Friday, March 22, 2019

Minnesota Cities Magazine: What If Your City Had a Cybersecurity Breach?

A cybersecurity breach is a real threat and it can happen anywhere. Do you know what to do if it happens in your city? The March-April issue of Minnesota Cities magazine features two cities that dealt with ransomware and phishing attacks, and lived to tell the tale. Yeah, it was scary. But they got through it, and now other cities can learn from their experiences in How to Respond to a Computer Security Breach.

Another scary issue facing some of our valuable city employees is mental illness. Police officers, firefighters, and other first responders are especially susceptible to mental health problems like depression, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder. But that doesn't have to mean the end of a career. When cities build a culture of support, where individuals can get the help they need, mental illnesses can be successfully treated and even prevented. See how the first responder community and the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust are addressing this issue in Protecting the Protectors.

Other highlights of the March-April issue include:
You can also check out From the Bench for summaries of recent court cases, Focus on Small Cities to read about two small-city clerks’ backup arrangement, Two-Way Street for two cities’ experiences with Community Development Block Grants, and more!

Monday, March 11, 2019

Northern MN Provides Warm Welcome During the 2019 Polar Vortex

 By Kevin Staunton, Edina city councilmember and member of LMC Board of Directors

“It’s a zip your coat up kind of day,” said Baudette City Councilmember Marla Carlson. We were finishing up our lunch with her and other officials from Baudette, Blackduck, and Little Fork at Rosalie’s Restaurant and Lounge. With temperatures hovering around -25 degrees on Jan. 29, it was Marla’s way of acknowledging that it might have been a tad bit colder than usual, but it was nothing the local residents couldn’t handle.

Some of our gracious city hosts gathering in Baudette.

You might be wondering what I (a city councilmember from Edina) was doing in Baudette during the 2019 Polar Vortex. It was the latest of the visits Luke Fischer (the League of Minnesota Cities’ deputy director) and Dan Greensweig (the LMC Insurance Trust administrator) have been making around the state to meet city officials where they live and work. As a member of the League Board of Directors, I was invited to tag along. On this trip, we covered 950 miles and visited eight cities in six counties. We met with 38 city officials from 18 cities and attended two city council meetings (and even popped across the Canadian border for an impromptu visit to Rainy River, Ontario). Oh–and survived temperatures of -38F and wind chills dipping as low as -64F.

These trips provide us with the chance to meet folks in their own communities and gain a greater understanding of what those communities are all about. On that score, this particular trip did not disappoint. Despite the cold weather, we got to take in some of the local sites (did you know, for instance, that the Laurentian Continental Divide crosses County Road 39 just south of Blackduck, that the giant walleye in Baudette is named Wally, and that Mayor Bob Marvin of Warroad has an amazing collection of classic cars on public display at The Shed?) But more importantly, we got the chance to learn more about the challenges and opportunities facing cities in north central Minnesota.

I have two big takeaways from the trip. First, the city officials we had a chance to visit with—both elected and appointed—were all amazing, dedicated folks working hard to make their cities the best they can be. Second, this part of the state has a lot going for it. With thriving major employers joining traditional agricultural and tourism businesses, there are lots of opportunities for communities to prosper. Challenges for cities, though, include providing the infrastructure to attract housing development (both the traditional infrastructure like sewer, water, and roads and 21st Century infrastructure like broadband), helping facilitate day care services, and providing ambulance services.

These are familiar challenges to those of us who serve in local government. The League of Minnesota Cities is uniquely positioned to help cities in north central Minnesota and throughout the state by providing training, research assistance, legislative advocacy, and risk management. A few days hanging out with dedicated community leaders in this area of our state is a good reminder that we can all learn from each other, and constantly work to improve the lives of our residents.

LMCIT Administrator Dan Greensweig and Wally the Walleye

The City Spot Blog periodically publishes dispatches from city officials. Do you have a submission for The City Spot? Contact for more information.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Back on the Map: LeRoy City Lines Keeps Small Communities Connected

This is the first in a series of City Spot blog posts dedicated to stories of cities that are solving problems by putting ideas into action. You can read more Ideas in Action in Minnesota Cities magazine.

Since 1999, residents of the city of LeRoy, located 40 miles south of Rochester, could stay connected to the economic hub using Rochester City Lines. But when the service discontinued service to LeRoy (pronounced LEE-roy) in 2014, the need for transportation did not.

In the months after the service stopped, a group of employees who lived in LeRoy and worked at the Mayo Clinic organized a carpool to satisfy their transportation needs. Axel Gumbel, member of the LeRoy Economic Development Authority (EDA), was a driver for the carpool and says they were making the arrangement work until financial issues developed in summer 2015.

After what Gumbel describes as “a year’s worth of intense discussion,” the city saw an opportunity to act. The LeRoy EDA approached bus companies about the possibility of resuming routes to LeRoy. When this didn’t work, the city turned its attention to buying a bus and operating a service.

The city purchased a used, 31-passenger bus from Minnesota Coaches to get started. After factors including insurance, hiring drivers, and promotional materials were in order, LeRoy City Lines launched on Dec. 1, 2016. The city owns the service and the EDA operates it.

Gumbel says LeRoy’s service “copied exactly what people had been used to with Rochester City Lines.” The service departs from LeRoy, travels north to Grand Meadow, ending in downtown Rochester.

Mayo Clinic decided to subsidize a portion of the fare passes for employees who used the service, ensuring its initial success. Regular fares for the service are $10 per one-way ride, $86 for a 10-ride pass, and $219 for a monthly pass.

Weekday ridership to Rochester grew, prompting the EDA to purchase a 23-passenger, handicap accessible bus. Gumbel stresses that LeRoy Cities Lines is a resource for the entire region—not just the city. “Once we got it going, we weren’t shy about sharing it with everyone,” he says.

Staying relevant to riders
One thing that helps the service is its willingness to try new things. Gumbel says LeRoy City Lines is “doing things Rochester City Lines never considered,” such as expanding routes beyond state borders.

Due to growing interest, LeRoy City Lines extended to Chester, Iowa. LeRoy City Lines now offers round-trip commuter routes from Chester, Iowa, to Rochester twice daily.

LeRoy City Lines also began offering a charter service and saw unexpectedly high demand for events such as weddings, church retreats, and school trips. To accommodate the new charter service, the city added a third, 32-passenger bus to the fleet.

The service is also dabbling in providing medical transportation. Gumbel says they are still working out some challenges, so the service is offered upon request and not advertised as a regular offering.

Putting in the hard work

The entire initiative is self-funded. Gumbel and his colleague Craig Jacobson, president of the EDA, spearheaded the initiative and volunteer their time to LeRoy City Lines while also working fulltime jobs. To keep the operation running smoothly, Gumbel says, “We essentially have to run like a business.”

Like any business, there were challenges throughout the process of creating LeRoy City Lines. In hindsight, Gumbel said he wishes the EDA would have initially put more money into vehicles. The original three buses purchased worked well for the first five months, then repair bills started to pile up. The city eventually bought two replacement buses and now keeps the original 31-passenger bus as a back-up.

Despite the setbacks, LeRoy City Lines is motoring ahead. In its first year, they saw consistent ridership and demand for its various services. City Clerk Patty White is the administrative official for the city, and says LeRoy City Lines is playing an important role in promoting the city. “This has been one of the best public relations items the city and EDA have ever done,” White says. “I look forward to seeing LeRoy City Lines continue to grow.”

Advice for other cities
Gumbel advises other cities considering tackling public transportation to invest in quality vehicles and to spend time on the business logistics and customer service. Gumbel emphasizes that formal education on the topic is not required, so long as cities have the right mix of skills and the “drive” to take on the issue.

Written by LMC Intern McKayla Collins

Friday, January 18, 2019

Meet LMC Lobbyists and the New Governor in Minnesota Cities Magazine

It’s the beginning of a new legislative session at the state Capitol and—yes—the League will be advocating on behalf of cities every step of the way. But who are these advocates? Find out in the January-February issue of Minnesota Cities magazine! We asked our lobbyists a few questions—both professional and (just a little) personal—to help you get to know them better. Check it out in Meet the LMC Lobbyists.

And speaking of the state Capitol, there will be lots of new faces around there this year, including a new governor. We talked with Gov. Tim Walz, as well as newly elected State Auditor Julie Blaha and re-elected Secretary of State Steve Simon, to find out where they stand on topics of importance to cities. Read all about that in New Governor & Officers Discuss City Issues and Priorities.

Other highlights of the January-February issue include:
As always, you’ll also get insights from LMC Executive Director David Unmacht in St. Paul to City Hall, summaries of recent court cases in From the Bench, answers to frequently asked questions in Ask LMC, and more.

Bonus! This issue includes a four-page special report on the League’s 2019 legislative priorities!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Let’s Do This: A New Year's Greeting from LMC Board President Heidi Omerza

 A message from Heidi Omerza, LMC board president and city councilmember from Ely:
2018 was a time of many learning experiences, victories, and goodbyes.

The goodbyes are always most difficult. First, I would like to take a moment to say a heartfelt “thank you” to the many elected officials who are “retiring.” Your contributions not only to your city, but to the collective Minnesota cities community have made ALL of us better. Please do not be a stranger to the LMC. We still need you!

As I look to the year ahead, I challenge each and every one of you: Instead of making the usual list of New Year’s resolutions that includes a variety of healthy lifestyle choices, might I suggest adding an LMC activity. It can be as simple as joining a MemberLink community, attending a function (the Legislative Conference in February, the Annual Conference in June, a fall Regional Meeting) or jumping in with both feet and joining a policy committee.

Your LMC board and staff continue to work and represent all member cities. A quote by Margaret Mead sums it up best, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world! Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

As I look to the year ahead I know that together we will continue to make a difference in our cities, communities, at the state capitol and at the nation’s capitol. As always, your stories make a difference in good policy-making decisions.

Thank you for all of the work you do on behalf of your cities; it is greatly needed and appreciated! As my 14-year-old daughter says, “Let’s do this!!!!” Season’s greetings and happy 2019!

A fun memory from 2018—visiting Washington D.C. for the
National League of Cities' Congressional City Conference. From
left to right: Hopkins City Manager Mike Mornson, Ely Citycouncilmember
Heidi Omerza, and White Bear Lake Mayor Jo Emerson.

Monday, November 19, 2018

The To-Do List of an Election Admin and Three Early Voting Facts

Equipment for elections is tested, organized, packed, and
ready to be delivered to polling locations prior to Election Day.
 A guest blog by Blaine City Clerk Cathy Sorensen

Hi there, my name is Cathy Sorensen, Blaine city clerk. I also serve on the LMC Improving Service Delivery Policy Committee and I’m the chair of the LMC Elections Task Force. After finalizing all the tasks involved in a busy election cycle I wanted to share a little about what is involved in administering an election and some of the behind-the-scenes tasks that most members of the public are not aware of.

From the to-do list of an election administrator:
•    Hire and train great election judges … and tactfully let some go!
•    Secure polling places.
•    Test election equipment for accuracy.
•    End-of-day accepting, sorting and filing of ballots & applications.
•    Opening and preparing absentee ballots for tabulation.
•    Pack election supplies: everything from pollpads, rosters, and ballots to pens and paper clips.
•    Tally write-in votes for school and other special districts that include Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and others that can’t be mentioned here.
•    Work all day Saturday before election day for absentee voting and packing supplies for the polling places! Some jurisdictions are open on additional weekends too.
•    Coordinate public works deliveries and pick up of equipment and materials for the polling locations.
•    Unpack supplies and regroup for the next election.

Three early voting facts
Three facts about early voting that residents (or even city officials!) may not know:
  • Early voting is available 46 DAYS before Election Day.
    • Having lots of extra visitors as early as September creates disruption and staffing challenges at city halls where balloting is conducted.
    • Interest in absentee voting increases each year, which will affect staffing and location needs. For example, more early voters may mean more early voting locations are needed in some communities, while fewer people voting on Election Day means fewer election judges needed in polling places on Election Day. This is the new norm!
  • In Minnesota, it’s all “absentee voting.”
    • Technically Minnesota doesn’t have “early voting,” it’s all “absentee voting”! The law allows people to put their absentee ballots in the tabulator in the seven days leading up to Election Day, but prior to that the ballots are placed in envelopes to be opened during those magic seven days. Voters need to fill out an application to vote absentee because voting rosters are only available on Election Day.
    • During those magic seven days we must still specifically offer voters the option to put their ballot in an envelope or put it in the machine.
    •  Bottom line: this process is very confusing to voters and not the same experience as voting on Election Day.
  • A law passed in 2016 established a presidential nomination primary.
    • With absentee voting beginning in December, this will make for a year-long election cycle. We anticipate having difficulty finding election judges for this primary because many election judges are snowbirds who leave for the winter. 
    • Judges are just one reason why we need to look at better ways to administer the presidential primary.
Public works staff help deliver equipment and materials
to the polls.
Are changes ahead?
Each year, city officials from across the state serve on the LMC Elections Task Force through LMC to recommend improvements to the system. To see our elections policies for 2019, including a proposal to better administer the presidential primary, check out the draft 2019 City Policies document here.

And last but not least, thank you, colleagues across the state, who help make elections happen!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

How One City Beat the Winter Doldrums

And other stories from the Nov-Dec 2018 Minnesota Cities magazine

Champ, the University of Minnesota-Duluth mascot,
has a blast skating on the 500-meter ice track.
Let’s face it: Winter in Minnesota can be pretty bleak. Well, Duluth leaders decided to do something about that last year, when they enticed more than 1,800 people to come out and play in the middle of February.

The city’s winter festival included a sledding hill, fire spinners, an ice track, fat-tire bike riding along the Lakewalk, live music, and more. And sure enough, people came out of hibernation, despite sub-zero temps. Even Champ, the University of Minnesota–Duluth mascot, loved it! (The proof is in the picture.)

Duluth put this winter wonderland together in only three months. How’d they do that? With a lot of help from their friends, as it turns out. You can read all about it in the Ideas in Action article in the November-December issue of Minnesota Cities magazine—hitting mailboxes this week! (Here’s a secret: It’s available online now at!)

In addition to this winter celebration story, you’ll find a variety of other articles, including:

Affordable housing. Cities all over Minnesota are facing a housing crunch. It’s not a Greater Minnesota issue; it’s not a metro problem. It’s everywhere. Find out how some cities are addressing it in The Ongoing Quest for Affordable Housing.

City finance. Solid finances are the key to your city’s success. So, be sure to read these two articles with tips for keeping the city financially stable: Financial Planning for Elected Officials and Measure Up! Key Metrics to Keep Your City in Good Financial Shape.

Clean water. Maybe it’s not the most exciting topic (or maybe it is for you!), but residents in St. Martin were thrilled when the water coming out of their taps was no longer orange. Read Focus on Small Cities to find out how this city of 344 built the first all-biological water treatment plant in the state.

You can also check out From the Bench for summaries of recent court cases, St. Paul to City Hall for LMC Executive Director David Unmacht’s thoughts on what makes a successful city staff, and Two-Way Street for two cities’ experiences with Regional Safety Groups.

Photo credit goes to Wherehouse Productions