Clark County nixes survey on fireworks changes

Commissioner Madore fears results may be skewed

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter



Clark County Commissioner David Madore said Wednesday that he no longer supports using an online survey to gather feedback about possible changes to the county's fireworks ordinance for unincorporated areas, out of fear that people could skew the results by voting multiple times.

"When people have passion, I understand there are ways to game the system, and I don't want to open the door to that," Madore said during a board time meeting of county commissioners and staff.

He added: "We don't govern by people's cleverness to skew a web-based system."

Survey results, he said, would lack credibility because there would be no way for the county to prove that people weren't casting more than one vote.

Commissioners decided not to move ahead with conducting an online survey, even as staff presented sample questions that could be asked. For more than a month, discussions about the fireworks ordinance have centered on the potential of using an online survey program the county recently purchased. Those discussions were spurred by Madore, who said he wanted to hear from more people on the matter.

County Administrator Mark McCauley defended the survey program, saying it had safeguards to prevent fraudulent activity from taking place. But Madore didn't waver from his position, saying he was concerned about people finding a way to cast multiple votes.

Opting for workshop

The county purchased the survey program, in part, to collect feedback about the 2016 comprehensive plan update. Madore declined to say whether he also was concerned about the software being used for that purpose, saying he wanted to stick to the topic of fireworks.

With conducting the survey out of the question, commissioners decided instead to hold a workshop on its fireworks ordinance, although no date for that has been set. The county is proposing restricting the discharge of fireworks to July 4 and New Year's Eve. The sales dates would stay the same, June 28 through July 4.

Madore's stance was an acknowledged change in position for the commissioner, who had previously voiced strong support for using a survey to determine how people in the community felt about new fireworks restrictions.

"I am more aware now that this (survey) does not make an election," he said.

Commissioners have been called on in the weeks leading up to and immediately following the Fourth of July to address changes to the county's ordinance. The majority of county voters supported restricting the sale of fireworks to July 2-4 and discharge to July 4 in a November 2013 advisory vote.

Voter turnout for the election was low — only 22 percent — but 57 percent of those who participated approved of the measure. It's the same policy Vancouver adopted last year and that went into effect this year.

Commissioners didn't start discussing the issue until June, and by then it was too late to have a new policy in place by 2015. A jurisdiction must approve changes to its fireworks law a year ahead of when they would take effect, meaning a new ordinance for the county wouldn't hit the books until 2016.

Commissioners have been wary of following the advisory vote to the letter. Ed Barnes, the District 3 commissioner, said he didn't agree with it, but nonetheless felt obligated to look into revisions to the fireworks law.

Madore called the advisory vote poorly thought out. He said he was concerned about restricting the days on which sales were allowed.

"We would curtail revenue generation for those nonprofits and those businesses" that own fireworks stands, Madore said.

Barnes cast a skeptical eye toward holding a workshop, saying the commissioners would have trouble drawing conclusions based on the feedback received at it.