Who’d have thought fireworks regulation would come to symbolize the philosophical divide between city and county?
Recent trends set the stage. Discussion of rules for home wading pools and public smoking had some county magistrates complaining that their jurisdiction was becoming just like the city. It’s actually already there, with the residents of city-like subdivisions scattered over once-rural sections of the county demanding regulatory protections like those that have long been accepted by their urban friends. The difference between the two governments is quickly closing.
Last year something of a perfect storm erupted when the state legislature rescinded its ban on the sale of powerful fireworks like bottle rockets and Roman candles – formerly the objective of buying expeditions into other states. Law-abiding Kentuckians back then had to settle for relatively tame illuminations such as sparklers until the seasonal stands began hawking more potent devices last June on local shopping center parking lots.
By the Fourth of July, fireworks enthusiasts leapt into a veritable free-for-all of pyrotechnic expression. City police reported fireworks complaints more than doubled over the previous year. Sheriff Pat Melton said he received 62 calls, 10 times the usual number.
Public-safety officials here and elsewhere, ever conscious of the destructive potential even sparklers possess, feared the big bangs could lead to more serious complications. Fortunately, we made it through the holiday without reports of damage or major injuries around here. But lots of people were red hot over their peace and quiet being disrupted well past the normal hours for the celebration of American independence. Local government pondered what to do to prevent a recurrence.
After nearly a year in which fireworks took a back seat to other issues, the City Commission recently decided to reinstate its previous limitations on their sales and use. An ambivalent Fiscal Court directed County Attorney Rick Sparks to prepare an ordinance that was the same as the city’s, only different – less restrictive, that is, in keeping with the county’s more permissive leanings. But members could not agree on the proposal, so this Fourth of July season likely will be one in which the city imposes stricter rules than last year while the county does not.
Sparks, frustrated at the vagueness of the instructions he received from magistrates, said he did his best – in vain – to come up with a compromise they would find palatable. All is not lost, however. Even without a new county fireworks ordinance, there are laws already on the books – prohibiting wanton endangerment or disorderly conduct – that might be used to rein in celebrants who shoot the works at unseemly hours and/or dangerously close to neighboring homes.
Trouble is, law-enforcement authorities say they can’t charge violators without catching them in the act. Aggrieved residents have the option of swearing out warrants, but who really wants to undertake a personal court battle against the neighbors’ high-decibel patriotism?
So there we are. Franklin County’s declaration of independence from citified rules is gradually breaking down, and yet in some ways the county remains a place where you can get away with things you can’t legally do in the city. For now, that includes buying and setting off consumer explosives that were illegal not long ago.