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3 ban options going to ballot

When Fargo voters go to the polls in November, they could have a smorgasbord of smoking ban options from which to choose. As it's shaping up, at least three Fargo groups are initiating different citywide smoking ban ordinances. One ordinance, whi...


When Fargo voters go to the polls in November, they could have a smorgasbord of smoking ban options from which to choose.

As it's shaping up, at least three Fargo groups are initiating different citywide smoking ban ordinances.

One ordinance, which calls for a smoking ban in all public places except bars and restaurants with A or AB liquor licenses and truck stops, will be on the ballot.

Fargo City Auditor Steve Sprague confirmed Thursday that his office is now done validating those petition signatures. Places with A an AB licenses have no food sale requirements.

The group, organized by some A and AB liquor license holders, gathered 4,500 signatures during a recent petition drive. To get on the ballot, 1,880 signatures are needed.


Also on Thursday, the Smokefree Air for Everyone (SAFE) Coalition announced it, too, will begin circulating petitions in an attempt to get a smoke-free ordinance on the ballot.

SAFE is seeking a smoking ban in all workplaces and public places, with a possible exemption for cigar bar JT Cigarros.

Additionally, a third ordinance will be offered up by a group of restaurant and bar owners who were left out of the first initiated ordinance that exempts A and AB liquor license holders.

This ordinance would ban smoking in places other than bars and enclosed bar areas within restaurants that restrict people under 21.

Petitions for the under-21 smoking ban and the complete smoking ban could begin circulating by early next week, say representatives from both groups.

If each of the initiated ordinances make it on the ballot, it's possible voters could approve more than one.

Fargo City Attorney Garylle Stewart said he's never had to deal with this issue and may seek an attorney general's opinion to determine who would have the final say over what ordinance becomes law if more than one is approved.

The deadline to get an issue on the ballot is Sept. 3. However, the city needs all petitions by Aug. 20 in order to verify signatures.


The petition validation process took just over a week in the case of the first ordinance.

The auditor's office examined 2,893 signatures and contacted about 200 of those people before declaring the petitions valid, Sprague said.

Sprague assembled a team of about 10 people -- mostly acquaintances and non-city employees -- Wednesday night at City Hall to do the work. In all, it took about three hours, he said.

Earlier in the week, the auditor's office also hired a temporary employee to look up phone numbers -- a process that took several days.

Prior to that, staff in the auditor's office had to weed through the petitions, crossing off names of any nonresidents and throwing out petitions that didn't meet the standards of the law.

To be valid, the proposed ordinance must be attached to the petition form. Also, anyone who circulated a petition had to sign an affidavit saying they witnessed the signature. Anyone who signed had to be a qualified Fargo voter.

Some signatures and petitions were deemed invalid.

In one case, a man saw his name written on a petition held up on a TV news report. The man called the city auditor to say he and several others he saw listed did not sign the petition. The auditor's office tried with no luck to contact the person who circulated that petition but ultimately threw the whole petition out. That accounted for the loss of about 58 signatures, Sprague said.


The ordinance initiated by the second group of bar owners would exempt more businesses from a smoking ban than the one initiated for A and AB license holders.

Instead of discriminating against a business because of its license type, this ordinance uses age as the distinguishing factor, said organizer Rick Nymark, owner of Mom's Kitchen, Pop's Roadside Eatery and Tailgators Sports Café, 1322 Main Ave.

Tailgators has an FA liquor license, meaning 65 percent of its total sales must come from food.

Nymark said his group's ordinance and petition is nearly ready for circulation. He's hopeful enough signatures can be gathered by Aug. 20.

SAFE also is in the process of wording its proposed ordinance, according to SAFE Chairwoman Linda Kohls.

SAFE previously said it wouldn't push its own ordinance if the under-21 ordinance was going to be on the ballot, arguing three ordinances may be too confusing to the public.

That changed after a review of what the two other groups are proposing.

"Both ordinances proposed by the fractured hospitality industry treat people who work in restaurants with bars and independent bars as second-class citizens," Kohls said.


SAFE's proposal most closely mirrors the ordinance Fargo city commissioners approved for first reading in June.

The commission's ordinance was stopped mid-way through the process, however, because of the initiated ordinance.

The Moorhead City Council will again take up the smoking ban issue Monday night. Though it's already approved a public places smoking ban, the group will consider pushing it back until after the Nov. 2 election.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mary Jo Almquist at (701) 241-5531

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