Special to The Gardner News
Gardner City Council held a lengthy discussion about reevaluating the city fireworks ordinance at their July 6 meeting.
Jennifer Smith, Gardner resident, addressed the council about the effects of the fireworks on people with neurological issues during the public comment section.
“We as a community have to think about and look at accountability,” she said. “We have to look at what happens to citizens, too.”
Smith said she gave kudos to the city for their outstanding weekend events with the Fourth of July holiday and the KC Air Show. “It’s a huge win for Gardner and the community,” she said.
Smith said she didn’t want to be a “Debbie downer,” but there were days fireworks were utilized that they weren’t supposed to be shot off. “Gardner Police Department was stretched thinner than thin slice pizza,” she said.
Smith said she wanted veterans with PTSD and citizens with neurological issues to be considered, and she didn’t like seeing her 78 year old neighbor on his roof cleaning up firework debris. “There are consequences to good stuff,” she said.
City council members decided to reevaluate the city’s fireworks ordinance and consider changing the days for fireworks sales and shooting off fireworks.
James Belcher, police chief, said fireworks education had been available through a lot of social media blasts.
“A lot of it comes down to accountability,” he said. “We were vastly outnumbered, and we rely on citizens to do the right thing,” he said.
Belcher said he would have the police department reevaluate and try to make changes.
Steve Shute, mayor, said a huge issue had been people shooting fireworks on private lots including the parking lot of the old Price Chopper. “Right next to the firework stand and one went into the tent,” he said. “That person needed to be cited for incredibly dangerous criminal negligence.”
Belcher said the problem they run into is officers are observing fireworks mishandling as they are headed to disturbance calls that take more precedence.
Shute said it was a tough nut to crack but was upset thinking about how bad it could have been if the firework had gone off inside the fireworks tent at the old Price Chopper parking lot.
Belcher said it would have been considered a serious criminal investigation.
Shute said Johnson County Sheriff’s deputies had been sent out but reported back they couldn’t do anything. “Maybe we need better communication with Johnson County,” he said. “We absolutely can’t tolerate jeopardizing private property.”
Belcher said they knew 4th of July was coming and did the best they could, but would reevaluate and tweak for next year’s holiday.
Shute said he understood it had been a squeeze on the department with the air show, traffic control and regular weekend activities.
Tory Roberts, council member, said it had been a fantastic weekend in Gardner, and she wasn’t anti-fireworks.
“It’s worth a revisit,” she said. “It seems like we went from 0 to 100 like that.”
Randy Gregorcyk, council member, said the weekend between Celebration Park and the KC Airshow had been America at its best.
“I’m pro-fireworks, but we could take a look at controllable factors,” he said. “Try to understand how to improve the celebration without diminishing it.”
Shute said it was about citizens having common courtesy and respect for each other.
Todd Winters, council president, said he wanted to know when the fireworks decisions were typically made.
Belcher said the decisions are made through the citizens’ police advisory committee, and they had decided a few years ago to make the dates constant and unchanging – from July 3 through July 5 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
“Every year it is constant, so there is no confusion,” he said.
Belcher said they receive feedback every year from people upset about the length of time for firework sales which start on June 28. “It’s not a police department decision,” he said.
Shute said there needed to be balance because firework stands won’t make as much business if they only sell on days that fireworks can be shot.
Jim Pruetting, city administrator, said Gardner has one day less of fireworks sales than the state allows.
Shute said they could evaluate days and times fireworks are allowed to be shot. “A lot of people are jerks, but we can’t cut the leg off the sellers,” he said.
Gregorcyk said he understood balance but wasn’t worried about the economics of firework sellers. “The trash in this community was immense,” he said.
Gregorcyk said he knows they are making sales revenue from firework sales but wanted to understand changes that could be made.
Shute said when citizens aren’t being responsible they have a problem. “People are being inconsiderate,” he said. “If they can’t be responsible it gets taken away.”
Shute said it was more unifying to have fireworks in the city. “With those rights come personal responsibility,” he said.
Roberts said she worries about rain, and the fireworks washing into and clogging up the storm sewers. “I hope there is education about cleaning up after themselves,” she said. “Social media did get out there.”
Mark Baldwin, council vice president, said there had been several social media posts and realistically he didn’t see sale dates changing, but they could revisit shooting dates.
“It doesn’t change people adhering,” he said. “We are going to have outliers, and the PD was stretched thin with more pressing needs.”
Baldwin said they can’t stop everyone. “It all comes down to people—don’t do dumb things,” he said. “At the end of the day it is about people being courteous.”
Baldwin said the weekend had been well received, and there were two sides to every coin.
Roberts said she wanted to know if they thought 11 p.m. was too late, and they could adjust times.
Baldwin said they are always trying to capture the weekend without effecting workers.
Roberts said she thought 11 p.m. seemed late.
Shute said night hours are already restricted because of daylight and longer days.
Kacy Deaton, council member, said when she served on the Citizen’s Police Advisory Committee the one public comment they had received at the time was to keep everything consistent.
Belcher said the time curfew from 10 years ago to today had no effect on people’s behavior. “Those that don’t care don’t care,” he said.
Belcher said he agreed with Baldwin that people aren’t thinking of others. “It was ridiculous here 10 years ago when it was illegal,” he said.
Shute and Belcher said most fireworks ceased about 11:15 p.m.
Winters said he would rather see the fireworks shooting dates July 2 to July 4. “I don’t understand the 5th,” he said. “I’d rather lead up and be done.”
Winters said he didn’t know if cutting the stands sales a day or two short would hurt sales and favored ending on the fourth.
Baldwin said looking at the call logs the stats for the first night of fireworks shooting was ridiculous. “Are these the people just wanting to break rules just because or they need more education,” he said.
Belcher said it was about respect and following the ordinance. “Wish there was an answer,” he said. “I wish I had it.”
Gregorcyk said he would like to hear from citizens and challenges both sides to attend meetings including city council. “I can’t legislate respect, accountability or relationships with neighbors,” he said.
Roberts suggested a fireworks survey sent out. “It’s going to be hard to get people to come to meetings,” she said.
Shute said he would suggest a town hall at CPAC.
Pruetting said a town hall would give a skewed view point and an anonymous survey would be a lot broader.
Jennifer Smith said she would like to see the disability communities and other communities considered more. “You forget the older community that doesn’t have computers or phones,” she said.
Smith said people want people to celebrate but held accountable. “There is a lot to accommodate everyone including animals,” she said.
Baldwin said he wanted to know what more could be done for accountability.
Smith said she would take fireworks away and suggested citizens have to have a registered permit and sign in their yard to shoot fireworks, because so many daily things already require permits.
“People are moving out of Gardner because of this, and people are coming here from out of town and out of state for one weekend because of this,” she said.
Smith said she wanted to protect citizens that need protected and suggested more education possibly through a volunteer group by Gardner Police Department.
Roberts said it was good to revisit after five years.
Shute said they would revisit ordinance modifications to discharge or sell. “I don’t think Jennifer wants them banned just balance and managed better with more control,” he said.
All council members and staff praised the KC Air Show success during council updates.
Shute said he received positive feedback, and people were shocked about what a great community Gardner is.
“It was the biggest weekend in the history of our city,” he said.
This year, Gardner had 10 fireworks vendors and collected $10,000 in permit fees.
Although sales tax revenue for this year is not yet available, in 2020 Gardner received about $10,800 in sales tax.
The Gardner Police Department received 28 calls for service on fireworks in 2021; no tickets were issued, but 31 warnings were.
There were no major incidents regarding fires reported to the GPD.
(Gardner currently has a fireworks survey online.)