Business owners defend license application misinformation

By GABRIEL GOODWIN
Sunday Times Newspapers

MELVINDALE — An new change to the business license ordinance caused two new property owners to defend their applications in front of the council Wednesday.

The city recently updated its business license ordinance to require a background check with every new license application. The ordinance used to only require a background check on owners requesting to operate businesses ranging from solicitors and canvassers to taxi cabs and ice cream trucks.

City Clerk Diana Zarazua denied the business their operational licenses because there was misinformation on the applications after Police Chief Chad Hayse found convictions in background checks of the owners. When the applications were filed, neither owner disclosed their previous convictions.

Zarazua said it is “normal protocol” for her to deny any application with some kind of misinformation, so it can be directly addressed by the council. The owner has the opportunity to address the council to clarify any discrepancies and she said Hayse can give his opinion regarding any crime committed and its relevance to the potential business.

Both businesses — Mel Produce and Fish Market and Signature Services — were denied because the applicants did not disclose previous convictions. Hayse said previous convictions and pending charges are important to the licensing process because the crime could relate to the way the owner conducts his business.

“If an owner has been convicted of a crime that is relatable to the business, then it becomes an issue and probably should be denied,” Hayse said. “But, if one of the owners was convicted of drunk driving and they want to open a business like a taco stand, then it’s not relevant and shouldn’t become an issue.”

Abdo Shohatee, owner of Mel Produce and Fish Market, 18942 Dix Road, pleaded with the council to grant his business license. He told the council he spent a significant amount of money renovating the building and bringing it up to the building code.

Shohatee said he wanted to conduct business in the city because he loves the community and the miscommunication came because the charge was supposed to be permanently wiped off his record.

He told the council he was a state of Michigan employee and the conviction did not appear in that background check and he was cleared to work, so he thought it was a non-issue and did not have to report the prior conviction on the application.

Hayse said that was not the case in this instance because the Police Department uses a more intrusive type of background check that displays convictions despite the final disposition and whether or not it was expunged.

Hayse did not reveal Shohatee’s conviction, but advised the council that it was his recommendation to deny the application because it was relevant to the type of business Shohatee wanted to operate.

The council agreed with the recommendation and voted to uphold the license denial. Shohatee can reapply for another license with the correct information.

“Theoretically, someone can apply for a business license every day,” Councilman Carl Louvet said, “as long as the information provided on the license is correct and something has changed.”

Michael VanMarter addressed the council and said his assistant applied for the business license to operate an office in the city for Signature Services, a property maintenance company in Detroit. His assistant said she filled out two applications and entered the same conviction information on both applications without thinking about VanMarter’s past.

The business received its license in March and VanMarter said he was surprised to see it was later declined. Corporation Counsel Corinne Galusky said councilors could revoke the license, if they chose to, due to the misrepresentation. The council voted to reverse the denial of his business license because of the “honest mistake” and Hayse said the convictions would not hamper the type of business or conflict with the business.

(Gabriel Goodwin can be reached at ggoodwin@bewickpublications.com.)

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