A local resident is less than two weeks away from putting on a large fireworks display and celebration in central Killeen, but he is still awaiting approval on the necessary applications, as well as a vote of approval from the Killeen City Council.
Many questions remain unanswered about the proposed event — slated for July 3 outside the Killeen Special Events Center — and Tuesday’s council meeting is the only regular meeting the council is scheduled to have before the proposed event.
In the presentation that will be shown during Tuesday’s meeting, city staff recommends the council should deny the application for the special fireworks show. Killeen has traditionally not had a July 4 fireworks program, as many people in the area attend Fort Hood’s Independence Day program, which includes a concert and fireworks. Fort Hood has scheduled that to be held on July 2 this year.
The council is set to discuss and possibly vote on the issue Tuesday after discussing it at length at last week’s workshop meeting.
Bear Jones, the same man who frequently puts on a carnival in Killeen, is trying to put together a large event that would feature a concert with multiple musical acts, local food trucks and a large, 25-minute fireworks display to end the night.
Council members have largely said they would support the event if the proper procedure and planning is followed.
“I support all community family events because it will enhance the quality of life for our residents. I believe the residents will enjoy the concert and the magic show, but I do have concerns about the fireworks display because I am not aware of any safety or security plan submitted to the city for the event,” Killeen Mayor Pro Tem Debbie Nash-King said.
“If all of the questions were answered and requirements met to put on this display, I believe it was overall a good idea,” Councilwoman Jessica Gonzalez said.
“I like the idea and am hopeful that all things can be worked out to make it happen,” said Councilman Steve Harris, whose last meeting will be Tuesday. He lost a reelection bid earlier this month to Councilman-elect Michael Boyd, who will be sworn in during the Tuesday night meeting.
A main concern from the council and local residents is how much this event may cost the city in overtime for police officers.
Police Chief Charles Kimble said he could not provide specific numbers on how many officers it may take to cover the event or how much it could cost in overtime for those officers.
However, he did say that he plans to provide the council with more information on that at the upcoming meeting Tuesday.
According to Hilary Shine, the spokeswoman for the city of Killeen, the applications that Jones needs to have approved to host the event had not yet been approved as of Friday.
Killeen Fire Department Chief Jim Kubinksi said the city fire marshal’s office reviewed the application and subsequently approved the plan within three business days of receiving the completed application.
City records show the application was received by the city on May 26.
However, the approved plan must be submitted to the Texas state fire marshal‘s office for approval, which can take up to 14 days after their office receives the submission. It cannot be submitted to the state until the local jurisdictional entity reviews and signs off on it.
Holly Teel, a former candidate for Killeen City Council, said on the Herald’s Facebook page last week that the organizer should have to pay for his own private security instead of using taxpayer dollars to pay KPD officers’ overtime.
Another Facebook user and former Killeen city employee, Liz Rainey, said she is concerned over pets and how they could react to the fireworks.
“I am against any fireworks display. I deal with pets a LOT ... every day, and animals are afraid of fireworks. If you have ever watched animals during the cracking and booming and whooshing of fireworks, if you are a humane human being, you will not want to ever do it again,” the post said.
Some council members also raised questions over safety concerns surrounding the event.
“My top concern is the safety of the residents and individuals attending the event. I also have a concern about who will pay for the off-duty officers to provide crowd and traffic control because the city should not be responsible to pay for a private event,” Nash-King said.
Councilwoman Mellisa Brown said safety can be handled in multiple ways.
“The two main concerns are safety and following the law, “Brown said. “I believe that between KPD, KCOPs (Killeen Citizens on Patrol), and private security, safety can be as assured as it is at any other large event. As far as following the law, the state requires a State issued permit. I would need to know that Mr. Jones had secured that permit by the time of the event.”
“My only concern is the logistics of making it happen in regards to the timely preparation by PD, the FD and the city,” Harris said.
Another concern in a military town like Killeen is the large population of veterans living in the area who may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. The event would be held across the street from a residential area in the middle of town.
Most of the council members and Jones said that if the event is approved, there would be time to let the community know about the event ahead of time so there would be no surprise for local residents.
“Independence Day is celebrated across the United States annually, our very own Fort Hood puts on a special fireworks show and concert series as well. I am sensitive to the needs of our Veterans and anyone else who may be affected, I feel with adequate public notice anyone who may be affected should be able to take any necessary precautions,” Gonzalez said.
Brown and Jones had similar comments.
“Fireworks are set off by Fort Hood, Belton, and other locations close to Killeen. These would not be in a residential neighborhood and they will be scheduled so they can be expected,” Brown said.
“I am a Vietnam veteran. If I know what is going on I can adjust to it. I am always concerned about veterans because I am one. I don’t try to hurt anybody,” Jones said.
For the event, the Killeen Fire Department would have to be on scene, and the organizers have already agreed to pay for the fire department’s time, according to city documents.
Kubinski said if the fireworks display is approved by city council, the requester will be required to have an investigator from the fire marshal‘s office on site while the display is constructed until after the completion of the display has happened.
The investigator then makes sure any misfired items are properly destroyed before leaving the site. A booster truck with two firefighters will need to be in place as well for the entire time that the display is being constructed until after completion of the display, Kubinski said.
He also said a quick response vehicle with fire extinguishers, medical equipment, and two medically trained firefighters would need to be on site for the duration of the event.
Kubinski said the requester was made aware of the need for personnel and equipment from the fire department at the time he picked up the signed application that was to be submitted to the Texas state fire marshal’s office.
However, some council members are wondering what the cost to the city would be for crowd control, traffic and more, if many police officers are needed.
“At this time there is no known cost to the city unless the City Council were to decide to support the event and assist with the cost of police,” Brown said.
LEGAL TO POP
The city of Killeen has an ordinance that does not allow residents to possess, store, offer for sale, sell at retail, or use or explode fireworks in the city, according to Shine.
However, she said it is apples-to-oranges to compare a resident setting off fireworks in the city without permission to Jones or someone else who goes through the process to get the correct permit.
A city ordinance allows a person to file for a fireworks permit, which is the only legal way to set off fireworks in city limits.
“If approved, Mr. Jones has followed city and state laws for setting off fireworks. If approved, that means he will have permits and a safety plan with police and fire on scene,” Brown said.
Councilwoman Nina Cobb did not answer all the questions from the Herald about the issue, but did say safety and hearing from all involved was a top concern.
“In order for me to respect this process and the applicant, I must not rush to answer your questions until all facts and information are given,” Cobb said. “However, if all areas are cleared and the safety of this City is secure, I will support. If safety is not secure, finances not in place, I cannot support.”
Councilman-elect Boyd did not respond to the questions sent to him about the issue as of Friday.
This proposed event would be held in a potentially dangerous location.
Just over 100 yards from where this would take place is the city fleet department. This location has fuel storage, trucks, tractors and cars parked there at night. These vehicles have fuel in their tanks in most cases. Some may be full.
Also, next door is the Texas National Guard armory, which has light and heavy armored vehicles with fuel in their tanks and fuel stored at this location. Most likely they will have a large inventory of ammunition as well.
The city manager, mayor, city council, fire chief, police chief will all have to approve this event — and collectively they would share accountability if something should go wrong.
APPLICATIONS AND PERMITS
Both a fireworks display application and an amusement application have been submitted for the event.
The fireworks application was submitted by Magic Display Pyrotechnics FX out of Copperas Cove.
The presentation for the item at Tuesday’s meeting says that the applicant requires a state permit to conduct the display, as Kubinski stated.
Fire code also requires the applicant to get approval from the property owners within a given radius of the display site.
Kubinski said the plan that was submitted included the required approvals from any property owners that had any portion of their property within the established radius.
The fire marshal‘s office reviewed the plan and determined that it is compliant with any applicable fire codes and/or city ordinances, he said.
The Texas state fire marshal’s office must give the plan its final review and approval, Kubinski said.
Jones said that he has submitted the proper applications for both the fireworks display and the additional amusement.
He added that he is paying the city to use the parking lot of the Special Events Center, 3301 S. W.S. Young Drive, for the event. He did not say how much he is paying to use the facility.
Jones said Thursday he does not know if he would charge residents to attend the event because he does not know if he can charge, and he is waiting to hear from the city on if that is possible.
Jones said he has already paid Joseph Strunz, of Copperas Cove-based Magic Display Pryotechnics FX, to conduct the fireworks display. Jones said he paid the fireworks expert “a lot of money already.” However, he would not give a specific amount. He has also booked the musical acts that are set to play the event, but would not say how much he has paid.
Jones also said on Thursday that Gonzalez is slated to be the emcee for the event if it is held. However, in an email on Friday, Gonzalez said she is not slated to do anything at the event because there currently is no event.
“I am not slated for anything (emcee or otherwise) as there is currently no event, to my understanding, at this time,” she said.
In a phone call Saturday, Gonzalez did say that she was asked in May to speak at the event, before she knew the event would have to be voted on the council.
The Herald asked all the other council members if they, too, were invited by Jones to come speak at the event. Of those who answered, the only other council member who said they were invited to speak was Ken Wilkerson.
Of those who responded to questions from the Herald, no one on the council said they committed to a formal contract or agreement with Jones about the event, which could potentially draw hundreds or thousands of people.
“No, I haven’t been offered anything except the opportunity to speak at the event, nor do I know of anyone being offered money to attend or address people there,” Wilkerson said Friday.
When asked if the offer of speaking at the event could be seen as a conflict of interest — given that the event’s fate is in the hands of the council this Tuesday — council members brushed off the idea.
Event organizers and local groups ask council members to speak at events all the time, Nash-King said.
“We have a responsibility to the citizens to be there ... to talk to people,” said the mayor pro tem.
Wilkerson said being offered the chance to speak at the proposed fireworks show will not influence his vote. He added that he will be out of town on that date, and won’t be able to make it.
“We have a responsibility to engage in the community,” he said.
Herald staff writer Jacob Brooks contributed to this report.