Council OK's fireworks plan despite fired up crowd

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Elizabethton City Council dropped a bombshell most residents heard coming for a month.
   Council members voted 4-3 to legalize the seasonal sale and use of fireworks within city limits at Thursday night's council meeting. Elizabethton now joins Mountain City as the only two municipalities in Northeast Tennessee where seasonal fireworks use is permitted.
   The ordinance lit a fuse under several Elizabethton residents who spoke out against the ordinance during public hearing. Citizens against the ordinance cited safety concerns, diminished property values and the smack of infamy associated with legalizing fireworks.
   "We have fireworks in the middle of the street," said Linda Bowman, of Bradley Street. She said that, if the ordinance passed, citizens would lose any right to complain. "You have no recourse because, it's legal!"
   The ordinance allows the seasonal selling and discharge of fireworks from June 20 to July 5, and Dec. 10 through Jan. 2 every year. Fireworks may be discharged between 12 noon and 11 p.m. with the only exception being the New Year's holiday when the time limit extends to 12:30 a.m. on New Year's Day.
   The year-round sale of fireworks is prohibited by the ordinance. However, the ordinance does not specifically ban the use of fireworks year round -- a fact acknowledged by city attorney Roger Day and railed against by Carl Peters of East H Street. Peters voiced his opposition to the ordinance citing safety factors and liability issues that could come back to haunt the city.
   Other citizens were incredulous the council would vote not to heed the advice of city fire department officials against the dangers of legalizing fireworks.
   "We elected you to watch over and protect the general welfare of this city and this ordinance is what we get!" asked Barbara Bradshaw of West G Street. "Elizabethton does not need to be in the business of fireworks.
   "Children don't deserve to be injured ... when you vote for this ordinance, you have advocated that."
   Richard Kyte, an Elizabethton resident and 26-year veteran of the Johnson City Fire Department, echoed the sentiments made by Elizabethton Fire Chief Mike Shouse.
   "I have seen what fireworks can do to children, and setting other people's roofs on fire," said Kyte who recommended the council defer the ordinance until gathering more facts.
   The ordinance did have one supporter who spoke before the council. John Clark of Burgie Street said fireworks caused far fewer accidents and deaths than other forms of recreation.
   "I have four children and they love fireworks," said Clark. "I am for the ordinance."
   Clark said he had approached two council members last year about changing the fireworks ban after he received a citation from Elizabethton police for possessing fireworks. Police Chief Roger Deal said his department had received 9 calls between July 1 and July 8 about fireworks being discharged.
   Mayor Pro Tem Sam Shipley moved to approve the ordinance and received a second from Councilman Richard Sammons. Both voted yes as did council members Nancy Alsup and Mayor Sam LaPorte. Council members Pat "Red" Bowers, Bill Carter and Janie Smith McKinney voted no.
   Shipley said he had conducted his own research and found the Sycamore Shoals emergency room reported treating no fireworks-related mishaps during the recent Fourth of July holiday. Prior to casting the deciding vote, LaPorte stated to the council: "If it becomes clear that it's a mistake, we will know it and we will correct it."
   The council also approved on second reading and final approval several other ordinances.
   * The rezoning of property located at 215 East C Street from R-2 residential to B-2 arterial business. The 215 E. C St. is owned by the Happy Valley Credit Union, which is seeking to develop a parking area across from its location. Council voted 6-0-1 with Shipley abstaining.
   * The rezoning of a parcel of property on East C St. between Lynn Ave. and Elm St. from R-2 residential to B-2 arterial business. The rezoning was requested by Citizens Bank for future expansion. Council voted 6-0-1 with LaPorte abstaining.
   * Council voted 7-0 on three ordinances adopting new fee schedules for property development requests submitted to the city's department of planning and development.
   * Council voted 7-0 to accept the bid submitted by Ward Construction to demolish property located at 230 N. Riverside Road. The demolition and site grading is part of a federal hazard mitigation grant award to the city. Ward Construction won approval with a low bid of $3,432 over the projects only other bidder, Keith Hughes Construction Co., which submitted a bid of $5,500.
   * Approved an ordinance restricting use of portable carports to the side or rear yards of residences. City building officials had expressed their displeasure about regulating carports that were placed in front yards, violating the city's property use ordinance pertaining to the minimum distance a structure can be placed from a property line.
   The council also voted 6-1 with McKinney voting no to eliminate the two percent discount given to citizens who pay their property tax within the same month in which they are billed. Eliminating the discount will effectively save the city $20,000. The resolution was factored in to balancing the city's 2003-2004 budget.