WILLISTON, N.D. - Tuesday night, the Williston City Commission was faced with a choice after being presented with a petition that has over 700 signatures to change parts of the new liquor licensing ordinance.
According to the city attorney, the commission could either repeal the entirety of the month-old ordinance, or hold a special election costing $10-20,000.
The commissioners chose to repeal the ordinance to avoid using tax dollars on a costly election. WIlliston Mayor Howard Klug expressed frustration over the fight to repeal an ordinance he says would have streamlined the application process for new businesses seeking a liquor license.
Klug says most protests were for “on-sale beer liquor and wine, and off-sale beer liquor and wine. At that point, those protests were just to stifle competition and protect themselves.”
But business owner and liquor license holder Raymond Melendez, who spearheaded the petition efforts, says he wasn't trying to get the whole ordinance repealed, and was shocked that the city went that route. Melendez says he was looking to address a part of the ordinance that he says would have been detrimental to Williston; the part of the ordinance that did not set a cap on available liquor licenses.
"It's never been about our licenses, though the city has eluded to that, that's a false narrative. The truth is this, the facts state that if a city has unlimited licenses these are the adverse effects: higher drunk driving, higher youth drinking, a domestic abuse increase, lower property values. Those are facts, I didn't make those up," said Melendez.
The new ordinance provided for a grant to get the same ID card scanners at all liquor establishments and required camera systems, all to address under-age drinking. In January, 12 alcohol-serving establishments in Williston failed compliance checks by the Police Department in serving to minors, including one of Melendez's businesses. He says that employee was terminated and they purchased ID scanners.
Moving forward, Klug says the city will go back to creating special licenses for new businesses when they don't fit into the limited categories available. Melendez says as the city grows there should be more liquor licenses, but it should be based on the population.
We should note that there were zero applications for liquor licenses in the month that the new ordinance was in effect.