FARGO - A complaint about a group home for former inmates was an opportunity for City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn to call for more tracking of this population at the commission's Monday, Aug. 14, meeting.
City law requires property owners to apply for a permit for what's called "group living restricted residency" if they allow more than three unrelated people who have been convicted of a felony to live in one housing unit.
The F5 Project, a Fargo-based nonprofit group that helps reintegrate former inmates into society, had evidently had more than three ex-felons living at one of its properties, which prompted a complaint from at least one neighbor.
"These are convicted criminals. These aren't victims. Some of them could be sex offenders, murderers. We have no idea," said Piepkorn, who asked to have the discussion be put on the agenda. "If I find out one of these houses has a sex offender near my house that would make me very, very upset."
He said the city won't tolerate anyone circumventing its laws.
Planning Administrator Nicole Crutchfield said F5 officials didn't tell her department about its group homes until the complaint prompted staff to call the group. F5 has since told city staff it will change living arrangements to avoid violating the law, she said, though staff will continue to learn more about the group's operations.
F5 representatives didn't speak at the meeting.
Crutchfield said the Planning Department often fields complaints about too many people living in a home because property owners don't always know the law. Most complaints involve students crowding homes near campus, she said. The F5 situation is unusual because it involves ex-felons and made the rounds on social media, she said.
Police Chief David Todd, addressing Piepkorn's concerns about tracking ex-felons, said he doesn't have the tools to track every single one. But sex offenders must report to police, and police must alert would-be neighbors of high-level offenders, he said. Ex-felons on parole or probation must report to their parole officer, he said.
Todd noted that state lawmakers recently passed criminal justice reforms in an attempt to reduce the prison population, which means more former inmates may come here. He said the city and county ought to partner with nonprofit groups to help ex-felons "return to society."
Commissioner Tony Grindberg clarified that lawmakers intend to avoid imprisoning low-level offenders, such as first-time drug offenders, who aren't a threat to society.
Piepkorn said first-time drug offenders don't go to prison in the first place. He said he's unhappy that Fargo is "absorbing everything" and one day taxpayers will take notice.