Firecracker Foundation works around city ordinance


WEDNESDAY, NOV. 28 — Raise your glasses. The Firecracker Foundation can serve booze.

Lansing City Council — in an effort to skirt past an ordinance that bans alcohol within city buildings — declared a public health emergency yesterday. Officials said the maneuver was the only way to temporarily rewrite the laws and allow the Firecracker Foundation to serve alcohol at its largest fundraiser of the year.

"I know it's not a public emergency, but the cause they serve is," explained Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar.

The Firecracker Foundation, dedicated to honoring and supporting survivors of child sexual assault, will host a fundraiser gala at 6 p.m. on Thursday at the Lansing Public Media Center. Many tickets have already been sold and include a multimedia art show based on survivor experiences. Alcoholic drinks were included in the pricing.

The only hitch: City Council recently passed an ordinance to ban alcohol sales and consumption on city-owned property and the Lansing Public Media Center certainly fits the criteria. Officials made an exception for another event earlier this year, but vowed to never work around the law again. But Firecracker officials were convincing.

Tashmica Torok, the founder of the local organization, pleaded with the Council for a waiver. Guests had already paid for their tickets. The fundraiser is one of the largest sources of its annual revenue and any hiccups could jeopardize the foundation’s ability to provide support for survivors of childhood sexual trauma, she explained.

City charter, however, doesn’t allow for a simple resolution to trump city ordinances.

Councilmembers, if they were so inclined, needed to declare a public health emergency to ultimately replace the ordinance with a temporary replacement that specifically allows alcohol on the date of the fundraiser. And that’s what they did.

The potential funding reduction that could result from Firecracker’s inability to carry out their event as planned narrowly met Council’s criteria for an emergency affecting the health of the community at large. Three staff members service hundreds of sexual assault survivors on an annual basis, officials explained to the Council.

Councilman Brian Jackson said the fundraiser ultimately impacts the health of the community. Others noted the foundation helped survivors of convicted rapist and child pornographer Larry Nassar. Councilwoman Jody Washington said their work is “critically important” and deserved the exception.

Council — by a 7-0 vote — voted into place a temporary ordinance that allows for alcohol to be served at the event on Thursday. The language, however, expires in 60 days and councilmembers cautioned other community organizations that another exception to the alcohol ban will not be made for any other events in the future.

Washington labeled the situation a “befuddled mess” and suggested city officials were at least partly to blame for failing to notify the Firecracker Foundation about the passage of the alcohol ban earlier this year. Mayor Andy Schor later recognized the mistake and said he will be sure to keep organizations better informed of the law.

The Firecracker Foundation partnered with artists to produce works of art that are based on the individual stories of adult survivors of child sexual abuse. Tickets to the Soulfire Gala are $60 before Nov. 29 and $75 at the door. Proceeds benefit the holistic healing services of the foundation.

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