The current board is made up two city commissioners, Dave Piepkorn and Tony Gehrig, as well as Police Chief David Zibolski, City Auditor Steve Sprague and Fargo Cass Public Health Director of Environmental Health Grant Larson.
Under the new proposal, to be discussed again at a possible special meeting of the commission next week and at least two future commission meetings when an ordinance would have to be approved twice, the board would be made up of one city commissioner and four members of the public.
Piepkorn, who proposed the changes, said there were two factors in proposing the changes.
He said Zibolski “didn’t feel comfortable” serving on the board, adding he also didn’t think city staff should be the main deciders on liquor policies.
As for hearings on violations, Piepkorn cited a ruling against the city by a district court judge that recommended liquor license holders have hearings before the board first and then the City Commission.
“I’m so glad to see this,” said Commissioner Arlette Preston, who said the board established 20 to 30 years ago had problems with what role it serves, accountability and its makeup.
She said the city laws should help clarify the processes involved for license holders and that “more consistent” policies were needed.
Commissioner Tony Gehrig, the lone vote against proceeding with the changes, said he thought it was “a back-door way to get me off the board.”
Gehrig has been at the forefront of some proposed liquor license changes in recent weeks.
He was voted down 4-1 at the last City Commission meeting when he wanted an immediate suspension of liquor licenses for the owner of the Empire and Bismarck taverns because of high volumes of police calls and a shooting outside the Bismarck.
Commissioners thought the issue should first be discussed at a liquor control meeting.
Gehrig also presented to the board a call for more off-sale licenses in the city and suggested sales be allowed in grocery stores, similar to what’s allowed in West Fargo. He lost that battle, too.
Gehrig thought the proposed change to the membership of the Liquor Control Board should say “at least one city commissioner” should be on the board.
He also questioned why they might have to wait a month for a Liquor Control Board meeting when serious violations occur at a bar or restaurant and why it couldn’t be brought directly to the City Commission for discussion and hearing.
Preston thought maybe the liquor board could call a special meeting to avoid a longer wait for their monthly meeting.
Commissioner John Strand said he wanted to see what other cities did in the state, and maybe in other states, about their liquor board makeup and violation policies.
Mayor Tim Mahoney said Assistant City Attorney Nancy Morris has done research and that she wasn’t available this week.
Piepkorn said he wanted to hear more from the public, and residents would have a chance to comment at future meetings.
In the public input session of the meeting, Faith Dixon suggested to the City Commission that the city needs more treatment facilities, liquor licenses should be more limited and that more equipment should be required to check for fake identification as she believes many underage people are being served at bars.
She said “alcohol abuse” in the city was a problem that needs attention now.