Story by Nathan Erickson
Municipal government is something that goes mostly unnoticed by Drake University students, unless a project or new ordinance affects their everyday lives.
However, Drake Law School graduate Halley Griess decided to take an active part in local government. In 2009, he mounted a successful campaign for the city’s First District.
Griess is stepping down at the end of 2013. The Times-Delphic caught up with him for an in-depth look into his journey from Drake undergraduate student to city councilman.
During his undergraduate career, he was president of Campus Fellowship. This opportunity to get involved helped Griess build lasting friendships, propelling him to serve as managing editor of the “Drake Journal of Agricultural Law” while at Drake Law School.
Griess explained his decision to initially run for local office.
“I have always been interested in politics … (and) I was frustrated with decisions that were being made locally and nationally,” Griess said.
“I thought I should only criticize if I was willing to be a part of the process. I found city council to be both a good opportunity to see good work and an achievable goal,” Griess stated. “I did not have an ulterior motive other than to be a responsible trustee of the public’s finances and a good representative of the people.”
Actively seeking his law degree upon announcing his campaign, Griess said it was not an easy task to run for office.
“I worked hard, delegated and managed my time wisely. I would spend days in between, and sometimes during classes, to correspond with volunteers and residents with questions,” Griess said. “I knew I had to get my message to likely voters, so I went to as many doors as I could.”
Griess was not a stranger to the Des Moines community prior to his city council run. During the summers of his undergraduate years, he helped form a community soccer league for children. His goal was “to teach kids the game of soccer but also to teach them life skills through faith in Jesus Christ.”
He experienced first-hand some of the hardships the kids in his program faced.
“When we first started the program, it was a really rough area,” Griess said. “We had to sweep the field every week to make sure there were no stray needles or condoms lying around. There were also practical challenges, like getting kids to the park. I often had five or six kids in the backseat of my car, so I could get them all to practice or their games.”
Turning to the present, Griess shared some of the current issues the city of Des Moines is tackling.
“Since I have been on the council, we have dealt with fairly contentious issues like the placement of a homeless shelter, payday lenders and pawn shops and the sale of alcohol,” Griess said.
He also described the council’s work to add tax base to the city and “provide a more vibrant and accessible place to live, work and play.”
“Des Moines is in the midst of a huge revitalization and see(ing) major recognition for its efforts,” Griess said.
Indeed, Des Moines has seen high rankings recently for its Downtown Farmers Market, economic climate and educated work force.
As Griess steps down in January 2014 to spend more time with his family, he says he encourages people to get involved.
“It is really surprising how much of an impact an email or phone call can have,” Griess said.
“I was a 23-year-old law school student running against a 20-year incumbent, and no one really thought I had a chance to get elected.”