Topsham selectman hopes to overturn referendum that banned fireworks

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TOPSHAM — Selectman David Douglass has started a petition to overturn a June 12 referendum vote that banned the local sale and use of consumer fireworks.

Douglass said June 22 that he is circulating the document not as a selectman, but as a private citizen. He began collecting signatures June 15 and hopes to submit the necessary 459 – 10 percent of Topsham residents who voted in the most recent gubernatorial election – by Labor Day.

As of Tuesday, 111 signatures had been collected, Douglass said Wednesday.

The petition calls for the ban to be overturned, and for the sale and use of fireworks to be allowed as per state law. The devices had been permitted in Topsham from Jan. 1 through the June 12 primary election day. Douglass said he would like the question to go to referendum again in November, when he expects a larger turnout for the general election.

Donald Russell, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said at Thursday’s board meeting that the town had received an email from a resident asking whether it is legal for an elected selectman to circulate a petition.

Russell said the petition is not endorsed by the board, but is an “individual’s decision, as a selectman, and he has the perfect right to do that. As a citizen, he doesn’t give up his right any more than any of us does. Each of the five of us could present a petition if we wanted to.”

Two ballot questions on June 12 each presented voters with three choices on fireworks. Some residents have said the ballot was confusing and flawed.

The first question asked about the sale of consumer fireworks, while the second involved fireworks use. Voters were asked to pick one of the three options presented under each question.

Question 1A asked whether the town should “neither regulate nor prohibit the sale of consumer fireworks and therefore permit the sale of consumer fireworks in accordance with state law?” That question received 436 votes.

Question 2A asked the same thing, but in respect to the use of consumer fireworks, and received 419 votes.

Question 1B asked voters if they wanted to enact a zoning ordinance regulating fireworks sales, which 227 voters favored. Question 1C asked whether an ordinance prohibiting those sales should be enacted, and 565 – the majority – voted for that option.

The second and third parts of Question 2 also involved ordinances to either regulate fireworks use, or ban it. Two hundred fifty-nine voters favored regulation, while 540 preferred prohibition.

Douglass noted that if the first two parts of each question – which called for some kind of legal sale or use – were added together, their total be greater than the third, which called for a ban on the sale or use. Fifty-four percent voted for some kind of sale, while 56 percent favored some manner of use.

“In my opinion a majority, because it was split three ways, essentially didn’t get what they were looking for,” Douglass said.

He said his proposed November referendum will simply ask voters if they want the sale and use of fireworks.

Douglass said several people are collecting signatures.

Russell noted last week that the board had approved the June 12 ballot questions after the questions were reviewed by an attorney.

“I have heard concerns, after the election, that it was confusing, and some people didn’t know really what they were voting for,” Russell said.

He added that “it was recommended that we certainly include the three options, to give the public their opportunity to vote on (them).”

The Board of Selectmen voted last December to take no action on a fireworks ordinance until it could develop language for Town Meeting. The board opted in March to instead send the matter to referendum.

An online town survey posted late last year, which sought input from residents about local fireworks regulations, drew mixed results. Participants voted 105-104 that Topsham should not prohibit the sale, and 95-91 that the town should ban the use.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.