New Bemidji Mayor Dave Larson wasted no time Monday in setting the stage for meaningful dialog over an issue that threatens to put a chasm between the Bemidji City Council and Beltrami County Board -- bar closing times.
The City Council at its last meeting of the year voted 4-3 to allow bars in the city to remain open selling alcoholic beverages until 2 a.m. Many reasons are offered, but it appears to us that the action comes at the request of a potential south shore bar/restaurant operator who won't built, i.e. buy land from the city, unless granted the later bar closing time.
The County Board, at its last meeting of the year and after the City Council vote, started the process to amend the county's liquor ordinance to prohibit bars in the county from selling alcoholic beverages after 1 a.m. More of a statement is being made by commissioners, we believe, as it would affect only about eight establishments. The county can't control closing times for bars within the limits of an incorporated city, such as Blackduck, Funkley or Wilton.
Mayor Larson called for Monday and appeared before the County Board on Tuesday to ask for a joint meeting between the City Council and County Board this coming Monday to discuss the issue.
We hope the result of such a meeting will have the city repeal its ordinance and maintain a 1 a.m. closing. Both Sheriff Phil Hodapp and City police Chief Gerald Johnson have more than stated the case for not going with the later hour, as the period between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. will see drunker drunks on the road and provide more time for violent crimes to fester and occur, most of which are alcohol-driven.
As it is, if both sides stick to their guns, an even more dangerous situation could occur as people at bars near Bemidji rush into the city to gain an extra hour of drinking.
If the city won't bend, then we reluctantly believe the county should withdraw its ordinance amendment and make county bar closing the same as city bar closing so as to eliminate a 1 a.m. bar rush.
Perhaps the suggestion by Steve Fogelson to the City Council has merit -- amend the city ordinance to give 2 a.m. licenses only to establishments which have been in town and in business for five or more years. That way, a track record will be available on how that business handles late-night drinking. And it will see how serious a business is in located here and knowing it can get the 2 a.m. closing in time.
Kudos to Mayor Larson for his interest in actively seeking common ground to resolve a tough issue. As he told county commissioners, that common ground should focus on preserving the health, safety and welfare of the community.