FARGO — The Fargo City Commission has voted 4-1 to have Africa International Restaurant and Nightclub find a buyer for its liquor license or have it permanently revoked.
After months of uncertainty, commissioners moved to begin the revocation process at a special meeting Monday afternoon, Sept. 20. The other two options were to reinstate the license for the troubled bar or, as the city's Liquor Control Board recommended, to extend the suspension for 30 days for continued work on improving management and business plans.
The move comes after the commission called a special emergency meeting on July 1 to suspend the license after Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski raised public safety concerns about the establishment.
In May, a bouncer was fatally shot in a parking lot next to the club around 2 a.m. No arrests have been announced in the case, with Zibolski raising concerns about whether the bar's management was forthcoming with officers investigating the shooting.
In addition, there were numerous other complaints in the spring months about overserving, guns in the establishment, minors being served and fights in the parking lot.
When recommending the revocation, City Auditor Steve Sprague noted public safety concerns. He also claimed there were false statements on Africa's reapplication for a license. Deputy Police Chief Chris Helmick brought up the conduct of a silent partner in the business, Corey Schultz, after he had a confrontation with West Fargo police and a jailer when he was arrested after a loud party and disorderly conduct complaint last year.
Africa, whose restaurant remains open, was required to reapply for a liquor license after its initial suspension in July.
City Commissioner Tony Gehrig was the lone dissenting vote on the revocation. He supported immediate revocation rather than the 30-day sale option.
The commission gave Africa's ownership 30 days to find a liquor license buyer. If it would have simply moved to revoke, the establishment would not be able to recoup money it spent obtaining the license.
City leaders first approved Africa's license in 2019 after some expressed concerns about the criminal history of bar manager Francis Brown.
Brown's wife, Mballu, who has been working as a nursing assistant while also being a co-owner, planned to take over the management of the bar this month. The Liquor Control Board supported a recommendation to give her 30 days to receive more management training and, with the help of a law firm they hired, create a business plan.
Lawyer Adam Richard said on Monday they had hired a consultant with years of experience to help with the operation. They also said the bar was willing to hire another approved manager to take over operations.
Mballu Brown, though, made an emotional plea to the City Commission to give her a chance.
"I'm not a bad one," she said. "I want you to try me. Why don't you give me a chance?"
However, Gehrig and Commissioner Arlette Preston didn't think things would get better in 30 days.
"They aren't going to get it fixed," Gehrig said about the problems at the bar.
Commissioner John Strand, however, wanted to see if a manager and business plan could be put in place.
At a minimum, he said, the commission should "show a little bit of heart" and at least let the liquor license holders try to sell the license so they wouldn't lose all of the money they had put into it. Some of the licenses have been selling for well over $100,000.
Strand's motion to allow the extra 30-day suspension failed, with only Mayor Tim Mahoney joining him in the proposal.
Strand said they hired Zibolski to "rein in the liquor industry," but noted they should be treating all bars the same. He wondered how many other bars were on the public safety radar.
Sprague said he knew of at least one other bar facing a hearing and that they were making progress on cleaning up issues.