TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — We’re No. 1!

Remember when the line “We’re No. 1” was a badge of honor? Well, Fargo has once again claimed that distinction … but in a category where no one wants to be included.

North Dakota and Fargo are No. 1! They outdo Moorhead and Minnesota in the categories of the drunkest city and drunkest state in the country. By whatever measure is used to calculate this distinction, Fargo tops the list.

Fargo has city elections this spring. I hope the population is awake, alert and knowledgeable on the issues.

Alcohol abuse has been a serious problem since Prohibition ended. Recently that other local newspaper ran a detailed story on how several political candidates in the North Dakota side of the river have some prior serious alcohol-related convictions.

Now, the past is the past. If these candidates have suffered the consequences of their actions and learned from them, that should be enough. I don’t intend to condemn the past conduct of individuals in this context.

But recently, three members of the Fargo Liquor Commission stood up for common sense on the topic of alcohol. When the commission voted on whether to allow the addition of yet another license in a spot that’s already problem area for booze, only three people — Mayor Tim Mahoney, Commissioner John Strand and Fargo Chief of Police David Todd — voted against the additional license.

The mayor and Strand represent the vast majority of the voters. Chief Todd represents the thinking of the Police Department. He and his officers have firsthand, daily working knowledge of the problems caused by excessive drinking and too many licenses in a small area — a problem for both local residents and the working of the department.

Notwithstanding the educated positions of these three stalwarts, the majority of the Liquor Commission voted with their pocketbooks and not their brains. The motion to permit yet another license passed.

Now some downtown boosters want to allow open carry — of booze, not guns — during the summer street fair. Perhaps these same people didn’t pay attention to downtown Fargo on St. Patrick’s Day. The pub crawl began before the parade had even ended. Heavy drinking was everywhere. It wasn’t just legal-aged college students feeling their oats; it was people of all ages. Someone I know who worked that day said he waited a few hours after work to socialize because, by that time, a lot of the drunks had finally gone home.

I don’t use that term “drunk” lightly. My professional life in Municipal Court gave me a unique view of the problems booze creates. The harm it has caused to individuals and their loved ones is immeasurable.

Mahoney, Strand and Chief Todd are absolutely right. Concentrating all of the watering holes downtown concentrates the problems overdrinking causes.

Many people are living downtown nowadays, with business and residential buildings are occupied as never before. The new Block 9 project in what’s now the First Bank public square will bring more residents, businesses and corporate offices.

More law enforcement is required for the downtown — at the expense of other areas of the city. It’s not the fault of the police but of the Liquor Commission majority. It approves the liquor licenses but doesn’t also decide to fund and increase the police presence to deal with the good old boys and girls who can’t or won’t drink responsibly. One commissioner, one mayor and one police chief deserve kudos for standing up for our communities. Some of the other government representatives … not so much.

What many elected officials forget is that they represent “we the people” — not the special interests. This is a time in America where that statement should be obvious to all.

Is it too much to ask of those who did not support the awesome three who voted no to get on board for the people instead of the business boosters? There is a difference between liquor control and liquor out of control. Some people in places of power just don’t seem to understand that.

Fargo-Moorhead has been good to me, and I’d never live elsewhere. But every time someone dies, is harmed or diminished by alcohol abuse, I ask, “Why?” As a community, we are better than that.

Now is always the right time to hit the problem head on. But that takes the courage of a Mayor Mahoney, a Commissioner Strand and a police chief like Todd. If not now, when? Amen.

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