WATERLOO — The city has rolled back restrictions on where fireworks can be sold.
Waterloo City Council members voted 5-2 Monday to allow fireworks stores and tents to operate in commercial zoning districts.
The previous ordinance adopted in December had restricted fireworks sales to industrial zoning districts, which are less prevalent and typically located much farther from homes.
The Iowa Legislature allows cities to ban fireworks use but not sales. However, the courts have ruled cities have the right to use zoning regulations to restrict where stores can be located.
Councilmen Pat Morrissey and Jerome Amos Jr. voted against allowing fireworks, which are still illegal to discharge in the city limits, to be sold at stores adjacent to homes and without safety inspections.
“I have a concern for the safety of the citizens of Waterloo,” Amos said.
Morrissey called the move “a deterioration of safety to the public and to our commercial interests.”
While no one spoke at the meeting in support of expanding the fireworks sales zones, the decision appears to have been prompted by the threat of a lawsuit against the city.
Resident Todd Obadal questioned whether the council discussed the ordinance during a May 14 meeting held behind closed doors due to the threat of ligitation.
“That is something that should be discussed out in the open,” Obadal said. “If there are reasons that haven’t been discussed as to why this needs to be changed right now, that needs to come out right now.
“Is the threat of a lawsuit enough to take discussion of a city ordinance out of public view?” he added.
The discussion prompted Mayor Quentin Hart to note he was investigating how such information was being released from council executive sessions.
“One of the challenges we're having right now is that before things are coming back to the council for public discussion there’s already leaks and people in the community that know exactly what’s taking place in executive session, from land to building purchases to this situation right now,” Hart said.
Morrissey then confirmed the ordinance was discussed during the executive session but complained other information given to council members behind closed doors was not being shared.
“I am somewhat appalled that that transparency and that sharing of information that is pertinent to this ordinance — and it was part of the discussion of why this ordinance was changed — is being denied the public,” Morrissey said.
The Iowa Open Meetings Law allows council members to meet in private with legal counsel to discuss matters that are litigation or when litigation in imminent.