There is a proposed ordinance in Fargo that would allow theaters to apply to sell alcohol. People on both sides of the debate have legitimate concerns; however some of the debate has, in my opinion, drifted.
I serve on the Liquor Control Board which makes recommendations to the Fargo Commission regarding liquor licenses and laws. Given this responsibility, I have spent a good period of time thinking about what my role is. I have concluded that we regulate liquor sales because it is a substance, and our role is to make sure sales are safe, and business is fair. That’s about it.
The conversation around liquor sales in theaters has gone well beyond our role as government officials. We are now debating what is or is not a good business model, if it will be popular, and some have said, “I just don’t like it”.
It is not the role of local government to decide what is or is not a good business model. It is not the role of local government to decide what will be popular. It is not the role of local government to deny a new business model simply because, “I just don’t like it”.
If we start doing that, we may have never allowed Uber. We might throw Wal-Mart out of town along with a number of other big box stores. We might outlaw stores selling offensive books. We might not have things like Bison tailgating, large pool halls, and a range of other things people at one time or another expressed legitimate concerns about.
It is our role as city leaders to hear concerns from residents and I thank all of you who have called, emailed, or otherwise contacted the Fargo City Commission regarding this issue and others. I encourage you to continue. However, it is also our duty to inform residents that unless they have a safety or fairness concern, that we can’t and shouldn’t arbitrarily stymie new ideas simply because some people don’t like it.
We on the Liquor Control Board looked very hard at this issue of liquor sales at theaters. After literally months of debate and compromise we voted 3-1 in favor of this new class of liquor license. The issue of safety was at the forefront. At the end of the 6 month discussion, even our police chief, who initially had reservations, could not find cause to deny its creation due to safety or any other legitimate concern. He voted with the majority.
As the only commissioner (both on the Liquor Control Board and the Fargo City Commission) to have experienced this type of business personally I can tell you that I see no greater safety concern here than with a normal bar. My experience was very positive.
It might also be important to note that no city has discontinued this type of license after it was created in the over 20 states in which they exist today, to include nearby Minneapolis, MN. If we are going to deny this new business model in our town, we need to do it for the right reasons. “Because I don’t like it”, isn’t a valid reason.
It is not the role of local government to decide what is a good business or a bad. If we continue operating this way, we venture down a dangerous road of government micro-management.