ordinance, rather than just repealing all possession, discharge and sale of fireworks within city limits."
Braun noted Fulton's current ordinance already bans setting off fireworks in city parks.
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"I just have a real issue trying to tell 14,000 residents that because of this 100, you can't do something," Braun said.
He also raised concerns that, as currently written, Fulton residents could be charged with a misdemeanor simply for having fireworks in their car during a traffic stop for speeding — regardless of whether they intended to set the fireworks off within Fulton city limits. After some discussion, the council passed an amendment to the ordinance clarifying its possession with intent to fire the fireworks that's banned.
Fulton Police Chief Steve Myers has maintained that with as few officers as his department has, trying to stop a fireworks war in progress would mean putting his officers in danger.
"I'm pulled two ways," Washington said.
He said he understands Myers' position, but he can remember how frustrating it was as a high school basketball player when the whole team got punished for one teammate slacking off.
"I never did like that," he said. "When I became a coach, I decided, I'm not doing this. I hate to ban because of a few people. I think if we can possibly enforce, or close the park off and have a high presence of law enforcement, making sure the announcement is there that we're allowing these type of wars if we can nip it off. It's really tough."
"We need to shut it down," Ward 1's Ballard Simmons responded. "And shut it down immediately. And yeah, we're going to be impacting a lot more people. Hopefully we can take care of it and then relax the restrictions."
Ward 1's Valerie Sebacher took a different tack.
"We're not here to punish people, we're here to put laws and ordinances in place to protect them," she said. "It's the language of the narrative. This isn't a punishment, this is our responsibility and duty. I had multiple fireworks hit the roof of my house, and I live on Grand Street — I'm nowhere near the fireworks war. It takes one to burn down my house."
Discussion regarding the ordinance will continue during the Sept. 8 Fulton City Council meeting.