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Thomas M. Murphy. candidate for GF County Commission

Murphy is one of eight candidates for two seats on the Grand Forks County Commission. Four of the candidates will advance to the November election. Q. Tell us about yourself and how you decided to run for the County Commission. A. I was born here...

Murphy is one of eight candidates for two seats on the Grand Forks County Commission. Four of the candidates will advance to the November election.

Q. Tell us about yourself and how you decided to run for the County Commission.

A. I was born here in Grand Forks. I went to school here. I went into the Army after a few years out of high school; I served for two years in the Army and then came back here.

Q. Were you in Vietnam?

A. I served a year in Vietnam. I was in the infantry.

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I came back here, as I said; worked a few years on a farm. I'd always had an interest in police work, so I tested a couple of times, got onto the Grand Forks Police Department in 1977 and have been there ever since. I'm working on my 31st year.

Q. Did you start as a patrol officer at the police department?

A. Yes. Eventually, I worked my way into investigations. I got promoted; went back on the street; one of the sergeants in investigations retired, I applied for his spot and got it.

That's where I'm working now, in investigations as a sergeant.

Q. What's the daily life of a sergeant like?

A. In investigations, I work strictly in plainclothes. And, I'm usually in the office until we get called out, often to a crime scene. We process the scene and collect evidence if need be.

Q. Do you have family here in town?

A. My wife, Tess, has a business here called the Quilted Rabbit on South Washington Street. We have three children. My son, Matthew, is attending Minot State. My daughter, Megan, is on active duty with the U.S. Navy, and we also have daughter, Molly.

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Q. How is Grand Forks a different city today than it was 31 years ago? How has it changed?

A. Oh, my. Well, there are more people; certainly more traffic. There's been a change in the kinds of people over the years, too. In some ways, there's less respect for law enforcement and authority in general; but then again, there still is respect for authority. That kind of balances out there.

Q. What brought about your decision to run for county commissioner?

A. Well, it was mostly after the jail issue. I had to agree with the majority of commissioners that we did need a new jail. The jail we now have -- I'm not quite sure if that's the one we needed or not. But when everything came to light and we found out there were some shortcomings there, I was a bit vocal about it with people I work with and others. Eventually, someone said, "Why don't you run for the commission then and do something about it?"

I thought that was hilarious at first -- that I would actually run. I'm not a political person. I'm almost too private in my life. However, I thought about it and, of course, talked it over with my wife. She said, "You know, this is going to take a lot of your time." I said I realized that; and, she's willing to give me up for the time required to do it, so ... I got my signature forms, went ahead and circulated them with the help of some people in Manvel, and here we are.

Q. Do you live in Manvel?

A. Yes, I live in rural Manvel.

Q. If you had been on the County Commission when the jail issue came up, what would you have done differently?

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A. We have to trust our department heads and the people supplying us with information. But we also have to verify the information. Whether that was done or not, I'm not privy to; but it would seem that it was not.

Because of my line of work, I believe I would be more inclined to verify. Yes, I will accept their opinion; but I want to verify things as well.

Q. "Because of my line of work" meaning that in law enforcement, some of the people you're dealing with lie, I suppose.

A. There are those who have not told the truth on rare occasions, yes. (Laughter)

Q. I can see that. Journalism has some of that same mindset; there's a well-known saying in journalism, "If your mother says she loves you, check it out."

A. That's basically the same thing. You have, in your line of work, people who will tell you a story just so they can get some recognition. And if you don't verify it, you know what you look like afterward.

Q. You're from the Manvel area. What are your thoughts about city-rural relations within Grand Forks County?

A. There doesn't seem to be a lot of communication between the Grand Forks City Council and the County Commission. If elected, I would like to see that change. I would just like to try to work with the council members, open up a line of communication and get that going.

I'd also like to see more of a rural representation on the commission. We do have one commissioner, Commissioner Murphy, who lives in rural McCanna; but the others are all city. I'd like to see more rural representation there.

Q. No relation, I take it?

A. No. Commissioner Murphy and I share a good last name, but to the best of our knowledge, we're not related.

Q. Any thoughts about the four-mile extraterritorial zoning issue and the city's claim of some jurisdiction there?

A. I was very opposed to the landfill going in to Turtle River Township. I know at least one family affected by the Rye Township site, and their lives are kind of on hold right now because of the slowness of the Federal Aviation Administration in giving its opinion on the new landfill's proposed site. But they certainly have an investment in their homes and everything out there, and they need some representation, too.

As for the city and its four-mile jurisdiction: State law does give the city the right to go out there. However, it does seem that the residents' representation is weak. It's almost like colonial days: "No taxation, no representation" kind of thing. I could be an advocate for them.

Q. What should the city and region do about a landfill?

A. Certainly we need one; and as I said, I was opposed to the Turtle River Township site. I'm a "not in my backyard"-type as well. Rye Township seems to favor having it in their township; they already have the airport, the lagoon and the current landfill as well. I was reading in the Herald where they're talking about some compensation for their roads, and certainly, one would think that that could be done. Since they're supplying so much land, it's not an unreasonable request at all.

If the majority of Rye Township isn't opposed to it, then maybe it should go there.

Q. Given your experience in the police department, what do you think about law enforcement in the county? You'd be in charge of the sheriff's department budget, for example.

A. I know a good majority of the people in the sheriff's department fairly well. I've worked with all of them over the years, and I worked with Sheriff Hill when he was with the city.

In the future, there may be a way to explore combining some resources, be it a regional crime-scene unit or a response unit for major crimes, where there could be cooperation and consolidation on both the city and county levels.

Q. How about the jail administration. Any thoughts about how that institution ought to be run?

A. Mr. Burkholder (the jail administrator) seems to have a good handle on what is being done. I've attended the county commission meetings since about Jan. 1, and he is there every meeting that I've been at, giving updates about improvements and about the future -- about trying to obtain more prisoners, streamline the way things are done. From what I've seen, he's doing a pretty darn good job there.

Q. People in Grand Forks might be wary of electing another commissioner from rural Grand Forks County. What would you say to those voters who'd have that concern?

A. I'm a rural person. I love living out in the country, and that's why I'm there. If there were a requirement to live in the city (in order to work at the Grand Forks Police Department), then of course I would do that.

I'm a working individual like a majority of the people I'd be representing. So, I know what it's like to try to live within a budget; I know that we can't live beyond our means. I think that I'm a fairly practical person, and I want to be accessible as well.

People who know me know that if I'm going to do something, I try to do it right and to the best of my ability. I certainly would do that if the people of the county were to vote me into office.

Q. Property taxes. Do you have any strong feelings about the property-tax situation in the county?

A. I don't like paying taxes any more than anybody else does, and the county commission and City Council really don't regulate that. That's done at the state level. I'd be willing to work with state legislators to research ways that we could bring our property taxes down.

They're taking a large bite out of everybody's income; and with the price of fuel and everything else, people's money is all going out without much coming back in.

Q. What are your thoughts about the home-rule charter measure that'll be on the ballot?

A. Personally, I am not in favor of it, and I haven't talked to too many who are. I bring it up when I talk to people, and I'm not finding many who support it.

That's because it seems to take some power from the people. Yes, there's initiative and referendum there; but still, some power would be taken from the people.

There is very much a mistrust in local government right now, and I would work my darndest to reestablish that trust.

Q. If it fails, would you be willing to revisit the issue in some way?

A. It could be revisited. But, I think it's going to depend on the wording in the document that's put forth to the voters. And, I'm glad this is going to a countywide vote.

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