At the Deer Park City Council meeting on October 17th, Dee Cragun introduced a motion to seek the ban of fireworks at the earliest possible date. Don Stevens seconded the motion, and after brief comments were made by each council member the motion was passed by a 3-2 vote. Then the real fireworks began.
3 Voted To Ban Fireworks: Dee Cragun, Mary Babb, Don Stevens
2 Voted To Keep Fireworks Legal: Richie Schut, Joe Polowski
Samantha Shively, a concerned local citizen, asked if public comments were allowed in this portion of the meeting, and proceeded to share her opinion that fireworks should not be banned in Deer Park. Robert Whisman, previous 3-term mayor of Deer Park, continued her line of reasoning and spoke passionately in favor of protecting citizen rights.
Councilman Schut reminded the council of Sheriff Knezovich’s previous testimony, as the sheriff promised an increase in the enforcement of current law (there has been no enforcement in recent years), and urged the council to give the sheriff time to act before making radical changes.
One point of contention throughout the debate was the Mayor’s informal survey that was distributed along with the water bill several months ago. Councilwoman Cragun relied upon the survey’s results to support her motion in favor of a ban as well an appeal to public health and safety, but both citizens and other council members had concerns about the validity of the survey and thought that the public safety concerns were already well-addressed by current law.
Shively shared how many of Deer Park’s younger residents rent their homes or apartments, and as such rarely see their water bill, and thus were excluded from the survey. Councilman Schut also pointed to a difficulty within the format of the survey when he said that, “younger people just don’t fill out paper surveys”. Schut’s review of several online surveys showed him that the under-55 demographic seemed overwhelmingly in favor of retaining their right to purchase and use fireworks, while the city’s survey was primarily returned by people over 55 years of age.
Councilman Polowski voted against a ban on fireworks and has his own issue with the city’s survey. As a homeowner and a small-business owner he received two copies of the survey (he stated that he only turned one in). A further complication arises when the survey is read closely: the pro-fireworks votes are split into two camps, one to retain current regulations and one that would keep fireworks legal but on fewer days, and when those responses are added together there is a clear majority in favor of keeping some fireworks usage legal in Deer Park. Thus Cragun’s reading of the survey results, showing a majority of responses in favor of a complete ban may be due to faulty question design rather than actual public opinion.
The Deer Park Gazette ran a poll on its own website at dpgazette.com/fireworkspoll which has received ninety-nine votes (as of Oct. 18th) with 72% against a fireworks ban. This poll avoided some of the errors in the mayor’s survey (we used simpler questions) but has fewer overall responses and is only available online.
As a result of the council’s motion and following discussion, City Attorney Charles Zimmerman is drafting two possible ordinances for the council’s consideration. One version is simple: a complete ban on the sale and use of fireworks. The second version would aim for a compromise: both the sale and use of fireworks would still be legal, but for a much shorter period of time than the seven (for sale) and four (for use) days currently allowed. For either ordinance to become law, it must be read aloud at three public meetings (unless readings are waived by vote of the council) and then voted on again by the city council.
Public comment is usually encouraged on the second reading of a proposed ordinance, so if you are interested in sharing your opinion with the council, then follow us at fb.me/deerparkgazette for the announcement of those public readings.