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Forum editorial: W. Fargo muddles the debate

The smoking ban debate in West Fargo got unnecessarily (more) complicated this week.

The smoking ban debate in West Fargo got unnecessarily (more) complicated this week. Mayor Rich Mattern's "compromise" received initial City Commission approval, adding yet another ingredient to a stew that seems to have everything in it but the kitchen sink.

Mattern's proposal, as amended by Commissioner Bryan Schulz, would do the following:

E Prohibit smoking in new West Fargo restaurants.

E Existing restaurants would become smoke-free in January 2006.

E All restaurants and bars would be required to post signs indicating smoking or non-smoking.

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E Bars would be exempt from a smoking ban.

As compromises go, Mattern's seems more sensible than it is. It reflects, the mayor said, the various views commissioners have on smoking bans.

Maybe so. It could also be described as pandering. Furthermore, proposing a compromise a month before West Fargo residents vote on two smoking ordinances seems little more than a smoke-and-mirrors attempt to further complicate an already complicated debate. It also contradicts a strong stand Mattern took just weeks ago in which he said he believed the city should take no action until the North Dakota Legislature deals with the smoking ban issue. That won't happen until early next year.

Meanwhile, West Fargo voters will go to the polls Nov. 2 to determine the fate of ordinances that would:

E Exempt existing businesses with liquor licenses that only serve patrons 21 years old or older, the measure backed by most bar owners.

E Ban smoking in all public places, the measure backed by the Safe Air for Everyone Coalition.

Commissioner Brenda Warren, who favors a complete workplace smoking ban, was right when she suggested Mattern's proposal was obstructionist. "How can you pre-empt the voters?" she asked, referring to the two smoking ban measures on the November ballot.

Mattern conceded the voters will have their say. Why, then, would the mayor further fog up the smoking debate? Given the nature of the ballot measures, anything the commissioners do will be moot on Nov. 3. The measure that prevails will quash the City Commission's "compromise."

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The mayor's initiative is scheduled for second reading in a few days. If it passes, it could take effect by the end of the month. Bad idea. Commissioners should be in the business of applying clarity to the controversial smoking ban debate, not making it a more turbid muddle.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper's Editorial Board

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