In Our View: Muddy Waters of 'Very Clear'

The people spoke on fireworks, but county commissioners slow to act

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Consider this a nudge. A gentle reminder. Some friendly words of wisdom to the Clark County commissioners as they ponder the sale and use of fireworks in the county.

“I’m so proud of the citizens. They figured it out, and they have made it very clear. I’m going to pay attention to that.” Those were the words of Commissioner David Madore in November, speaking specifically about the results of an advisory vote on fireworks. Commissioners had placed a nonbinding question on the ballot, asking voters, “Should Clark County enact a local ordinance, consistent with state law, which would limit the use of fireworks in the unincorporated areas of Clark County to July 4 of every year, and limit the sale of fireworks in the same area to July 2, 3, and 4?”

That seems pretty clear, especially after being supported by 60.3 percent of the electorate. But apparently — at least to Madore and fellow Commissioner Tom Mielke — nonbinding is even less binding than we were led to believe.

The commissioners last week hemmed and hawed at the prospect of altering fireworks regulations, with Mielke saying they should explore ways to make changes in a business-friendly fashion, and with Madore calling for additional public input through an online survey or vote. We presume, naturally, that it would be nonbinding. “Do we do what people said on the ballot measure, just simply the way it’s stated, or do we consider that a starting point and maximize the feedback?” Madore asked. “We want to hear from the community.”

There is nothing wrong with elected officials seeking public input, but Madore has made a habit out of selective engagement. This is an odd trait for somebody who frequently trumpets the “will of the people” as his guiding principle.

Consider this: “The only thing that would cause me to reverse my positions is if a county wide vote of the people in a general election resulted in a clear majority for a position different than mine. In that case, I would yield to the will of the people. Their will would trump mine. I would buy in and support their wishes.” That is what Madore wrote about the Columbia River Crossing in an online post that he used as a campaign tool during his 2012 run for the county commission. It is a philosophy he has repeated often, and yet it seems to fall under the category of hypocritical situational ethics.

Madore and the other commissioners placed the fireworks advisory question on the ballot in 2013 along with five nonbinding transportation-related advisory votes — at a very binding expense of $107,000. “Let the people speak,” Madore said at the time. Many people, including The Columbian on its Editorial page, criticized the nonbinding advisory votes as a waste of time and money, especially because county commissioners had no direct control over the CRC proposal.

Commissioners do, however, have control over fireworks laws in unincorporated portions of the county, which means that it’s time to find out just how much weight is carried by the will of the voters. Madore and Mielke have had seven months to cater to that will, but time is running out. State law says a jurisdiction must set limitations on fireworks one year ahead of their implementation, meaning the end of this month marks the deadline for changes to the 2015 rules.

As Madore said, citizens figured out what limitations they want on fireworks, and they made those wishes clear. Now we’re waiting to see whether he will pay attention to that.