Tyrone Grandstrand, Grand Forks City Council candidate, Ward 2Age: 24
Job: Student, research assistant
Family: Wife, Rebecca
Education: Majoring in economics, political science at UND (plans to pursue Master’s at UND.)
Leadership experience: UND Student Body president, 2008-2009
By: Tu-Uyen Tran, Grand Forks Herald
Q. Why are you running? Are there any particular things that are causing you to want to run?
A. I’m running because I think I can do some good. Grand Forks, N.D., the whole region has a few issues with retaining young people, and I think there are things that I can do as a City Council member to improve the quality of life in Grand Forks among all residents and, in effect, helping young families and young people, too, so they want to stay.
Some of the things I want to do are encourage community building, the community gardens and other things like that where citizens get together and decide to do something and if the city can help in any way.
And then I want to make sure that citizens have more say in what their government does. One of the easy ways to do that is just to do more surveys. I would focus more on qualitative data so having people fill out and actually write down what they think rather than just filling in circles. That’s something the university does.
It’s useful to have just straight numbers, but I think it’s more useful to know what people are really thinking because if you fill out that 1 to 7, "do you strongly agree" or "do you strongly disagree," you don’t really know what the person meant by that.
More than that, we should encourage people on the council or other positions in government to meet with constituents more often to let them know how they can have an effect on their own lives, whether it’s in government or just in the community in general. By giving people a sense that they can really make the world or the city a place they want it to be and they can change it however they want, you can really unleash a powerful force.
I haven’t seen a lot of that so far. And I think I can bring that with just a little bit of promotion, going around talking to people and letting them know how they can make a difference.
Another thing that I want to do is connect citizens with resources that are already around, whether it’s the university, some of the local nonprofits or the state, federal and local programs. There are programs for people who are buying their first house; not everybody knows about. It’s something Becca and I have been able to take advantage of. There are lots of other programs that people can use that they probably don’t know about, or they might know the programs exist but don’t really want to go searching for.
And then I want to take a look at what we’re doing right now with economic development, which is basically to support businesses that produce a product here and then export it to some other areas far away from Grand Forks. I think we can expand that to help business owners to gain the skills they need to just do a better job running their business. If you can reduce cost, you can pay your workers more, you can reduce the price of your product, and that’s going to help all of Grand Forks.
And then the last thing — it affects everybody and it’s been talked about for a while — and that’s the cost of housing in Grand Forks. Specifically, rent is what I would want to focus on. And there are two ways that I think we can affect that.
One is by incentivizing housing cooperatives. What a cooperative would do is this: The people in it are renters, but they’re also owners because they’re part of the cooperative. So they’re only paying for the expenses of the housing, not for someone else's profit margin. So, people would be paying $50, maybe $100 less a month. That adds up really, really fast; and then you also have that pride of ownership, which you always don’t get with renters, and that’s something that would be really good for building communities because you’re going to have yards that are kept up better and buildings and houses that are kept up much better because the residents actually own it.
Another thing is we have an ordinance on the books now that only allows four people to live together who are not related. Even if you just inched that up to five or six, it would reduce prices for anybody ho wanted to have one or two more roommates; and then for everybody else, it would reduce the number of people looking for housing. So, the prices come down.
Q. How do you think Grand Forks treats young professionals?
A. I want the quality of life to improve for everybody in Grand Forks; it’s not for young people in particular. But by improving the quality and increasing the sense of community, you’re going to automatically keep people here because they’re going to put down roots, and they’re going to be excited to stay here.
I’ve been here since ’97. Back in sixth grade, I didn’t really want to move, but now I’ve been here for a long time, I’ve got roots and I’m really excited about Grand Forks because of what it’s given me. I’ve invested a lot of time and energy into Grand Forks.
So as far as the friendliness to young people, it varies from person to person. You can’t just say Grand Forks is good or bad; I don’t think that’s really fair. But we can improve the quality for everybody, and that, in effect, makes it more likely that people will stay here.
Q. You were talking about trying to get people more engaged. Do you really think they want that? I’ve been to some neighborhood meetings, and there’s usually only a very tiny number of people who go.
A. There are always going to be people who just don’t want to pay attention. They’ve got other things in their lives that they care more about. That’s OK. Those people, I think we can reach them with surveys. You don’t have to have a very long survey.
As far as getting more people to get together, whether it’s a neighborhood meeting or a citizens’ group, it takes a lot of work to get those things going, and it takes a lot of work to keep them maintained. So we need somebody who’s willing to go out and find people who are interested. And part of that is just going out and talking to a lot of people. People who are already elected officials or government leaders, they could go out, and they have knowledge of how a lot of the institutions in Grand Forks works already, so they can help those people learn them.
Not only do you need people to go out and get people to come together, but also they need to be able to feel like they can do something.
And that’s a feeling that’s really common, that basically we don’t have any power. There’s a lot of apathy. But I don’t think it’s because people don’t care, it’s because they don’t think they can do anything as one person.
Q. How would you assess city government the way it’s run now? On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best possible? And then you can explain why you would feel like that.
A. I talked about surveys earlier, I think qualitative meassurements are better than just a number. So I’m reluctant to give a number to city government. The people who have been there now have done some really good things.
Mike McNamara, the person whose seat I’m trying to fill, he did a lot of work with Springfest (a college party at University Park just before finals week). That was something the community was concerned about. He along with members of Student Government worked to make it safer and more organized. I went around during Springfest door-to-door, and there were really only two people of all the houses I went to — and I went to as many as I could within earshot of the park — who really were not sure about it, and even they said they thought that it was a lot better than in the past.
So, I think that there have been a lot of things that people have done that are really good. But people still feel like — I’m basing this off of United Way’s research — people still don’t feel confident in the leadership of the city or the people in city government now. And I don’t know if that’s necessarily reflective of the people in there or maybe it’s how they’re reaching out to people.
Q. How about if I phrase it like this: Instead of 1 to 10, would you say that we need a lot of improvement, a little bit of improvement, or are we doing kind of about right?
A. If I were to give it a grade, I’d give a B- to standard, typical things that the city does. But we can always do better. You can always improve your services, and you should always be striving toward perfection. You’ll never reach it, so you should always be working hard on it. And you should always be working to make things cost less, challenge expenses, make sure that you’re not overspending on something.
I’ve seen that a lot at the university, where they buy something from the place they’ve always bought it from, but now it’s two, three or four times the expense that it would be at some other place. So those things are always something to be working on.
The thing that I think the city can improve on the most is that outreach -- letting citizens know what’s going on, what the city does, giving them consumable information, and not just having it available, but actually getting it to citizens whether it’s through mail or pushing it out on the Internet.
And then furthermore, I think people need to be able to have some input on it. And like I said, we can do that through surveys. Basically, all we have now is elections.
Q. Besides the survey from United Way, have there been other ways for you to assess the desire for people to be more involved? I ask because I wonder if there have been personal experiences that you’ve had.
A. When I went around to get my signatures on the ballot and when I’ve gone around since talking to people, most people, if you can get five minutes of their time, will have something to say about what they think about the city. It’s usually a small complaint or a few suggestions that they’ll have.
At the university and even in high school, it didn’t feel like I had a lot of say in what happened. I think my peers saw that, too, and so you see people become disengaged when they can’t really have an effect on their surroundings.
So, having basically been there, having seen that lots of people have those feelings and express those feelings at the university and, when I’ve been going around Ward 2, they think that there’s something wrong with the service, and if they can just uncover it a little bit, we’ll see a lot more activity.
Q. Do you think that people who are older may have a different perspective? I always think that younger people feel that way because they’re outnumbered most of the time.
A. It’s basically the same. People have ideas, and they want to share them. And if you ask them, they’ll tell you. But they’re not necessarily going to go to the City Council meeting and share that way.
As far as the interests of older people versus younger people, I don’t think they’re actually that different. We all live in the same place. People who are younger, maybe just out of high school, their experiences there affects their thoughts now, even though it’s not directly in their self-interest to worry about what’s happening with the schools. They care about it because they were just there. And, eventually, they’ll probably have children. Everybody has family, so you probably are connected to the same issues.
Q. You have to wonder whether the attitude toward something like Springfest is going to be different between someone with kids and who’s 40 versus someone who’s 22 and has no kids. Don’t you think they’re going to have divergent interests?
A. We can use Springfest. When I went around and talked to people. I talked to younger people, and I talked to older people, and I talked to people who are middle-aged and have children. And, basically, their concerns were the same.
Springfest used to be a lot less organized than it is now. And that’s when they didn’t like it. It didn’t matter who it was. And, now that it’s more organized and taken care of and sponsored, it’s just one day where they have to put up with a little loud music, but it’s not really a problem. And they all really appreciate how much better it’s gotten.
So it might seem like with that one in particular that it’s young versus old. But even the people who go to Springfest, I mean that’s just a specific population of youth. It’s not every single person. And anybody who’s near something that’s really loud or they have people doing their stuff on their property, nobody’s going to like that whether they’re young or old. So, I think it’s really a question of what one small part of the population might want versus everybody else.
Q. I’ve said that we would have roughly the same questions for both council candidates, but I think you already told us what would move the city up on the 1 to 10 scale. So we’ll move on to the next question: Why do you think you would be a good fit for this office?
A. Somebody who is going to be in public office has to take into consideration the needs of who they’re representing over what they want specifically. They need to be creative in trying to find ways to solve the problems of the people they’re representing. I think I’ve demonstrated I’m able to do that.
On top of that, one of the top things that people mentioned in that United Way survey as a critical problem was retention of youth. And having someone who can speak from that perspective is going to be useful. I can see pretty clearly the things that make people want to stay or make people want to leave because I hear people who are leaving talk about it.
You hear a lot about what people have concerns with: There’s nothing to do in Grand Forks. The cops maybe are not nice. There aren’t jobs for people who have an education. You’ve gotta go to the cities to get paid the same amount. These are all concerns that I hear all the time. So having someone who is from that age that’s much different than the rest of the city leadership I think is useful.
So basically, I think that it’s good to have diverse perspectives on the council and I’ll provide that.
It’s important to be creative in solving problems and then trying to find ways to not just pick a winner, but, in the case like this Springfest, where you can make everybody or almost everybody happy, I think you’re usually able to do that.
Q. Does that not contradict your belief that people have fundamentally similar desires and outlooks on life? Why would it matter if you were younger or if you’re 80 years old?
A. Everybody wants a higher quality of life. Everybody wants higher paying jobs. That’s a concern for everybody. It’s just that people who are younger don’t have roots put down. It’s easier for them to move out and leave Grand Forks.
And those issues that are really important because we want to get them to put down their roots and to be happy with Grand Forks because then they’ll raise children here. We’ll have more people in our schools. We’ll have a larger tax base. We’ll have a more diverse community.
Q. Do you think that moving the city elections to accommodate university schedules would help UND students feel more of a stake in the city?
A. I think that moving elections to November would be a good idea regardless of how it would affect the university — although I think it will affect them more positively — I think more people will go out and vote in November. You’d be able to look into all the elected officials, all the people running for offices, all at one time, instead of having to do it in June when people, if they live here, might be at their lake.
The last time my ward came in for elections, 690 people voted, and only 100 people who live near the university... and many other sections of the ward have a very low turnout. That’s really low. (Actually, 2,010 Ward 2 residents voted in the June 2008 elections and 3,716 voted in November 2008.)
Q. How would you describe your political philosophy?
A. I think there are limits to what government can do, but where those limits exist... People who are in government, who are elected officials can do a lot to promote coordination within nonprofits or community groups to fill those gaps where we can improve the quality of life for residents.
You can’t tax people to death. It’s important to keep taxes in a good way, otherwise people just won’t stay here, and it’s really easy to move. When property taxes are too high in Grand Forks, they’ll move to East Grand Forks, they’ll move to Fargo or somewhere else.
Services are really important. I think you have to do a really good job at trying to perfect everything that you do. And you have to be thinking about how you can improve the quality of life of citizens. But you have to keep that in check fiscally.
The same thing that I mentioned at the university. For me, a person who had a hard time paying for college, especially right away when it was hard to get loans that could cover the full cost, it was really frustrating to see that they were overspending on things that were so easy to not overspend on.
Q. To follow on on that: Taxes in Grand Forks, what do you think of them?
A. I know what I’m going to pay on the house that Becca and I bought. I’ve been paying the sales tax since I moved here whenever I buy things. I think they’re OK. I think it’s important to look at and challenge expenses, and if we can lower it we should lower it. It’s got a good effect on the economy to have lower taxes.
So without having delved into every aspect of every expenditure in the city, I can’t say exactly about spending, but I think we’re in an OK spot. We’re a little on the high end, I think, even for just this area, but that’s where looking really deep into what’s being spent, and not necessarily cutting something, but looking for a cheaper alternative. I think there are a lot of places where we can do that.