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Cities' smoking ban haze clears up

As the smoke cleared from Monday night's city commission meetings in West Fargo and Fargo, the process for letting voters decide on a smoking ban in bars also became clearer.

As the smoke cleared from Monday night's city commission meetings in West Fargo and Fargo, the process for letting voters decide on a smoking ban in bars also became clearer.

Fargo City Attorney Erik Johnson said Tuesday that, based on the direction he received from the City Com-mission, he will draft a smok-ing ban ordinance that mir-rors the one proposed in West Fargo, which was based on Minnesota's statewide ban that takes effect Oct. 1.

West Fargo commissioners Monday rejected a first read-ing of the ordinance before voting to send the smoking ban issue to a public vote.

Johnson said he will work with West Fargo City Attorney Brian Neugebauer to make sure the two ordinances have the same effective date and are contingent upon voters in both cities approving the stricter ban.

Johnson said he plans to have a draft ordinance with ballot language prepared for the Fargo commission on Aug. 13. Commissioner Linda Coates said the plan is to hold a first reading of the ordinance, but delay the second reading until Cass County leaders decide to hold a spe-cial election in November.


"The motion I made was to leave an option either way - to make it clear that we were going forward one way or another," she said.

The Greater Fargo-Moorhead Economic Development Corp. will ask the County Commission on Mon-day to schedule a special election in November on a half-cent sales tax increase to support economic development efforts and job growth.

County Commission Chair-man Scott Wagner, who serves on the GFMEDC board of directors, said he under-stands the desire to speed up the vote with a special election, but added there also may be a valid argument for waiting until a general election when voter turnout is higher.

"We have to have those discussions about why now, and is this the appropriate time," he said.

With a simple majority vote, the County Commission could schedule a special election on Nov. 6 or on a different date, county Auditor Mike Mont-plaisir said.

If the County Commission wants the election on Nov. 6, it must decide by Sept. 7, which is 60 days before the election, Montplaisir said.

Fargo and West Fargo would have to ask the County Commission to include the smoking ban issue on the ballots distributed in the two cities. A special election would cost around $30,000 if electronic ballot counting machines are used, he said.

Neugebauer said West Fargo leaders haven't decided when they want to put the smoking ban to a public vote.


"It makes sense to have the same ordinances go up" for a vote at the same time, he said.

The stricter ordinances would follow North Dakota's indoor workplace smoking ban, but they would remove the exceptions for bars, adult-only enclosed areas in truck stops and places rented for private functions at which the general public and children aren't allowed.

Fargo Commissioner Tim Mahoney said Monday that Fargo's ordinance also must address J.T. Cigarro, the metro area's lone cigar bar.

Minnesota's ban exempts retail tobacco stores that derive more than 90 percent of their gross revenues from sales of tobacco and tobacco-related products. But J.T. Cigarro wouldn't meet that threshold, and its owner said the ban would put him out of business.

"I certainly anticipate put-ting something in (the ordinance) to address that unique situation," Johnson said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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