City of Grand Forks issues rare 'no' to liquor license
For the first time in at least 15 years, the city of Grand Forks recently denied a liquor license because of an applicant’s prior felony convictions.
The man’s three felony convictions were in the 1990s, and according to his license application he currently holds a liquor license in Spiritwood Lake, N.D.
Although the Grand Forks City Council unanimously denied the license at its Feb. 18 meeting, there were questions at the committee level about whether the law is too strict.
“Are we going to punish people forever because of a mistake they made a long time ago?” said council member Tyrone Grandstrand. He said he doesn’t take liquor laws lightly, but he also “believes in forgiveness.”
Other cities’ laws
Of North Dakota’s largest cities, Grand Forks is the only one that by law denies liquor licenses to any applicant with any previous felony conviction.
In Bismarck, Dickinson, Devils Lake and Jamestown, liquor license applicants must not have had a felony conviction within five years prior to applying for the license, according to those cities’ codes.
Minot’s city code doesn’t specifically address felony convictions with liquor license applications, but applications can be denied if the applicant has any conviction related to alcohol.
In Fargo’s city code, a felony conviction is grounds for suspension or revocation of a liquor license. The city of Fargo investigates applicants’ criminal history before granting liquor licenses, but felonies aren’t specifically addressed in qualifying for a liquor license, said Steve Sprague, city auditor.
Hypothetically, if someone had been convicted of a felony 30 years ago, they may still be able to obtain a liquor license in Fargo if background checks show they now have “good moral character, reputation and fitness,” Sprague said.
No one has applied for a Fargo liquor license with a felony conviction on their record in at least 13 or 14 years, Sprague said.
The recently rejected application from Sin City LLC., for a liquor license transfer for Rumors Bar in the Grand Cities Mall in Grand Forks, is the first time in at least 15 years that the city received a liquor license application from someone with a felony conviction, said Howard Swanson, city attorney.
People have asked Swanson about applying for liquor licenses while they have a felony on their criminal record, he said, but, because of Grand Forks’ clear law against it, they usually don’t end up submitting an application.
Because most applicants do their homework, it’s rare for the city to have to reject liquor licenses for any reason stated in city code, not just felony convictions, said Officer Dan Braaten, of the Grand Forks Police Department.
“It’s rare that it would get as far as it did,” said Braaten, who does the police checks of liquor license applications. “If you’re going to invest in a business, you’re probably going to read the fine print.” Like Fargo, Grand Forks’ code also states applicants must have “good moral character, reputation and fitness.”
The Sin City applicant was honest and upfront about his criminal record, Braaten said.
According to North Dakota court records, Blake Bond, of Jamestown, one of four partners in Sin City LLC., pleaded guilty to three felony charges in the 1990s.
In 1996 he was charged with burglary, and in 1998 he was charged with theft of property and felon in possession of a firearm. All charges were in Stutsman County.
His only criminal history in the past 10 years were three traffic citations, one of which was for an open receptacle, according to court records.
Bond could not be reached for comment.
After Sin City’s liquor license application for Rumors bar was denied, two of the four partners, William Tyrell and Adam Badolato, both of Grand Forks, reapplied for the liquor license as BTAB LLC.
The Grand Forks City Council Service/Safety Committee recommended approving the license at its Feb. 25 meeting. It will be presented the full City Council meeting Monday for final approval.
Council member Terry Bjerke said he doesn’t think Grand Forks’ liquor license application laws are too strict.
“I think giving people an alcohol license should be a high standard,” Bjerke said. “I would prefer to err on the side of being a little too strict,” than not being strict enough.
“A poorly run bar can cause a lot of problems,” he said. Bjerke is chairman of the Service/Safety Committee.
Council member Ken Vein, who is also on the Service/Safety Committee, said it’s difficult to say there could absolutely never be a reasonable exception to the city’s law on felonies and liquor licenses, but “it would have to be a tremendously compelling story.”
Grandstrand, also on the Service/Safety Committee, said he agrees that liquor license applications should be strict, but said he thinks changes to the law would be worth discussing.
“I believe in forgiveness,” Grandstrand said.
If the Sin City applicant had kept trying for a liquor license, Grandstrand said he wouldn’t have necessarily encouraged a change or exception to the law, but he would have pushed for discussing it.
Bjerke, Vein and Grandstrand all said the City Council likely won’t address the law unless a situation like Sin City’s application comes up again.
And since it’s so rare, it may not come up again, Grandstrand said. “If it never really comes up, maybe a change isn’t needed.”