Responding to concerns from residents over illegal fireworks and so-called celebratory gunfire over the recent holiday, the Stafford City Council devoted much of its January 18 meeting to explaining the law around fireworks and trying to find a path forward.
Several citizens had hoped to speak at the previous meting on January 4, shortly after the the use of fireworks and reportedly gunfire during the Christmas and New Year's holidays in the Promenade at Stafford Run neighborhood, including an incident in which a bullet reportedly came through a resident's ceiling. However, since the subject was not related to an agenda item at that meeting, they were prevented from doing so.
That was rectified at last week's meeting when the topic was the first listed item on the agenda.
City Attorney Art Pertile of the firm Olson & Olson gave a PowerPoint presentation which laid out in specific detail the state laws regarding the use of fireworks and firearms, including areas where he said the state law hampers municipalities.
Stafford, like the majority of Texas municipalities, prohibits the use of fireworks by private citizens within city limits, Pertile explained. Exceptions are made for professional fireworks displays that are approved by the city and for the use of road flares, he said.
But those bans do not apply to places that are unincorporated, even if they are immediately adjacent to a city limit, he said.
Several law enacted by the Texas legislature allow cities to regulate the sale, use and manufacture of fireworks, each of which Pertile explained in meticulous detail. Those laws entail fines but not jail time, he said.
He explained that when a minor (under the age of 17) is caught using fireworks illegally, that minor's parent or legal guardian is subject to being fined. Police officers are empowered to make citations, but only city fire marshals can confiscate fireworks, and such confiscations are subject to challenge, Pertile explained.
Most of the residents who spoke during the meeting were residents of the Promenade neighborhood, which directly abuts the city limits and was the site of the most intensive use of fireworks during the holidays.
Many said that it was this was the worst they had experienced, and was directly attributable to the placement of a fireworks stand just within the unincorporated area. Mayor Cecil Willis and other members of Council agreed that while the problem has been growing over the past few years, the recent holidays were the worst yet.
One issue raised was the lack of police presence on New Year's Eve. Police Chief Richard Ramirez said that five patrol officers were assigned duty that night, which he said was the minimum requirement under departmental policy, but one was recovering from an injury and one called in sick.
Several council members bemoaned the lack of response and implored the police department and city staff to begin developing a plan for the July the Fourth holiday ahead.
NOTE: This story originally had a wrong last name for Mayor Cecil Willis.