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Grand Forks City Council candidates: A look at their answers to six questions from the Herald

There are six candidates seeking election, including incumbent Dana Sande, who is running unopposed in Ward 6. The election is June 14.

Grand Forks City Hall
Grand Forks City Hall, 255 N. 4th St. Sam Easter / Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS — Following are Grand Forks City Council candidates’ answers to a series of six questions posed by the Grand Forks Herald.

There are six candidates seeking election, including incumbent Dana Sande, who is running unopposed in Ward 6.

In Ward 2, Rebecca Osowski and Matthew Ternus are running to replace Katie Dachtler, who has decided not to seek reelection.

In Ward 4, three candidates seek the position left open after Jeannie Mock decided against reelection. They are Ward Johnson, Tricia Lunski and Harry Samuelson.

The election is June 14.

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The Herald reached sent emails to all six candidates. All of the candidates responded. The Herald requested photos from each candidate; the photos that were supplied are included.

Rebecca Osowski (Ward 2)

1. If elected, what will be your top priorities and what do you hope to accomplish?

My top priority will be representing the constituents in my ward as well as the citizens of Grand Forks. I would also like to investigate the rising taxes in the area, which are causing fixed income families to struggle and look into what can be done to try and combat rising inflation in the area.

2. Regarding the Fufeng wet-corn mill: Do you feel the council or city leadership made any missteps in efforts to bring Fufeng to Grand Forks? New candidates, would you have approached it differently? Incumbents, do you wish you’d have done something differently?

I have heard both sides of the Fufeng wet-corn mill and feel that there needs to be more communication between city government and the people of Grand Forks. As a “new” candidate, I am hoping to be able to close the large gap and bring the different viewpoints together.

3. What should be the city’s top infrastructure priorities in the coming months? How about in the next two or three years? 

There are struggles with the water system. We are asked not to do laundry or dishes because the wastewater system cannot keep up. There are many challenges to running a city the size of Grand Forks and we rely on the experts in their fields/departments to provide recommendations that the City Council can agree to that is the best for all citizens. The City Council needs to have the support of experienced people on the side of Grand Forks citizens for recommendations to make the best decisions. Also, fix the roads.

4. Workforce growth has been an issue, and a targeted area, by city and development leaders in recent years. What must be done in the coming years to help the city solve its workforce shortage and thus boost local development?

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The city should focus on being an attractive community, where individuals and families would like to relocate to, with lower taxes, safe neighborhoods, and good quality of life. Grand Forks could also help better the relationships between area business and UND, Northland and surrounding schools, to retain a greater number of graduates to continue living in Grand Forks.

5. What differentiates you from other candidates? What would you bring to the City Council that others cannot? 

Life experience separates me from my opponent. I was born and raised in Grand Forks and attended West Elementary, Valley Middle School and Grand Forks Central. I have a degree in agriculture business and currently work professionally for a local manufacturing company. I grew up in this neighborhood and have chosen to raise my children here. As a working mother and homeowner, I understand the importance of a safe and affordable community. I have a long term vested interest in the city of Grand Forks.

6. What is the city’s biggest challenge that isn't being talked about? 

The city needs to communicate better with its citizens. The website is somewhat difficult to navigate unless you are familiar with it. Also, the only place live broadcasting is done, is through Facebook and channel 2 but should be streamed directly from the website as well.

Matthew Ternus (Ward 2)

1. If elected, what will be your top priorities and what do you hope to accomplish?

MatthewTernus2.png
Matthew Ternus, 2022 candidate for Grand Forks City Council.
Submitted

Ward 2, just like the entire city of Grand Forks, has seen tremendous progress. With all this progress, of course, there is still more to be done. I have three main priorities, which I call the 3A Plan. In the work done, we would aim to make our neighborhoods more affordable, areas more accessible, and we would set achievable goals and benchmarks to ensure our city is working for our citizens.

I believe we should be seeking new opportunities for affordable single-family housing developments, aiming for low property taxes, and working to attract and expand quality paying jobs to both our ward and our city.

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We should work to make our city more accessible by expanding our transportation networks, such as our bus routes and bike share, to provide our neighbors with new ways to live, work, and explore. Too, we should expand opportunities for internship experience, and provide additional pathways for those looking for work.

I believe everything the City Council does should be achievable and rooted in policy or action that works for our people. Through actionable means, we can save our neighbors money, expand the way we live and work, and make real change for our community.

2. Regarding the Fufeng wet-corn mill: Do you feel the council or city leadership made any missteps in efforts to bring Fufeng to Grand Forks? New candidates, would you have approached it differently? Incumbents, do you wish you’d have done something differently?

A few months back, there was a Ward 2 neighborhood meeting where numerous community members showed up to discuss the Fufeng project. So often, I’ve heard from folks that they just want more opportunity to discuss it. We need more opportunity to engage elected leaders. More opportunity for neighbors to be heard, not just at the end of council meetings.

In my first few months of service, I would plan on hosting various forums to ensure we’re connecting and getting the thoughts of our neighbors. Servant leadership involves representing the thoughts of those you were elected to represent, and the best way to do that is for those elected to listen and learn. I believe that change starts with conversation, so let’s have open conversations and truly listen to one another.

3. What should be the city’s top infrastructure priorities in the coming months? How about in the next two or three years? 

There are some immediate thoughts that come to mind. Fixing various roads around town, sorting out the proposed bridge with East Grand Forks, and the 42nd street underpass to name a few.

In the short term, I believe one of our priorities should be working to provide additional early-stage infrastructure for small businesses to form, grow, and expand. We have the opportunity to be an incredibly pro-business community, we just need to identify the space.

In the long-term, we need to also identify areas to develop new single-family housing. With more people moving here, and with major projects in our city like the Sanford land purchase, more housing opportunities will soon be needed.

4. Workforce growth has been an issue, and a targeted area, by city and development leaders in recent years. What must be done in the coming years to help the city solve its workforce shortage and thus boost local development?

Grow your own. We need to prioritize the development of our organizations and industries present in the community. Economic gardening, supporting our local businesses and agencies, can boost our workforce immensely. The city can play a large role in that, as well as continuing to support partners in organizations such as the Economic Development Corporation, the Downtown Development Association, UND, and more. When we support our businesses, they support our people.

5. What differentiates you from other candidates? What would you bring to the City Council that others cannot? 

For the last few years, I have been working with leaders across the community and the state. I’ve spent time working with city leaders on ways we can better engage our UND community. I have experience working with stakeholders, bringing new programs and dollars to projects that have enhanced the experience of living in our community already.

I would bring existing relationships and experience to our City Council and would be ready to serve starting on day one. I also provide a unique age representation. Being a board member of the Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals, and having many connections with newly graduated individuals through other involvement, I can speak to the ideas and thoughts of our younger neighbors.

6. What is the city’s biggest challenge that isn't being talked about? 

Retention of college graduates. While we have seen an increase in residents aged 25-39, there’s more we can do to keep graduates of institutions like the University of North Dakota here. Expanding the InternGF program, working to expand knowledge on public transit and community happenings, all of that will help foster community and experience with those that are here for school. Grand Forks and UND were awarded the Larry Abernathy Award for the relationship they have with one another. As we continue to explore and provide more opportunities for growth, we can continue to retain higher rates of younger individuals.

Ward Johnson (Ward 4)

1. If elected, what will be your top priorities and what do you hope to accomplish?

Bridge placement in South Grand Forks.

Property tax fairness.

Full funding for police/fire, etc.

Citywide economic stability (good growth vs. any growth)

Representation of the unique issues facing Ward 4.

2. Regarding the Fufeng wet-corn mill: Do you feel the council or leadership made any missteps in efforts to bring Fufeng to Grand Forks? New candidates, would you have approached it differently? Incumbents, do you wish you'd have done something differently?

Fufeng appears to be a real hot-button issue. I'm not against the idea of a new business coming to the area. But I have concerns if this is the right business for our community. I am simply unsure right now. I have not seen enough information to make a final decision. But I see and understand why people are concerned. In my door-to-door campaign, I have asked people what they think. As of right now 68% say they do not care; 25% are strongly against and 7% have no idea what it is. I will continue my polling throughout the campaign.

"Tax giveaways" put the burden on current city residents. I believe there are other ways to attract business other than just straight up handouts. So far one of my biggest questions revolves around two environmental issues. The potential industrial odors, and the extremely high water usage.

So, my position on Fufeng is undecided until I have obtained more information.

3. What should be the city ' s top  infrastructure priorities in the coming months? How about in the next two or three years?

Bridges between North Dakota and Minnesota that are properly placed.

Potholes and road repairs in total.

4. Workforce growth has been an issue, and a targeted area, by the city and development leaders in recent years. What must be done in the coming years to help the city solve its workforce shortage and thus boost local development?

It is hard to get workers when you are in competition with free government money. Until that is fixed, that problem will only worsen. The workforce has been artificially reduced by all of the free money for anyone who quit working based around COVID. Stop the ridiculous free money and people will have to go back to work to pay their bills. It is really not that complex of a problem to solve. The dollar is supposed to represent "banked" labor. When it is handed out with nothing expected in return, you gain this problem.

5. What differentiates you from other candidates? What would you bring to the City Council that others cannot?

I am a native of Grand Forks. I have been a property owner, businessman, teacher, servicemember and resident of Grand Forks for most of my life. I want Grand Forks to continue being a great place to live and become even better than it is now.

As a retired senior military officer, I was responsible for a Pentagon budget consisting of $63 million per year. Every year of my management I turned back millions of unused funds to the United States Treasury. I was always looking for wasteful spending and would put an end to it once it was found. I know that I will scrutinize city spending and eliminate wasted tax dollars.

6. What is the city’s biggest challenge that isn't being talked about? 

I am unaware of any. I think our media outlets, regular meetings , and political climate encourage people to bring their issues forward easily and regularly to the proper arms of city government.

Tricia Lunski (Ward 4)

1. If elected, what will be your top priorities and what do you hope to accomplish?

Tricia Lunski Grand Forks.jpg
Tricia Lunski, 2022 candidate for Grand Forks City Council.
Submitted photo

My top priorities are retention of young people. (Well, I guess all people) Creating jobs isn't enough anymore, but we need to create a community that people want to stay in, be a part of and can be proud of.

Make small business more successful. Grand Forks can be a difficult place for small business and I hope we can be more supportive with policies that are for small business. And attracting more business, large and small.

2. Regarding the Fufeng wet-corn mill: Do you feel the council or city leadership made any missteps in efforts to bring Fufeng to Grand Forks? New candidates, would you have approached it differently? Incumbents, do you wish you’d have done something differently?

I am not ready to make an answer, as I still have more research to do. Yesterday, I would of said communication could of been better to the community, but after doing more research, I found out the city wasn’t able to disclose the information about Fufeng until the deal was complete, which is common in a project like this. The question I hear over and over, is how will the city regain their $96 million investment into Fufeng. Which this week, I found a lot of answers. The city is not giving the $96 million, they were able to receive funds from federal and state, that they wouldn’t of been able to access without a project of this size. Almost $50 million was already allocated for improvements in the area, and this is documented. Initially, I thought the city was giving Fufeng $9.2 million, but Fufeng is actually paying $9.2 million for infrastructure. I’m still worried about how Fufeng hopes to fill their positions? We are currently so short staffed around town, what are their plans to bring new people to town? We have a limited amount of people in Grand Forks looking for work and will need to make Grand Forks a place people want to stay in.

My most interesting find was speaking to a local corn farmer. He has nowhere local to process his corn, so some of his ND grown corn is actually shipped to China to process. This was a huge eye opener to me. Imagine shipping all the corn to the coast, being put on a boat, sent to China for processing and then have the products shipped back to the US. I’m still not ready to give a final answer on Fufeng, but I am excited about learning more.

3. What should be the city’s top infrastructure priorities in the coming months? How about in the next two or three years?

Downtown. Our downtown is having a huge growth spurt and the city needs to step it up and support that growth. Town Square is in need of much repair and with 3.9 million people visiting our downtown annually, we need to make this a space people want to come back to. I have lived in Grand Forks for 20 years and a new bridge has been in the works since then. Running for a ward that has a neighborhood in desperate need of relief from the southern most bridge to a neighborhood that desperately doesn’t want a bridge, it's going to be a difficult task. But I want to work with everyone in the ward to make the right decision for Grand Forks.

4. Workforce growth has been an issue, and a targeted area, by city and development leaders in recent years. What must be done in the coming years to help the city solve its workforce shortage and thus boost local development?

We need to have more to offer community members, not just jobs, but things to do, places to go. Why do so many people want to move to Fargo or beyond? People used to move for a job, but now they dig deeper into a community before wanting to move. Be more friendly to small business and help them survive in Grand Forks. I think we can do more to attract new business that will bring young people to Grand Forks. How can we be attractive to young tech businesses? I am excited about the new Career Impact Academy and the help that can bring to our existing community members. Affordable housing for families, not just apartments, but houses. Young companies like Fenworks is exactly what we need in Grand Forks, how do we make them feel like this is the place to make roots?

5. What differentiates you from other candidates? What would you bring to the City Council that others cannot?

Being a small business owner and community event planner, I have a different perspective on business. Raising teenagers, I see what they want to focus on and what they are looking for in a community. At HB Sound & Light, we help people make their events and businesses successful and this is a perspective I will bring to City Council. With the remaining women not running for re-election, and being the only woman running, I would be a voice for women in our community.

6. What is the city’s biggest challenge that isn't being talked about? 

Again, I will bring up retention. We need to bring younger people to our community, to start families and establish roots and we need to make Grand Forks the place people want to stay. The city of Minot has approximately 15,000 fewer people than we do, but they have more children in public school. This should be an eye opening fact we need to address. The cost of housing, especially first time home buyers, needs to be addressed.

Harry Samuelson (Ward 4)

1. If elected, what will be your top priorities and what do you hope to accomplish?

My top priority will be to bring a working class voice to the City Council. As a punch-a-clock “average Joe,” I think some of the decisions made by the City Council do not always take into account the effects on the regular citizens of Grand Forks.

I'd like to get the city expenditures under control. Working class people don’t get automatic raises due to inflation. The city thinks that the cost of living is the benchmark for spending, while the majority of the residents of Grand Forks do not follow that scale. We do not have that opportunity.

I hope to be a voice of reason to the City Council. It seems that the council has left the citizens behind in their leadership. Fixed income people and average working class people struggle to have the extra dollars they need to maintain their homes, let alone funds for increases in property taxes and special assessments that may not be completely necessary.

2. Regarding the Fufeng wet-corn mill: Do you feel the council or city leadership made any missteps in efforts to bring Fufeng to Grand Forks? New candidates, would you have approached it differently? Incumbents, do you wish you’d have done something differently?

I believe our city government has made missteps in their efforts to bring Fufeng to Grand Forks. When the council began to get such pushback from the community, they had an opportunity to slow down and fully address citizen concerns. The petition showed that a substantial portion of the population wanted to have a voice in this decision. The city has allowed public elections on projects before. The city government could have made the case for the project to the majority of citizens, and convinced the city of Grand Forks that this was a benefit. Instead, many questions and concerns by residents, including me, have been disregarded or mocked. This doesn’t help the situation.

3.  What should be the city’s top infrastructure priorities in the coming months? How about in the next two or three years?

The city of Grand Forks has a road problem. Residents have spent many dollars and voted for tax increases to address the road problems, potholes, etc. Why are the roads still such an issue? This should have been addressed with the tax increase vote that passed. The bridge issue with East Grand Forks is also a big concern, especially in Ward 4 because all the proposed routes travel right through our section of town. 42nd street and the train needs to be addressed. Another concern is access into and out of our city, especially considering the southward movement of our city's growth.

4. Workforce growth has been an issue, and a targeted area, by city and development leaders in recent years. What must be done in the coming years to help the city solve its workforce shortage and thus boost local development?

Grand Forks has suffered from a population decline for many years and part of the reason for this is the high cost of living in this city. I know of many married couples raising families who work full time at decent paying jobs, yet had to wait years to find an affordable home to purchase. The cost of homes and the increasing taxes year after year leave people unsure of their situation. From what I see, the city is incentivizing building homes south of town, but those homes are beyond the ability of working class people to afford. Why not incentivize smaller lots and smaller homes that are more attainable to the working class people the city is trying to attract?

5. What differentiates you from other candidates? What would you bring to the City Council that others cannot?

The biggest thing that differentiates me from the other candidates, is that I'm an average, working class person. I don't have a political party behind me. I don’t have a business or career to promote. I'm just an average Grand Forks citizen that is tired of paying too much for too little in return. I’m a citizen who has to trade my time for money, and when the city increases the money I have to pay, I have to work more, or rob Peter to stay even. I’d bring a fresh perspective of these issues to the council, which I believe is missing within the current council.

6. What is the city’s biggest challenge that isn't being talked about? 

The biggest issue right now facing the city is the loss of the citizens in Grand Forks. Not the people leaving town, but the loss of the trust the citizens have with the City. Anyone that's led a team knows you can lead by position, but you can't lead by mandate. If the residents of Grand Forks are so disconnected from the city government, anything the city wants to accomplish will be met with skepticism. The city needs to get in touch with residents and start to get them behind issues moving forward; otherwise, it's just a few people dragging a lot of people along for the ride.

Dana Sande (Ward 6)

1. If elected, what will be your top priorities and what do you hope to accomplish?

Completion of public infrastructure projects and job creation.

Dana Sande 2022.jpg
Grand Forks City Council member Dana Sande.
Submitted

The city has had a list of major construction projects which need to be accomplished, including; under/over pass at 42nd Street and Demers avenue, 47/49th Ave Interchange on I29, reconstruction of the 32nd Ave Interchange, and a Merrifield bridge to Minnesota with associated I-29 Interchange. We must continue to work with the North Dakota Department of Transportation to acquire both State and Federal matching funds to keep the cost to our local tax payers as low as possible. I would like to see all of these projects completed within the next six years.

I often hear about the lack of retail options. The best way to encourage retailers to establish or expand in our community is by having a critical mass of citizens with expendable income. Growing our population base and raising wages comes with good job opportunities and industry growth. As our economy is driven by agriculture, I’ll continue to work to help our current agri-businesses expand and attract new agri-businesses to our community. I’d like to see the completion of the corn milling plant, the addition of a nitrogen fertilizer plant, and a soybean crushing plant, all of which will provide better prices for our farmers and great paying jobs for our citizens.

2. Regarding the Fufeng wet-corn mill: Do you feel the council or city leadership made any missteps in efforts to bring Fufeng to Grand Forks? New candidates, would you have approached it differently? Incumbents, do you wish you’d have done something differently?

City administration and council leadership approached this opportunity like any other competitive opportunity for our community. We responded to an RFP (request for proposal) brought to us by the North Dakota Department of Commerce. We engaged with the proposed plant leadership and ultimately came up with a proposal we believed would set Grand Forks apart from the other communities vying for these jobs. We followed our standard process and engaged other taxing entities and the public when the time was appropriate, not unlike any other economic development opportunity we have pursued. I would not have done anything differently and do not believe we made any missteps. I believe the negativity regarding the corn milling plant is being spurred by a very vocal minority.

3. What should be the city’s top infrastructure priorities in the coming months? How about in the next two or three years? 

In addition to all the infrastructure to supply roads and water to the wet corn milling plant, the grade separation at 42nd Street and Demers Avenue is, in my opinion, the city’s top infrastructure project. With the price of oil expected to remain high for the foreseeable future, longer trains and delays are expected at that intersection. These delays are a public safety issue, increasing the response time for both ambulance and fire to the northwest portion of our community.

Further top projects include (as previously mentioned) 47/49th Ave Interchange on I-29, reconstruction of the 32nd Ave Interchange, and a Merrifield bridge to Minnesota and its associated interchange. I see the Merrifield bridge and interchange as my second priority, with the 47/49th Interchange a close third.

4. Workforce growth has been an issue, and a targeted area, by city and development leaders in recent years. What must be done in the coming years to help the city solve its workforce shortage and thus boost local development?

I believe city administration and council members have recognized the current workforce shortage and have been taking steps to recruit new workers to our community and business expansion which will help draw employees. The Economic Development Corporation employs a full-time director of workforce development who has been working on workforce issues for years.

Although many in our community don’t like incentivizing businesses to either locate to, or grow, within our community, tax incentives are a great tool to provide opportunities for new businesses and new job opportunities. As long as peer cities use incentives to attract businesses and jobs, the city of Grand Forks will need to do so to remain a competitive option.

Housing is also an impediment to workforce growth. In addition to engaging consultants to evaluate our current housing pool, the city is implementing policies which enable developers to dramatically increase available buildable lots. We are reducing infrastructure costs and deferring special assessments, allowing developers and builders the ability to take more risk.

5. What differentiates you from other candidates? What would you bring to the City Council that others cannot? 

I’m accessible, I’m responsive, I prepare for every meeting, I have institutional knowledge, and experience which is unmatched.

6. What is the city’s biggest challenge that isn't being talked about? 

The finances of the Alerus Center is, and has been, a grand challenge for our community. Maintaining a facility of the magnitude of the Alerus Center is incredibly costly and has strained the finances of the facility. I have been pushing for a long-term capital improvement plan which didn’t include asking the tax payers for additional funds. As time goes by it seems more and more difficult to be able to manage the Alerus finances beyond the current sales tax sunset in 2029.

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