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Dec. 5, 2021

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Fisher urged Camas council to not curtail fireworks

Councilor suggests billionaire influenced outcome

By , Columbian Small Cities Reporter

Before the Camas City Council tightened its fireworks regulations earlier this week, billionaire investment analyst Ken Fisher sent the councilors and Mayor Scott Higgins a series of biting emails, pressuring them not to change the law.

The subject line on most of those messages? “Don’t Vancouverize Camas.” Altogether, the timing and pointed language of the emails has some wondering whether Fisher ultimately had a hand in shaping Camas’ new fireworks law.

Amid drought conditions and the worst wildfire season in state history, the council was dead set on narrowing that window to the Fourth of July only in future years. Then, after Fisher’s emails rolled in, the plan shifted without warning Tuesday night to add the extra day, Councilor Melissa Smith said.

At the meeting, Smith — who cast the lone vote against the proposal — said she felt blindsided by the suggestion of including July 3 in the legal window to light off fireworks. After all, the issue had never come up at any of the council’s workshops on the matter, she said.

“Granted, it was a public hearing, but we had two or three workshops where we discussed the fireworks and all options,” Smith said. “We had all agreed on the Fourth at workshops, and we were just trying to find the wording as to what constitutes calling the fireworks off and who would be the spokesperson. But I thought it was a done deal.”

‘Don’t go there’

Fisher — a Camas resident and Forbes columnist best known as the CEO and founder of global money management firm Fisher Investments — is a diehard fan of fireworks. And the content of his emails — obtained this week through a public records request — speaks for itself.

“I’m relatively new around here and don’t know the area as well you do, surely,” begins Fisher’s message to the councilors. “But your proposed fireworks controls are symbolically atrocious and practically stupid in almost every way. I beg of you; don’t go there.”

In his message, Fisher details how impressed he was to discover a days-long fireworks show when he moved into his house on the west side of Prune Hill from California on a July 2, “with no idea of the fireworks phenomena that is this county.” Fisher said he was amazed to see the show continue through July 5, and then disappointed when Vancouver tightened its restrictions on fireworks.

“Then Vancouver did what it did,” he said. “I hate it now watching and remembering.”

The nearly 700-word message goes on to discourage the councilors from adopting policies similar to Washougal and Vancouver. Both cities tightened their window on fireworks sales and use in 2013. To do so would be “no more sensible than that which every mommy knows to overcome — the urging of her children that they should be able to do something because Johnny and Susie’s moms let them.”

“Keep Camas Camas; let them there outside us be idiots,” he continued. “The complainers can move there if they want.”

Adopting a stricter fireworks law would be a step toward “destroying the gem that is Camas” and turning the city into “Leavittville,” Fisher added, taking a stab at Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt.

After Vancouver City Councilor Jack Burkman received a copy of Fisher’s email, he sent it to Leavitt, who criticized Fisher’s recent $75,000 contribution to a political action committee supporting Clark County Councilor David Madore’s campaign for chair.

“Maybe the recent and dramatic drop in the stock market … coupled with his waste of $75K … has him under a bit of pressure?” Leavitt wrote. “Or maybe he really just enjoys seeing stuff blow up. Or maybe at this time, HE feels like blowing something up?”

Expansion threatened?

In another email sent to Higgins on Sept. 1, Fisher suggests he may no longer consider expanding his company’s presence in Camas. Construction recently wrapped up on a second Fisher Investments tower in Camas, and City Administrator Pete Capell said he and other local leaders have long hoped that Fisher will eventually build a third tower there.

Looking ahead, Fisher said he plans to conduct a private poll to see how well-received his employees are among Camas residents.

“I’m beginning to feel we may have overgrown our welcome and that Camas wanted us here, not you,” Fisher wrote. “This issue, after talking to a couple of council folk and seeing general indifference to FI (Fisher Investments) and seeing other comments from others leads me to want to poll on this before we put a lot more folks here and find the community doesn’t really want them and finds FIers (Fisher’s employees) somehow overbearing.”

In his response, Higgins worked to smooth things over, trying to convince Fisher he is welcome and appreciated in the community.

“Lastly, I (and many, many … others here) have worked very hard to make sure things went smoothly for FI and their families,” Higgins wrote. “We value the business and the community impact. We are glad you are here.”

Two-day window

After an overcrowded public hearing Tuesday night at the Camas Municipal Building, the council ended up voting 5-1 to limit the days fireworks can be discharged during the summer to July 3 and 4. The law currently allows them July 2 through 5.

The new law also gives the mayor power to prohibit fireworks altogether in times of extreme fire danger. Those changes won’t take effect until 2017, though, due to a state law that requires 365-day notice for new fireworks regulations.

In the same message, Fisher also addresses a rumor that he’d asked his employees to show up and testify at the hearing.

“Last night, I heard that lots of folks here want to storm the City Council meeting,” Fisher wrote. “They’ve been talking amongst themselves and with non-FIers. I don’t know that I can stop them as per our discussion yesterday.”

When asked if he commissioned any employees to attend or testify, Fisher denied the rumor. It’s unclear how many of his company’s employees may have shown up, if any at all.

Capell, who told The Columbian he’d heard reports of Fisher’s employees planning to show up Tuesday night, said he doesn’t believe Fisher ultimately had any more influence on the council’s decision than anyone else from the community. He said he was surprised at the range of people who spoke at Tuesday’s hearing.

“My perception was that the people that testified were not necessarily who I expected to be coming, representing Fisher,” Capell said. “Everybody who testified was a long-term Camas resident.”

Fisher also disputes the notion that his messages had any greater influence on the council’s decision. And he’s not exactly happy with the final vote.

“I sent an email and made some phone calls and don’t know what others did or didn’t do — I wasn’t there,” Fisher said in an email to The Columbian. “What influenced the council you would need ask them. Am I satisfied? I’m pretty much never satisfied with public policy — satisfaction is vastly overrated and largely unsatisfactory. If you want satisfaction, check out The Stones.”

Columbian Small Cities Reporter