Nancy Edmonds Hanson
After almost a decade on the Moorhead City Council, Heidi Durand is leaving her Ward 2 seat. But she’s not going far.
“I’ve been the council’s liaison to our public utility company since I was first elected in 2011,” she points out. The council named her a full voting member of the commission that governs Moorhead Public Service a year ago. Now, as her second term on the council ends, she will focus on the city utility, which provides electrical power and water to its residents.
Heidi has held one of Ward 2’s council positions since 2010, when outgoing council member Diane Wray Williams suggested the then-member of the park board consider becoming a candidate. “She asked me, ‘Would you ever consider running?’” Heidi says. “I said, ‘Sure.’”
The 46-year-old educator, who has taught sociology and anthropology at M State since 2001, says she’d always been interested in politics. “I’m the kind of person who wants to fight for the underdog – to speak up for those who don’t have a voice,” she explains. She had never even worked on a campaign before her run. Yet she ended up winning with 53% of the vote; in 2016, up for a second term, she won 56%.
Heidi’s biggest achievement, she says, is the victory she helped secure in her last month of service: Moorhead’s new city ordinance regulating the payday loan industry. After several years of her passionate advocacy, the council approved the new measure requiring city licensure, limiting interest rates to 33% and capping loans at $1,000 per individual per year. It took effect Jan. 1, spurring closure of the two Moorhead high-cost lenders to close their local offices.
Payday lenders offer relatively small short-term loans, generally to borrowers who have no other sources of credit. Fees are high; the original term for payback is just two weeks. As the loan is refinanced, high fees and unlimited interest rates – 200, 300, 400% and even more – compound the original amount borrowed. “The typical loan amount starts at just $100 or $200, but the principal keeps growing. It never gets paid off,” she notes, leading borrowers into a cycle of debt few can escape on their own.
Heidi credits the St. Paul-based nonprofit Exodus Lending with opening her eyes to the issue. “I was horrified by their stories of people trapped in endless debt,” she explains. “The most vulnerable people are being literally preyed upon.” She was even more horrified to learn that Clay County had the second highest rate of predatory lending in the state per capita.
“This is a case where North Dakota and even South Dakota regulate an industry better than Minnesota,” she points out. “We have virtually no effective regulations.” Indeed, passage of Moorhead’s new regulation is being hailed as the first in the state and one of the first in the nation – one that Heidi hopes to help Exodus bring to other Minnesota cities after Covid travel restrictions are eased.
Exodus helps individuals escape the debt prison that surrounds them. The nonprofit pays off the payday lender, then sets up interest-free repayment plans for borrowers. Most clear their debt in a year to 18 months, Heidi reports, with the overall repayment rate more than 95%. More information on the Exodus program is at exoduslending.org.
That’s not the only achievement of her nine years on the council, of course. She cites the agreement five years ago on transferring a fixed amount of MPS profits to the city – long, delicate negotiations between the MPS board, fellow council member Chuck Hendrickson and herself that she terms “very critical and very important” for both the municipality and its utility.
Among other highlights are the ongoing work on infrastructure including the long-awaited construction of the SE Main/20-21st Street railroad underpass, of which her mentor Diane Wray Williams had been a champion, and the downtown revitalization efforts that have been ramping up again in recent years. She also mentions the city’s sale of hundreds of properties it acquired through tax forfeitures during the Great Recession: “We had to enter the real estate game, a place we definitely didn’t want to be3, but we did get them sold.”
Now that she has wrapped up her time on the council, Heidi says she has learned several essential lessons. “Nothing is simple,” she emphasizes with a laugh. “Everything takes a process – often many processes. It takes a long, long time to get things done.”
She looks forward to gaining more time with husband Chad and their three sons, high school senior Carson, 17; Cullen, 13; and Oliver, 5. But there are losses, too, including friendships with her fellow council members and the professionals who work for the city.
“This isn’t the last of me,” she vows. “I haven’t retired from public service forever. You may see me out there again when the time and the spot are right.”