Meisner, GW face off over proposed fireworks

Student Association members are scrambling for a solution after a disagreement about a fireworks display exploded into a controversy between student leaders and the administration a week before classes.

SA President Phil Meisner and Cat Sadler, co-chair of the Joint Committee of Faculty and Students, said they thought they had a “bright idea” to have Zambelli Fireworks Internationale, responsible for shows such as the Fourth of July display on the National Mall, come to GW and do a 10-minute show before the Movie on the Quad last Sunday.

Meisner said some people would consider the $6,000 price tag steep, but he said the expenditure would be worth it.

“Fireworks have never been done here before, and this would be so unique,” he said. “It’s such an opportunity. Don’t you think it would have been tremendous?”

According to University policy, any SA expenditure more than $500 must be approved by Mike Gargano, assistant vice president of the Student Activities Center. Gargano, who said he carefully considered the idea after Meisner and Sadler first presented it to him Aug. 17, denied approval for the display.

Gargano said he consulted many members of the administration who “overwhelmingly” agreed that given the amount of construction, potential for upsetting residents in the Foggy Bottom area and the drought conditions, which could provide the possibility of fire, the two should find another time for their display.

Gargano said he suggested alternatives, such as an indoor fireworks display, which Zambelli Fireworks could host during Midnight Madness.

“Personally, I love the idea,” Gargano said. “I think fireworks would be fantastic, but I have to make sure I’m protecting the institution, and I just don’t think this is the time.”

Meisner said Gargano’s concerns are unwarranted. He said he contacted members of the administration and fire officials.

“It’s just a glaring thing - I don’t know why it was done,” he said. “We had an endorsement by the Mayor’s office, (D.C. fire officials) said it was perfectly safe and the assistant vice president of the Student Activities Center thinks it’s not, and that somehow overrules everyone else. This is the antithesis of anything I’ve come to expect.”

But others have problems with the fireworks display as well.

“While I think fireworks would be a great thing on campus, I don’t think they’re worth $6,000 of students’ money,” SA Executive Vice President Caity Leu said.

PB Executive Vice Chair Seth Weinert said the Movie on the Quad was a PB event, but he was not contacted until much later about the fireworks display.

“I was disappointed the SA didn’t mention this until after Mike Gargano had already made a decision,” he said. “(Gargano’s) concern was incredibly valid - that’s obvious to any logical person.”

Sadler said they refrained from contacting PB until later because they wanted to ensure they could have the event before they approached PB.

Meisner and Sadler faced opposition off campus as well.

Gargano said Aug. 20, the day Sadler called and canceled the fireworks, he received a call from Zambelli Fireworks representative. He said the truck carrying the fireworks already was en route, and if they were to cancel the show, there would be an $800 cancellation fee.

“I told (Zambelli Fireworks) if there was going to be forthcoming charges, they could direct the bill to those two individuals they had spoken with before,” Gargano said. “They are the ones who are personally liable.”

George Zambelli, president of Zambelli Fireworks, said he was told by Sadler they were going to reschedule the event for early October. He said as long as the event takes place, the two will not be charged the $800 fee because no one will have to return the fireworks to the company warehouse in Maryland.

Meisner and Sadler said they hope to have the fireworks display during Greek Week in October, but the administration has not approved any dates yet.

“If it’s not October, then it will be November or some other date, and then we can hopefully address all of (Gargano’s) concerns,” Sadler said. “But we are going to do this, and it will be a great event.”

Fire officials could not be reached for comment.

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