Commissioners vote Monday to allow the use of fireworks. Fire officials say recent rainfall makes it a safe choice.
By ALISA ULFERTS and MICHELLE HURTADO
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 20, 2000
NEW PORT RICHEY -- A weekend of evening thunderstorms -- and the promise of more to come -- was enough to convince county commissioners to lift their ban on the sale and use of fireworks.
That decision came at a special meeting Monday morning in which commissioners said the ban was necessary to protect the "health and safety" of county residents during the driest spring on record.
"I think what we did was right, and now this is something we have to do," commission chairwoman Pat Mulieri said, referring to commissioners' unanimous vote to lift the ban. Only three commissioners were present Monday; commissioners Ann Hildebrand and Steve Simon were at the Tampa Bay Water board meeting.
But Monday's board action was not enough to keep Galaxy Fireworks from beefing up its lawsuit. That company sued the county Friday, seeking to overturn the fireworks ban, but did not ask for monetary damages.
That changed Monday, when they decided they wanted damages in excess of $15,000. Galaxy attorney Terrence Lenick said his clients won't know exactly how much money they lost during the county's two-week ban on the sale of fireworks until they hire an expert to compare this year's revenues to previous years.
Monday's action was not without some confusion, beginning when Commissioner David H. "Hap" Clark arrived half-hour late for the session. Commissioners had kicked around several meeting times Friday before settling on a 9:30 a.m. start time for Monday. Clark said he thought they had agreed on 10 a.m.
"Sorry about that," Clark said as he walked to the dais. With two commissioners already absent, Clark was needed to form a quorum for the meeting to begin.
The confusion did not end there, as commissioners debated exactly what they had banned in the past and which bans they proposed to lift Monday. Following the state's lead, commissioners in April banned open fires and the use of certain explosive fireworks defined by the state. They expanded that ban earlier this month to include the sale and personal use of all other fireworks and sparklers. A statewide ban on open fires still is in effect, county officials said.
County Attorney Robert Sumner urged commissioners to wait until today's regular meeting to discuss the April ban. But commissioners decided they would rather deal with both bans Monday.
"We want to clean it all up at once," Mulieri said.
They did that with the blessing of county fire officials, who said the dry patches of the county -- some of which had reached near-desertlike conditions -- had been sufficiently soaked by recent rainfall.