Battle Ground mayor apologizes for his comments about Knights of Columbus


Battle Ground Mayor Philip Johnson publicly apologized after he made comments about a local religiously-affiliated organization that ran one of a number of fireworks stands prior to New Year’s Day.

During its Jan. 17 meeting, the Battle Ground City Council heard and later “recognized and reaffirmed” an apology given by Johnson in relation to comments he made during the council’s prior meeting focused on concerns about how the city handles the sale of fireworks.

Only nonprofits based in the city can currently apply for permits to sell fireworks, but there are loopholes.

During the council’s Jan. 3 meeting, Johnson told the council he went and met the individuals who operated fireworks stands in the city ahead of the New Year’s Day celebrations when fireworks were permitted.

“There’s a problem we have with fireworks. I’ll ask you all to think about it in this sense. Fireworks sales make honest people dishonest, in my estimation,” Johnson said.

Of the three stands he visited, two had “names out front and said who they were.” The third had a license but did not include a name, Johnson said. He learned it was ostensibly run by a chapter of the Knights of Columbus, an organization affiliated with the Catholic church.

After speaking to a woman who was working the stand, Johnson made a remark as to who he should speak to next.

“The Knights of Columbus, as far as I understand, is the Pope’s army,” Johnson said. “So I don’t know if she was going to get the Pope on the phone or not.”

Johnson received backlash following his remarks, with at least one member of the public challenging his comments via an email sent to all of the councilors.

During the Jan. 17 meeting, Johnson said he met with representatives of Sacred Heart Parish, the local Catholic church, and the Knights of Columbus.

“I let my anger and disappointment get the best of me,” Johnson said. “I took that anger out on the Knights of Columbus without completing a full examination of what happened.”

He said the terms he used were “unneeded and didn’t add to the conversation.”

“It actually took away from the conversation and the point I was trying to put forth,” Johnson said.

Johnson said it appeared the city and the Knights of Columbus “were wronged in the deal” during the discussion about fireworks. He apologized to the organization for not doing his due diligence and to those who took offense to his comments.

“I promise to do my best in investigation before letting that happen again,” Johnson said.

Following an executive session of the council, Deputy Mayor Cherish DesRochers read a statement from the rest of the council, which recognized and reaffirmed Johnson’s apology.

“His previous statements are his alone and does not reflect its policy and its members,” DesRochers read.

Johnson pointed to a larger issue with how the city handles its business regarding fireworks. 

“We can issue to the nonprofit, but how they choose to sublease that or sell it, that’s kind of outside our control,” Battle Ground City Manager Erin Erdman said.

More discussion on how the city regulates those permits, which are given out in a lottery system, are likely to take place next month.

“In my estimation, we just quit selling … or we just open up and let anybody come,” Johnson said.