Monday, September 19, 2016

Highlights of the September-October 2016 Issue of Minnesota Cities Magazine—Now Online!

And just like that, Minnesota, it's a new season! How'd we know? The Sept.-Oct. issue of Minnesota Cities magazine is now available, of course. Inside you'll find the 2016 property tax reporta plain-language analysis of what current property tax rates mean for Minnesota cities across the state.

Looking to be inspired after crunching the numbers?

Here's some more highlights:

See how the 2016 C.C. Ludwig and James F. Miller Leadership award winners—Oak Park Heights Mayor Mary McComber and Shoreview City Manager Terry Schwerm, respectively—started their careers (surprise: one of them was a reluctant joiner of the local gov world) and built legacies that will last in  "League Celebrates Oustanding City Leaders."

At a recent Mosquito Heights City Council meeting, councilmember Elvira Gulch carefully presented all her facts and arguments explaining her position on a city issuebut barely got a mention in a reporter's recap of the discussion. What gives? In the new Message Matters column, you will find tools and ideas to help craft memorable messages and connect with your audience about city issues. Check out "Message MattersYou Hold the Keys to Memorable Messaging."

Are you facing down a transportation mega-project of unfundable, unmangeable size? See how the city of Anoka got to the heart of the biggest transportation problem in their city and found right-sized solutions that can deliver for half the pricetag in "Right-Sizing Transportation Projects for Success."

We're not done yet! Hear what executive director Dave Unmacht has to say on achieving racial equity in his latest St. Paul to City Hall dispatch; catch up on the latest court decisions that could affect your city's operations in From the Bench; and check in with two city staffers on the topic of juggling vacation time in a small city in Two-Way Street.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The City Spot Café: Sidewalk Seating and Doggy Dining Companions

The “scoop” on sidewalk dining, served up by the LMC Research and Information Service team.

Definition: “Outdoor food and beverage service establishments”  defined as “an outdoor area used as, maintained as, advertised as, or held out as an operation that prepares, serves, or otherwise provides food or beverages or both for human consumption,” oftentimes just means tables and chairs on the sidewalk outside a restaurant or eatery.

Plain-language explanation:  Even though cities don’t regulate food handling, cities do have a duty to maintain safe sidewalks. Tables, chairs, dogs, or other obstructions on sidewalks outside of restaurants or ice cream parlors can pose risks to pedestrians, which, if resulting in injuries, can lead to lawsuits against cities.

 In light of the demand for outside dining, many city ordinances allow any person wanting to place an obstruction on a sidewalk, like tables and chairs, to request permission to do so by getting a conditional use permit for that specific use of the sidewalk. And, if cities want to provide food and beverage establishments with the option of welcoming patrons’ dogs in outside dining areas, cities should adopt an ordinance allowing this option. Differing from your average ordinance, the doggy companion ordinance must comply with the strict requirements and permitting scheme set forth in state law. Cities that want to adopt ordinances either regulating obstructions in sidewalks or allowing doggy companions at outside eating areas or both should consult with their city attorneys. Keep in mind, the ordinances discussed in this article do not address additional licensing requirements for establishments that want to serve liquor or regulate smoking in its outside dining area.

In the News: In April of this year, news of the passage of New York’s “Dining with Dogs” bill became a top story on national news outlets. This bill now allows dogs to accompany their responsible humans to outdoor cafés. Minnesota, ahead of the curve, passed a similar bill in 2008. If fact, one website (www.sidewalkdog.com) keeps a listing of over 100 dog-friendly venues in the Twin Cities area.

Pros: In recent years, cities have enjoyed a surge in restaurants that offer different outdoor dining options—and for good reason.  For many Minnesotans, the winter months engrain in us a need to take full advantage of the long days, sunny skies, and the great outdoors that warm weather brings. Stopping for ice cream or to get a quick bite to eat outside, oftentimes with our furry friends, is a great way to take advantage of all that Minnesota cities have to offer.  

Cons: Tables, chairs, dogs or other obstructions on sidewalks outside of restaurants or ice cream parlors can pose risks to pedestrians, which, if resulting in injuries, can lead to lawsuits against cities. Cities have the primary duty to maintain safe sidewalks and cannot pass this burden off to an abutting landowner. Cities also have the onus of adopting an additional ordinance if they want to allow doggy dining companions which must comply with state law mandates, such as expressly prohibiting dangerous and potentially dangerous dogs and specifically requesting certain information from the business in a permit process.

Just a Quick Pause (or PAWs): Communities may want to adopt both an ordinance regulating obstructions in the sidewalks (often disallowed unless permission granted), as well as an ordinance allowing outdoor eating and beverage establishments to obtain a permit to welcome dogs. This reduces risk for the city, while, at the same time, enables diners to comfortably enjoy their meal or treat outside.  Keep in mind, regarding doggy companions, cities cannot stop restaurants from deciding to ban dogs from their outside eating areas altogether and city regulations of dogs at these outside eateries do not apply to service dogs or the lawful use of a service animal by a licensed peace officer.

League position: The League wants cities to know they have a number of various tools available to regulate these outdoor areas, including zoning, business licensing, and alcohol regulations (if the establishment serves alcohol).

Resource: To find out more information about cities’ ability to regulate sidewalk use, as well as the Minnesota law regulating dogs at outdoor food and beverage service establishments, take a look at these memos: City Licensing; Doggy Dining (yes, this is a real thing); and Public Nuisances (pages 9-10).

This information has been compiled by Pamela Whitmore, staff attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: pwhitmore@lmc.org or (651) 281-1224

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

Monday, August 22, 2016

Come on Down to the Cities Matter Game Show at the State Fair

Do you know how much a firefighter's gear weighs? Or which Minnesota city is named after the Ojibwe word for rice?

If you're going to the Minnesota State Fair this year (Aug. 25-Sept. 5) you can find out! Step right up to play the Cities Matter Game Show—we're located inside the Education Building and we're brighter and louder than ever before. Folks of all ages are invited to play for a chance to win a prize.

This is the Minnesota city trivia showdown. (Do you know of any others? Yeah, didn't think so.)

Minnesota students entering grades 4-6 will also have the chance this fall to compete in the League's annual Mayor For A Day essay contest. Pick up an entry form at the booth, or download a PDF of the 2016 essay form at www.lmc.org/mayorforaday.

Cities Matter is a project of the League of Minnesota Cities dedicated to sharing information about city services with residents. Find out more at www.citiesmatter.org. Also be sure to check out Twitter and Facebook for photos and dispatches from the booth. See you at the fair!

Friday, August 19, 2016

The City Spot Café: Drones and UAS

Definition: Drones are unmanned aircraft (UA) and all of their support equipment—control station, data links, telemetry, communications and navigation equipment, etc.—that you need to operate the unmanned aircraft i.e. the “system.”

U+A+S="UAS"

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is in charge of figuring out how UAS will play nice with others in the national airspace.

Plain-language explanation: Drones or UAS are quickly becoming a common sight in the skies. From photographers to police; public works employees to online retail giants like Amazon, it seems everyone is getting involved in the UAS game. But what should cities do about it? And what do they need to know if they want to join the fray?

In the news: Discussions about drones are currently taking place in the cities of Andover, Perham, and Baxter, for example.

Pros: UAS can be an awesome tool for cities, helping with everything from search and rescue operations to helping inspections of water towers. A city may want to explore regulating UAS use because of privacy concerns, but also general peace and enjoyment—after all, it is hard to relax with countless drones buzzing overhead! (We have enough mosquitoes as it is).

Cons: As is common with new technology, the law has not caught up with UAS and there are still many questions. For example, if a city uses a UAS with video recording capabilities, there are many questions regarding how the video data would be classified from a data practices perspective, and how long the city would be required to keep the video footage. If a UAS is used for police operations, there are important legal questions regarding when a warrant may or may not be required. In regard to city regulation, it seems likely cities have little authority to regulate UAS, because the FAA holds jurisdiction in this area. 

League position: The League is closely monitoring any and all developments regarding UAS issues—both what cities might be able to regulate, but also how cities can take to the skies themselves. Cities presently are required to register with the FAA before using drones. If you’re thinking about it, or considering regulating UAS operations within your city, please contact the League for more information.

Resource: More information on city use of drones can be found in the Cities Bulletin. Want additional info on UAS? The FAA has some great resources. In terms of what local governments may be able to regulate, please see this great fact sheet. So you want to take to the sky with a city-owned UAS, eh? Be sure to follow all FAA requirements. And if citizens are interested in learning more about the requirements to fly UAS, the FAA is available to help

This information has been compiled by Quinn O'Reilly, staff attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: qoreilly@lmc.org or (651) 281-1271.

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

Friday, August 5, 2016

Spotted: Clerks Attend 2016 Training


Forty clerks from across the state gathered this week at the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) offices. Together they beat the heat and learned the skills they need to serve their cities well!

From Open Meeting Law to data practices requirements, human resources issues and loss control basics, these municipal employees reviewed the most crucial aspects of their roles during the 2016 Clerks' Orientation Conference.

Many thanks to these dedicated public servants for taking time out to sharpen their skills and explore ways to get their jobs done well!


Photo credit goes to LMC staffer Jamie Oxley


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Spotted: Local Government Officials Discuss Civility and Effective Meetings

Local government officials from cities, counties, schools, and townships came together this July to discuss civility and how to make meetings as effective as possible. As part of the Big 4, the League partnered with the Association of Minnesota Counties, Minnesota School Boards Association, and the Minnesota Association of Townships to host this series of workshops.

Have you ever had unexpected disturbances at your council meetings? Eric Hedtke, 
from the Minnesota Association of Townships, caused some laughs as he posed as an 
unruly council meeting attendee speaking out about a proposed maintenance facility.

Inattentiveness can be an issue during city council meetings, particularly when 
it's a member of the council who isn't paying attention! Representatives from the 
Big 4 and local government officials teamed up to show how distractions 
impact meeting effectiveness.

What would your conflict assessment score be? Toni Smith, education director
 for the Association of Minnesota Counties, takes the group through a conflict assessment.

Local government officials share their experiences dealing with conflicts, 
and their success in making meetings more effective.

What are some ways you've improved the effectiveness of your meetings and encourage civility? Share your stories in the comments below!

Photos courtesy of the National Joint Powers Association.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Spotted: Stronger Together With LMC Policy Committees

From Aurora to Windom, cities from across the state are represented in the annual Minnesota cities legislative policy committee process happening now. Four committees comprised of over 150 city officials are busy reviewing the 2016 City Policies and researching, discussing, and debating what positions cities will stand for next year. This is also when city officials can bring forward emerging issues to potentially be addressed.

 It's no easy task to span the breadth of interests and characteristics that make Minnesota cities special in these policies, but year after year the buy-in of these city officials makes the difference. The results of their work will guide and inform decisions made by League intergovernmental relations staff at the Capitol and beyond, and help shape the city-state partnership that is so important for the health of local government in Minnesota.

See the committee lineup:

Improving Service Delivery

Improving Local Economies

Improving Fiscal Futures

Human Resources & Data Practices


Intrigued? The League's legislative policies webpage has more info. IGR staff are always excited to hear from prospective new policy committee members. Current elected and appointed city officials are encouraged to email liaison@lmc.org to participate next year.

Photo credit goes to LMC staffer Heather Corcoran