In a stunning setback for Thurston County Commissioner Romero, Wolfe (and Thurston County Commissioner candidate Jim Cooper), a total fireworks ban was not passed at Monday night’s hearing to ban fireworks throughout the county. Approximately 50 residents attended the fireworks ban hearing and the majority of people who testified were strongly against the proposed Fireworks ban.
Unusually, for this type of hearing, Kiro7 News was there and local media at the hearing imposed additional pressure and in a rare change of direction, Thurston County Commissioner Romero bailed out on the fireworks ban and let Commissioner Wolfe take the lone “total fireworks ban” vote. A vote for “option 2” passed unanimously instead, which basically allows the Thurston County Commission to ban fireworks only under emergency situations and only if there is a burn ban in effect, but serious process questions remain about even this final decision.
Even by Thurston County standards, staff was unusually disorganized and almost completely unprepared for this topic, which was obviously rushed without much preparation or thought. Commissioner Bud Blake asked the staff many questions at the public hearing, and the answers did not reflect well on the Thurston County planning process.
Here are examples of some of these questions asked by Commissioner Blake and answered by interim County Manager Ramiro Chavez (now that former county manager Cliff Moore has fled for the browner pastures of the City of Yakima) and Brent Butler of Central Planning (euphemistically called “Resource Stewardship”) :
Q: Did staff take a public survey to get public sentiment on this issue? – Answer: No
Q: Was any consideration for an initiative to the people considered so they could vote on a fireworks ban themselves (like the City of Olympia did a few years ago)? – Answer: No
Q: Was there any discussion with police on how to enforce a ban? – Answer: No
Q: Was there any discussion with the fire chiefs or fire departments on this issue? – Answer: No
Q: Was there any conversation with the Tribes and how to influence the fireworks they already sell, which are illegal in Thurston County (even though we all use them anyway because they are way more awesome)? – Answer: No
After numerous other questions asked by Commissioner Bud Blake which clearly indicated staff wasn’t prepared, the real bombshell came when staff revealed that they were still making changes to the proposed ordinance, and that the commissioners hadn’t even seen the final version (which meant neither had anyone else, including the public who commented by email or came to testify). To cap off the lack of preparation, staff had failed to ensure a county attorney attend the meeting, so legal ignorance shrouded the proceedings as the hearing fumbled on in a fog of confusion…
This is keystone cops style local government, and while it is business as usual for Commissioner Wolfe and Romero who didn’t seem to notice, Commissioner Bud Blake was embarrassed. They all should have been embarrassed. Jon Pettit, independant candidate for Thurston County Commissioner attended the hearing and testified in opposition along with numerous other attendees. Of the five candidates for Commissioner (position 1), he was the only one in attendance at this hearing.
Jim Cooper wants a total ban on fireworks, but it looks like he is going to have to do it himself rather than use the Wolfe/Romero Duopoly to do his work for him. This assumes he can convince the voters to elect him county wide, and the voters have four other choices in the primary.
This hearing was another reminder that the future belongs to those who show up. Citizens who emailed and spoke at this hearing did have an impact. Despite the fumbling and incompetence which has been a signature feature of the Thurston County Commission for many years now, even disastrous politicians like Sandra Romero can change their mind in the face of reality. Nothing is certain, and we can make a difference. Thank you to all who cared enough to engage.
More Background on Washington State Fireworks laws:
Washington State Administrative Code on Fireworks (State Patrol)
Our Constitution begins with the phrase “we the people.” It was the founder’s intent that government be created by the people, to serve the people. It wasn’t their intention for the people to serve the government. It was always intended that government which failed to serve the people should be “altered or abolished.” Until we return to the founder’s intent, we remain We the Governed…