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Mike Nowatzki, Published September 12 2007

Initiators push for vote

Fargo residents who plan to gather signatures to put a smoking ban on the June ballot said Tuesday they want to provide a clearly worded choice for voters to finally decide whether to outlaw smoking in all workplaces, including bars.

With Minnesota bars set to go smoke-free Oct. 1, “I just believe that the time is right to give a chance for the citizens to speak on this issue once and for all,” Barry Nelson said.

Nelson, who is executive director of the Moorhead Healthy Community Initiative but is acting as a private Fargo resident on the smoking issue, said total ban supporters still need to organize and plan the petition drive.

“As a group, we don’t know each other yet, so we’re going to have to come together when I get back,” said Nelson, who was in Indianapolis on Tuesday.

Fargo City Commissioner Mike Williams said he spoke to several residents and encouraged them to initiate a total ban ordinance.

“It’s the most effective way, because while you’re gathering petitions, you’re building a base for people to vote,” he said.

The ordinance will mirror a ban commissioners had been moving toward approving since mid-August.

It removes the existing ban’s exemptions for bars, certain areas of truck stops and places rented for private functions.

Commissioners delayed the final adoption of their ordinance on Monday in light of the residents who plan to put the same ordinance on the ballot.

One resident, Rachel Asleson, said total ban supporters have been talking about initiating an ordinance since the November 2004 election.

The existing smoking ban was the top vote-getter among three bans on that ballot, with 22,666 votes. A total ban with an exemption for J.T. Cigarro was a close second, with 22,049 votes. The third-place finisher, with 17,699 votes, would have excluded truck stops and businesses with Class A or AB liquor licenses.

“I was really frustrated with the language of the three measures offered,” Asleson said, adding the total ban ordinance will be clearly defined with no exemptions.

If the group collects the necessary 2,850 signatures to get the ordinance on the ballot, it will likely face a competing ordinance. Old Broadway co-owner Randy Thorson said Monday that 4,500 people have signed a petition to initiate an ordinance that would re-enact the existing ban.

Commissioners initially took steps to put the total ban directly to a public vote, but Thorson challenged whether they had that power. The city has sought an attorney general’s opinion on the matter.

Asleson said having residents initiate a total ban is a better route.

“They’re doing a good job, the commissioners, don’t get me wrong,” she said. “But I don’t know that that’s exactly their role.”

Nelson said he doesn’t anticipate having trouble gathering the signatures.

“There are some real strong opinions on this,” he said.

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