Friday, May 20, 2016

The City Spot Café: Donation of Surplus City Property to Nonprofits

What you need to know about the new surplus property donation law right now, served up by the LMC Research and Information Service team.

Definition: Have you ever put an item in the classifieds only to hear crickets? What did you do next? For most people, usable goods with little demand end up being donated to a nonprofit. But for cities, that option hasn’t been allowed by law. For the purposes of this discussion “surplus property” (the stuff in the metaphorical cardboard box) is defined by statute as “equipment used by a local government public works department, and cellular phones and emergency medical and firefighting equipment that is no longer needed by the local government because it does not meet industry standards for emergency medical services, police, or fire departments or has minimal or no resale value.”

Plain-language explanation: Trucks, tools, cell phones, gurneys, ice augers—where can these items go when your city upgrades, updates, and needs to clean out the garage? When the items aren’t in high demand and are outmoded for the industry, a new law allows local government to donate unneeded surplus property to one or more nonprofit organizations, effective Aug. 1, 2016.

Pros: The authority for cities to donate anything is very limited, so it’s somewhat a big deal that cities can give nonprofits unneeded public works, EMS and firefighting equipment, as well as old cell phones, simply because it doesn’t meet industry standards or has little to no resale value.

Cons: Well, more clarifications than cons. This law doesn’t allow donation of absolutely any personal property to absolutely anyone, and it does not authorize donation of money to anyone. (See Public Purpose Expenditures to see who may receive donations of money.) A caveat to all of this is that a city first needs a policy in place that determines what equipment will be “surplus” and how recipient nonprofits will be selected. The policy must also be clear about how the city will disclose that the equipment "may be defective and cannot be relied upon for safety purposes” and other things just to keep the attorneys happy.

League position: The League does not have a legislative policy concerning donations of surplus property, but the League generally supports local government having authority to support and improve its community. If a local nonprofit can put that old truck to good use, that’s for your city to decide.

Resource: Prior to Chapter 87 taking effect, the League of Minnesota Cities plans to have a model policy available that addresses the most basic requirements. Stay tuned!

This information has been compiled by attorney Ed Cadman. Contact: or (651) 281-1229.

This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Q&A with State Demographer Susan Brower: The Impacts of Economic Disparities

Following the U.S. Census Bureau’s release of information indicating a drop in household income among black Minnesotans, the Minnesota State Demographic Center released a comprehensive survey on the economic status of all Minnesotans earlier this year.

What impacts are being seen in the state due to these disparities? And what does this mean for Minnesota cities? State Demographer Susan Brower took some time to talk about the results and impacts of the survey.

What did the study cover?
Our main focus was on economic disparity, and we also wanted to show what can contribute to those disparities. Transportation is one example, how easy is it to get to a job? How many cars are available? We wanted to find answers to the question: If someone’s not in the labor force, why? Do they have children they stay home with? Do they have a disability? The high rates of disability, particularly in Hmong, African-American, and Ojibwe populations were particularly surprising. All of these things contribute to income and the economic disparities we’re seeing.

Did you have expectations of what the results would look like? How did they compare with the actual results?
We get a lot of questions about specific racial and cultural groups in Minnesota, so doing this study had been on our minds for some time. We had some ideas about the results, because we’d looked into some of these things before, such as employment or home ownership for a particular group.

What this study did was to bring together the whole picture, rather than just the small pieces we had before. I think people will be surprised with a lot of the ranges in differences, not only between groups, but within certain groups.

Want to know more about disparities in Minnesota and how
they're impacting the labor force? View the recorded webinar.
There is a strong emphasis on analyzing 17 racial and cultural groups, rather than limiting the study to the five groups identified in the census. Why was it important to broaden the focus?
In the past, when racial groups were less diverse in MN, the five groups provided a pretty good picture of what Minnesota looked like. But as immigration patterns have changed, starting in the 1980's, these major race groups have less meaning. We wanted to show the variety of groups and how they have a unique history that contributes to what Minnesotans are now. This makes the results more meaningful.

The study illustrates disparities among the 17 groups. What impact are these disparities having economic growth in our cities and state?
I think that when we’re thinking about economic growth as a whole, we have to look at some information mentioned in the report, particularly projections for the labor force going forward. We won’t have much growth in the labor force in the coming years, so we need to see how we can help everyone reach their full potential. It’s clear when we look at this report that there is potential that we aren’t fully appreciating. This is a prolonged issue, and while it varies in different regions of the state, this is an issue we’re all facing.

How can cities act on this new information?
City officials can keep in mind what’s going on at their level and compare it to the state. We know that the growth in populations of color will continue in the future, we know the disparities are long-standing, and we know that labor force growth will slow. So that means that addressing these disparities will need to be approached multiple ways.

It might seem that racial and cultural disparities are concentrated in the Twin Cities metro area, but Mayor Emily Larson of Duluth spoke about disparities during her State of the City speech. How do these numbers impact Minnesota as a whole, beyond just the metro area?
Any area with a sizeable population of color will have some experience with these disparities and will recognize what’s in the report. These disparities and where diversity is growing is very uneven throughout the state. You’ll see one small town experiencing a lot of disparities, and you move fifteen miles away and the city there is not experiencing any at all. But, if there is to continue to be growth in our small cities, it will increasingly be from outside the state and the country. This is true for growth across the whole state. If we want to continue to grow, we need to look at this information, apply it to each city, and address these disparities.

You can take a deeper look at the disparities highlighted by this new survey during this recorded webinar.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Who Do We Appreciate? City Clerks!

It’s Municipal Clerks Appreciation Week, and clerks from across the state are sharpening their skills with continuing education at the Minnesota Municipal Clerks Institute. Kicking back and soaking in some praise? Just not a clerk's style when there's work to be done! League staff want to say THANK YOU to all Minnesota city clerks for the work you do to keep Minnesota cities operating at their best, and the time you put into your professional development that benefits all our members and city residents!

Photo credit goes to LMC staffer Amber Eisenschenk

Monday, May 2, 2016

Spotted: Wrapping Up the 2016 Safety & Loss Control Workshops

The 2016 Safety & Loss Control Workshops wrapped up at the end of last week. For more than a month, League staff traveled across the state providing hands-on safety training for a variety of city staff. See what's been spotted during the 2016 workshops.

This year's Safety & Loss Control workshops traveled to nine locations across
the state from March 22-April 28.

Is this a conflict of interest? LMC staff attorney Amber Eisenschenk tests city
officials' knowledge of conflicts of interest.

The 2016 Safety & Loss Control Workshops gave city officials an opportunity
to get together and share their ideas and experiences.

Tim Hagemeier from Minnesota Rural Water demonstrates some of the
equipment used by city employees to locate trace wire.

Public Safety Project Coordinator Rob Boe and Defense Attorney Jana Sullivan
shared discussed building a diverse police force, along with some struggles
and successes some Minnesota cities have experienced.

Coming soon to a city near you! City officials explored new technologies
impacting Minnesota communities during the new technology track.

What are some of your highlights from the 2016 Safety & Loss Control Workshops? Share in the comments below!

Photos taken by LMCIT Claims Supervisor Ron Traeger and LMC Marketing Communications Coordinator Jenna Kramer.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The City Spot Café: Body Cams and Data Classification

What you need to know about body cams right now, served up by the LMC Research and Information Service team. 

 Definition: Body-worn video cameras, also known as “body cams,” are closed-circuit television video recording systems often placed on the front of a law enforcement officer’s uniform.

Plain-language explanation: Body cams are typically worn by law enforcement to record their interactions with the public or to gather video evidence at crime scenes, and have the potential to increase both officer and citizen accountability. Body cams are notable because they can provide a first-person perspective and a more complete chain of evidence than, say, a dash cam.

In the news: Several high profile cases of officer-involved shootings have made the use of body cameras a hot topic. Here in Minnesota, some local governments and law enforcement agencies are choosing to adopt body cam use, or are in the process of figuring out how to pay for them, while others are waiting for clarification from the Legislature on how data from body cams should be handled before deciding whether to adopt this new technology.

Pros: Police-worn body cameras have the potential to provide evidence when investigating crimes and prosecuting criminals, and to strengthen trust of citizens in law enforcement by increasing the accountability between peace officers and the public. The data collected in use-of-force incidents can help determine whether an officer used appropriate force and clarify conflicting accounts of events. The data from body cameras can also help protect peace officers who are falsely accused of wrongdoing.

Cons: The Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA) generally classifies this video data as public. A peace officer can never know when a routine interaction will become important or controversial, and in order to ensure that body cams record important information the cameras will likely be turned on in many situations that ultimately do not result in criminal investigations such as traffic stops, welfare checks, and medical assistance calls—i.e. those really crummy days when you’d rather not have your cameo made available for all to see. The MGDPA provides privacy protections for certain crime victims, witnesses, minors, and vulnerable adults, but the video data collected on the vast majority of citizens who would otherwise be protected by these privacy protections or are not part of a criminal investigation would be available to anyone who requested it.

In addition to privacy concerns, departments using body cameras must have the resources available for collecting and storing these video files, and for responding to requests for video data. This cost may be too expensive for small cities, and larger cities with lots of video data may need to hire new staff for managing the data.  

League position: Local law enforcement agencies should be allowed to decide whether to equip law enforcement officers with body cams and be given the flexibility to decide how they are used in the field. In order to protect the privacy rights of citizens, to maintain trust between law enforcement and the public, and to protect all crime victims, the MGDPA should be amended to classify video data as “private data on individuals” or “nonpublic data” unless it is part of an active criminal investigation, in which case it should be classified as “active criminal data.” This classification of active criminal data balances the interests of transparency and privacy by allowing the subjects of data to access video and share it with the public if they desire. (See definitions of data classifications in MN law here)

Video data involving the use of force by a peace officer that causes at least demonstrable bodily harm should be classified as public data despite an active investigation to ensure public accountability by law enforcement. Law enforcement agencies should also have the discretion to make public any videos that would otherwise be classified as private data on individuals or nonpublic data when necessary to dispel suspicion or unrest, such as in cases when an accusation of misbehavior is made but no “demonstrable bodily harm” was involved.

Resources: The League of Minnesota Cities has developed a memo and model policy for police departments considering the use of body cameras. You can learn more about body cam legislation being discussed at the Capitol in the Cities Bulletin.

This information has been compiled by Amber Eisenschenk, staff attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1227. 

This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The City Spot Café: Dillon's Rule—Cities and the State

What you need to know about "Dillon’s Rule" right now, served up by the LMC Research and Information Service team.

Definition: Dillon's Rule is the go-to for deciding what cities can and cannot do—and explains a lot about the relationship between Minnesota cities and the state Legislature. A rule that Judge John F. Dillon put forth in 1872, this language holds that a strict or literal interpretation of the law should be used in determining city authority.

Here it is, in all it's 1872 glory:

“A city is a municipal corporation and possesses and exercise the following powers, and no others: First, those powers granted in express words; Second, those powers necessarily or fairly implied in or incident to the powers expressly granted; third, those powers essential to the accomplishment of the declared objects and purposes of the corporation, not simply convenient, but indispensable.”  
—John F. Dillon, Commentaries on the Law of Municipal Corporations (3rd ed.) (1881) [Emphasis is Dillon's own.]

Plain-language translation: A common problem that arises in a discussion of what cities can and cannot do is the interpretation of how law applies in actual practice. Will the courts allow cities to exercise only those powers that the law strictly spells out (like providing water, protecting people and property) or will they allow a city to do anything reasonably related to that authority (seizing illegally sold liquor, requiring insurance for certain license holders). Traditionally, the courts solved this problem by referring to Dillon's Rule—i.e. the outline of city power includes that which is laid out in state law or those powers that go hand-in-hand with state laws. It's all about boundaries.

Dillon’s Rule in Minnesota is established in the state Constitution, which gives the Legislature the power to give or take away city authority. (Theoretically, they could even abolish cities, gasp!) 

In the news: This rule was mentioned in recent news coverage of why local governments may benefit from lobbying services at the Capitol—like those the League provides. Because the state plays an important role in determining city authority and responsibility, it is important that local government advocates be present to serve as a resource for legislators and state agencies.

Pros: It helps city councils, staff, and everyone understand what cities can and cannot do. In one old case, a city in another state actually printed their own money to pay for some new roads. Not a good idea. That's in violation of Dillon’s Rule, and the city had to pay all the money back to all who ‘bought’ city money.

Cons: Sometimes the limits in Dillon’s Rule make it hard to do new things or small things. For example, cities typically cannot hold fundraisers even to purchase updated and accessible playground equipment.

League position: Local units of government must have sufficient authority and flexibility to meet the challenges of governing and providing citizens with public services. However, state leaders need to be careful not to give cities the "authority" to perform duties that cities don't have the resources for— i.e. blanket unfunded and underfunded mandates that erode local control and create liability and financial risk for city taxpayers.

Resource: Want additional info on Mr. Dillon and his rule?  Check out page 14 of Chapter One of the Handbook for Minnesota Cities, under the heading "General Powers of a Statutory City."

This information has been compiled by Jeanette Behr, staff attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1228. 

This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information.

Friday, April 15, 2016

City Officials Share Thoughts on the 2016 Annual Conference

The 2016 Annual Conference—June 14-17 in St. Paul—is shaping up to be a one-of-a-kind event as the League partners with the Alliance for Innovation for our first-ever joint annual conference!

What can you expect when attending the 2016 Annual Conference? Two Minnesota city officials involved in the conference planning committee shared their thoughts on how this innovative joint event will impact conference attendees.

Matt Stemwedel, city manager of Coon Rapids, discussed what made past Alliance conferences memorable, and what he plans on taking away from the 2016 Annual Conference.

The Alliance conference is a unique, national event. What do you think this partnership will bring to the 2016 Annual Conference?
Energy! The Alliance conferences always help re-energize my passion for local government. The keynote speakers are thought provoking and challenge your assumptions about how to navigate the future. The breakout sessions are very engaging, while also providing practical information on how to implement new ideas into your community.

This year, the conference will feature educational sessions on local and national topics and trends. What are the benefits of an expanded program?
I think the biggest benefit to Minnesota cities is to hear different perspectives on how communities outside of Minnesota are approaching similar issues. We tend to not look beyond our neighboring communities to address new issues, which can limit our creativity to develop better solutions. At the joint 2016 Annual Conference, you’ll hear about innovative ideas and best practices from across the country, and it forces you to think differently about how those solutions could be implemented in Minnesota.

What do you hope your Minnesota city colleagues will take away from this joint conference?
I believe Minnesota city officials will leave the joint conference feeling excited by the speakers and sessions they have attended and will also have new ideas to bring home to their community.

The 2016 Annual Conference will highlight innovation in St.
Paul and the surrounding area.
Dianne Miller, assistant city administrator with the City of Eagan, shared her hopes for the 2016 Annual Conference, from the perspective of an official who has not attended an Alliance conference.

As a new member, I am really excited to set aside a few days to see firsthand the best examples of innovative local government from across the country. In addition to learning about efforts and strategies I can bring back to Eagan, I am also looking forward to the fantastic field demonstrations and tours highlighting progress and creativity in developments and projects across the Twin Cities. Even though many of the featured projects are right in our backyard, I, for one, have not taken the time to truly experience all of the innovation we have here. The opportunity to interact and learn from others who are passionate about transforming local government will be the proverbial icing on the cake!

Are you excited for the energy and innovation at the 2016 Annual Conference? Don’t forget to register by April 27 and save with early bird pricing!

The Alliance for Innovation is a national organization of cities, counties, and other local governments with a common vision of fostering innovation to advance communities. Find out more.