Riverdale adds 'fix-it'-change to business license ordinance

Feb 16 2012 - 7:49pm

RIVERDALE -- After adding new language to contribute to the "comfort level of the business community," the Riverdale City Council approved an amended ordinance on business license revocations. The vote was 3-2.

Council members are comparing the amended ordinance to a simple "fix-it ticket," with which city staff can alert a business owner of concerns, and give them 15 days to fix it, appeal to the city council or stop doing business in Riverdale.

At Councilman Don Hunt's suggestion, the council agreed to add language that says if the fix is made satisfactorily, appearance in front of the city council will be unnecessary.

Business owners are worried businesses could come under scrutiny simply because of a complaint from a competitor or dissatisfied customer. But City Attorney Steve Brooks said that the city rarely shuts down a business even if it has broken a law once. For example, a business with a liquor license isn't shut down after one instance of selling to a minor, he said.

Some council members had struggled with a clause in the ordinance that said a business license could be revoked for "any good cause," calling it ambiguous and open to arbitrary and capricious interpretation.

"I would be very nervous shutting someone down unless I could justify it in front of a court," Brooks said. When Brooks attempted to use the clause to address the repeated sale of spice and other such products to underage buyers, he said he was using the "any good cause" clause.

"Nobody knew what spice was in 1985 (when the original ordinance was written). It was brand new to law enforcement and the city," Brooks said. "That was one of those situations I think we could argue it was a good cause."

In a 4-1 vote, the council decided to keep the "any good cause" in the ordinance. Councilman Norm Searle said that in the 27 years the ordinance has been on the books, the city has only had to use it twice, both times coming recently to handle spice and a bingo operation.

"This ordinance is written to protect citizens and help keep the city good, and try to reduce criminal activity, not cater to those willing to do things that are illegal," Searle said. "Ninety-nine percent of (businesses) will never see this ordinance."


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