MOORHEAD - After city staff denied a license to a massage therapist, the City Council agreed Monday, Feb. 12, to take a closer look at its ordinances in light of what police say is an increase of questionable businesses trying to operate in Moorhead.
Rongce Zhang of Good Day Spa, 2507 8th St. S., located in the Brookdale Shopping Center, went before the City Council Monday to appeal the city's denial of her application to work within the city.
Good Day Spa is owned by Cuixia Dong, who is a licensed massage therapist previously of Golden Panda Massage, 108 7th St. S. in Moorhead.
Zhang first applied for a massage therapist license Dec. 27, but City Clerk Michelle French denied the application Feb. 1 because it lacked critical information, including proof of insurance and a valid transcript of her massage therapist degree or certification. Zhang also failed to answer the question of whether she was a U.S. citizen or alien resident.
Zhang appealed the denial, stating in a Feb. 8 letter to the city that her incomplete application was due to "lack of fluency in English" and "reliance on others whose English is not much better."
"I know I was wrong and I apologize," Zhang told the council during her appeal hearing Monday.
The council, however, upheld French's decision to deny the license application and agreed to review existing ordinances after hearing from the Moorhead Police Department.
Chief David Ebinger said there are concerns of massage businesses facilitating human trafficking and the best deterrence of that illegal activity is having stricter standards.
"The problem we're running into is a number of these massage operations are coming to Moorhead, some of them after losing their right to operate in Fargo," Ebinger said, adding that being lenient in this case could set a bad precedent.
According to city records, officers searched Good Day Spa on Jan. 10 and found Zhang and another woman sleeping in the business. Detectives returned to the business Jan. 18 and requested massages. Zhang escorted a detective to a room for a massage, still without a valid license, city records stated.
City Manager Chris Volkers said the only consequence for operating without a license is a written warning and she hopes this is an area the council will address.
French said city staff are looking to mimic what rules and ordinances are in place in North Dakota so Moorhead is not less restrictive. Minnesota does not have standards established for licensing massage therapists and it's up to cities to do so, she said.
Councilwoman Mari Dailey said the gaps in Zhang's application raised many "red flags" and the city needs to be proactive in addressing issues of potential human trafficking.