MASON CITY – The Mason City council discussed the City’s fireworks ordinance with law enforcement after calls to police skyrocketed this year.
According to City meeting minutes:
The City Council of the City of Mason City, Iowa, met in Worksession pursuant to law and rules of said Council, in the Mason City Room of the Mason City Public Library, at 6:00 P.M., on July 21, 2020. Due to COVID-19, the meeting was held as a virtual meeting via Zoom. The meeting was called to order by the Mayor and on roll being called there were present, Bill Schickel, Mayor in the Chair, and the following Council Members: Thoma, Symonds, Masson, Lee, Adams. Absent: Jaszewski (arrived at 6:25 p.m.).
1. Discussion of Fireworks: Administrator Burnett stated the City had typically had Worksessions after the 4th of July since the State allowed the sale of fireworks and asked the Police and Fire Chief to provide comments.
Police Chief Brinkley provided a chart outlining a summary of calls for service for the months of June and July over the past three years. He referred to the month of July stating the calls for service on July 3rd were down based off 2018 and 2019 however, for July 4th they were up, noting that calls for service were up all across Iowa for this year. He explained officers had issued 14 warnings in the month of June and people were typically sited on the 2nd offense. He also pointed out the complaints this year far outweighed other years and thought it sounded like a war zone in some areas of town. He relayed four possible solutions which were as follows:
1. Have police officers issue citations in all cases identified party discharges fireworks rather than waiting for the second offense.
2. Lobby the State legislature to allow cities themselves to determine if fireworks could be sold in their community.
3. Prohibit the sale or discharge of fireworks entirely in Mason City.
4. Require some additional training, insurance, or permitting to allow the use of consumer fireworks in the City limits
5. Lobby the State legislature to ask the State Fire Marshal’s office to reclassify what is a consumer grade firework.
Fire Chief Bullinger stated he was surprised with what was out there now pertaining to consumer grade fireworks, but emphasized the city could not make their own grade or redefine consumer grade fireworks. He stated he had polled 20 other Fire Chiefs in the State and it sounded like it was the same elsewhere with regards to sounding like a war zone. He advised they had had fewer calls this year and looking at the statistics, he did not think just having a ban on fireworks would mean fewer calls.
Mayor Schickel asked how many fire calls there were with Bullinger stating 5 and they were all related to discarded material and only two out of the five were during the allowed time and dates.
Mayor Schickel asked if the City had the authority to require people to have training with Burnett stating he believed that could open the City up to litigation.
Thoma asked if there were any calls related to PTSD with Brinkley stating a couple neighbors had commented on that, but were more concerned about their pets and Burnett stating he had a gentleman contact him who had gone to the hospital for breathing difficulties.
Masson talked about banning this in the City limits and wondered about outside the City limits with Schickel stating that he would be surprised if the County reversed their ban on fireworks and opened it back up.
Masson referred to Clear Lake with Schickel stating they could not ban the sale, however they could ban the use of fireworks.
Masson asked if the City were to ban the sale what would happen with the Mayor stating the State would trump us and we would lose.
Masson asked what was needed to better help the Police Department enforce this with Brinkley stating it was up to the Council as to how many officers they wanted him to have on staff for this, adding it was a low priority and sometimes they just ran out of staff because they were on other calls, but they could certainly beef up the overtime and/or change the fine.
Further discussion followed regarding what evidence an officer needed to write a citation and what happened if they went to court.
6:25 Jaszewski entered the meeting.
Jaszewski asked if the Council could write a letter to the State legislature to repeal the law with the Mayor stating that could certainly be done and obviously lobbying was a great avenue.
Jaszewski asked if the Iowa League of Cities would be interested in lobbying on our behalf with Burnett stating they had lobbied very hard on this.
Further discussion followed regarding how much revenue this brought in.
Adams stated this was not going to change at the State level so it was up to the City to figure out a solution and asked if there had been any citations this year with Brinkley stating there were 111 calls last year and 260 calls this year, however there were no repeat violators.
Adams questioned how our City Code compared to others with Burnett stating he had talked to other City Managers and they were getting the same type of phone calls across the state and commented on how some cities were writing this as a Criminal versus a Municipal Infraction and how difficult that was, stressing our City Code format was better and a lot of cities were moving in that direction because they could write a ticket.
Adams asked about having a permitting process with Burnett stating he could research that, however the biggest problem was people disregarding the rules.
Adams pointed out some people would obtain a permit if it was offered and also emphasized he completely supported issuing citations right away rather than waiting for the second offense.
Lee stated he believed the Ordinance was fine the way it was and he would support writing citations immediately and agreed this past year it sounded like a war zone, but reiterated he was not in favor of changing the Ordinance unless it pertained to the issuance of citations immediately.
Symonds asked if they thought the pandemic contributed to the number of calls and the noise with Brinkley agreeing stating that and the stimulus checks and Bullinger stating without the community fireworks this year more people were buying their own.
Symonds asked if officers had discretion or wanted discretion regarding the ticket or if it was a flat $250.00 with Brinkley stating it was set at $250.00 and he would recommend leaving it that way.
Masson emphasized that just because there was “X” amount of complaints it shouldn’t be taken as if everyone was against fireworks, stressing the number of people in town versus the percentage of complaints should be considered with Thoma concurring stating there was a lot of people who enjoyed fireworks and the Council should be reasonable about this.
Jaszewski stated he was in support of issuing a citation on the first violation and to inform people that that was going to happen.
The Mayor concluded the meeting by advising the Council that if they had any further recommendations or changes to the Ordinance they could take that to the City Administrator for consideration at a future Council Meeting.