Thursday, October 16, 2014

Standing Ovation—LMC Election Champion Earns NASS Medallion Award

(L-R) Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, retired LMC lobbyist
Ann Higgins, and Deputy Secretary of State Beth Fraser
photo: Jeff Korte
Even in retirement, former League of Minnesota Cities employee Ann Higgins continues to draw applause for her years of service as a government relations professional.

Higgins, who worked at the League for 32 years first as a staff associate and then as a lobbyist, most recently chalked up receipt of a Medallion Award from the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) for her work as a strong advocate for city election officials.

The Medallion Award is presented by secretaries of state to recognize outstanding service in the areas of elections, civic education, service to state government, or philanthropy within the states. It was given to Higgins by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and Deputy Secretary of State Beth Fraser at the Oct. 16 League meeting of the board of directors.

Ritchie credited Ann for being a driving force behind election issues that are integral to democracy and a point of pride for Minnesotans.

“Ann was there to provide the heat and the clarity to those issues,” he said.

Ritchie said Ann always wanted to bring different interests to the table to create policy solutions together, even when strong differences of opinion existed.

“Ann Higgins put a lot of thought into how to make sure we didn’t make it townships vs. counties, cities vs. the Secretary of State’s office, this party or that,” said Richie. “[She] said that the only way we’re going to be leaders and do the things we need to do is by doing it together.”

Before her retirement from the League in 2013, Higgins also received recognition for outstanding achievement by Minnesota Women in City Government, and by the Minnesota Association of Community Telecommunications Administrators for her work on telecommunications and cable issues.

Congratulations to Ann from all of her friends and former colleagues at the League, and from all of the city officials she successfully represented at the State Capitol for more than three decades.

Research Q of the Week: City & Union Relations (10/16)

Question: Where can I go to get information about actual collective bargaining agreements and union grievances that other cities have dealt with?

Answer: The League has a great resource for you when these labor disputes arise. Since December 2012, the League has provided an “Arbitration Award Summaries” database.  Currently, there are over 150 arbitration decisions in this database.

For those of you who are new to the labor relations world, there are two types of arbitrations: interest arbitrations and grievance arbitrations. Interest arbitrations are used when the city and union are unable to agree on all the terms of a collective bargaining agreement (also called a labor contract). Grievance arbitrations are used when the union alleges violations of a collective bargaining agreement. In both situations, arbitrators act as judges and decide the outcome.

League staff summarize these arbitration decisions and enter the summaries into a searchable database, which can be found here:

How can you use the League’s database? Your city might want to know what the trends are in general wage increases or benefits when bargaining over a new collective bargaining agreement. Go to the database and search by arbitration decision type to only show the interest arbitration decisions.

Or let’s say that the city is about to go to arbitration and has received an arbitrator list. You can search by individual arbitrators to see recent arbitration decisions made by that person. Adding another wrinkle, let’s say that this is an interest arbitration (where there are still terms of the collective bargaining agreement that need to be ironed out)—you can limit your search in the League’s database to interest arbitration decisions by individual arbitrators.  Pretty cool, right?

The League also provides monthly updates on arbitration decisions on three different member forums, including the League’s HR/Personnel member forum. 

Written by Irene Kao, research attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: 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. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

One Piece at a Time: Bite-Sized Federal Health Care Reform Webcasts Now Available

Let’s face it: federal health care reform is pretty complex. We know it’s tempting to avoid the topic altogether and just keep your fingers crossed, but now we’ve got an easier way to understand this complicated topic.

As the League’s Human Resources Director Laura Kushner puts it: “The Affordable Care Act (ACA) in its entirety is a lot to absorb—but if you take it one piece at a time, it’s easier to understand and is less overwhelming.”

So what if you could just sit down with the experts and have them explain exactly what the implications are for Minnesota cities—and what you need to be doing right now?
With that goal in mind, the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) recently rolled out a new tool to help cities navigate this legislation. Partnering with Gallagher Benefit Services and Madden Galanter Hansen, LLP, LMC created a series of videos and podcasts—referred to as webcasts—on important topics cities need to understand about the Affordable Care Act.

There are currently a half-dozen webcasts posted on our website that range from ten minutes to 24 minutes. “We wanted to provide relatively small and easy-to-absorb ‘chunks’ of information about health care reform,” says Laura.

Each of these webcasts takes a close look into a different topic, including information on employer shared responsibility, measurement and stability periods, stand-alone HRAs and stipend agreements, and smaller employer requirements.

Not sure where to start? Laura suggests cities start with the episode about the Cadillac plans tax and the one on labor negotiations issues.

Even though it is not applicable until 2018, the Cadillac tax may impact more cities than one might think—which means you should start planning ahead.

The Cadillac plan  is determined based on the cost of the health insurance coverage provided to your city’s employees. The tax comes in when this coverage costs more than the specific amounts set forth in the ACA (single coverage exceeding $10,200 annually, or family coverage exceeding $27,500 annually).

And it is a hefty tax—40 percent on the value of coverage that exceeds those Cadillac plan thresholds. So this is where the labor negotiations webcast ties in. Cities that might be subject to this tax should start negotiating with unions now in order to avoid said tax. Why?

“Many labor contracts in Minnesota are ‘locked into’ providing a certain level of benefits to employees at a certain level of cost to the city,” explains Laura. “That can be nice for everyone because it provides stability for both the city and the employees. However, the problem is that there may not be any ‘wiggle room’ for the city as health care reform requirements begin to kick in.”

In other words, the city may be forced to continue to provide a level of benefits that results in the 40 percent Cadillac tax and have few options to negotiate this situation with the union.

Keep in mind that as health care reform is being implemented, new regulations are coming out continuously. “Cities that do not pay attention to these regulations may face stiff penalties or extra taxes that could substantially impact both current and future city budgets,” says Laura.

So Minnesota cities, please: pay attention now so you don’t pay the price later! We at the League are here to help.

Should you have questions about federal health care reform, feel free to contact LMC’s human resources and benefits department at (800) 925-1122.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Spotted: 2014 Police Loss Control Workshops

LMC's fall police workshops are in full swing! Over the past two weeks, LMC's Public Safety Project Coordinator Rob Boe spotted Randy Means and Jason Hiveley in their workshops.

 Randy Means presents Police Leadership in the New Normal—Part II in Fergus Falls.

 Jason Hiveley presents Why Police Reports are a Big Deal in Lakeville.

Fall Safety and Loss Control Workshops wrap-up Oct. 13 with Jason Hiveley presenting in Olivia.

Photos taken by Rob Boe.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Research Q of the Week: A Burning Question (10/9)

Question: The leaves are changing color and falling off the trees. Do our city residents need permits to burn the leaves they rake up in their yards?

Answer: Whether someone is required to obtain a permit for open burning of leaves depends upon where they live.

Open burning of leaves without a permit issued by a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) forestry official or one of its fire marshals is generally prohibited. 

This is the rule that applies to cities located in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. This general rule also applies to non-metro cities that have not adopted an ordinance allowing open burning of leaves.

(The Twin Cities metro in this instance is defined as: Anoka; Carver; Dakota, excluding the city of Northfield; Hennepin, excluding the cities of Hanover and Rockford; Ramsey; Scott, excluding the city of New Prague; and Washington counties.)

Non-metro has discretion
There is a broad exception to the open burning permit requirement. State law gives non-metro cities some discretion to determine whether to allow open burning of dried leaves. These cities may adopt an ordinance permitting open burning of dried leaves between Sept. 15 and Dec. 1. The ordinance must include conditions necessary to minimize air pollution, fire danger, and any other hazards or nuisance conditions. City ordinances can require residents to obtain a local open burning permit, but it is not necessary under state law for city open burning of leaves ordinances to require permits.

Open burning of leaves is still a no-no during air pollution alerts, warnings, or emergencies declared by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). Cities that adopt an open burning of leaves ordinance must provide a copy to the DNR and MPCA.

Nothing in state law requires non-metro cities to adopt an ordinance that allows open burning of leaves. State law simply authorizes cities to do what works best for them. If a non-metro city determines that safety, environmental, health, and nuisance concerns outweigh the possible benefits of open burning of leaves, it could either not adopt an ordinance permitting open burning of leaves or it could adopt an ordinance prohibiting open burning of leaves.

For answers to all your burning questions, see the League of Minnesota Cities information memo on Open Burning in Cities

Written by James Monge, research attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: 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.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Spotted: Biwabik Regional Meeting Kick-off

LMC's 2014 Regional Meetings kicked off Monday in Biwabik. City officials from the region joined each other at the table to discuss city issues including data security, civility, and more.

Here are just a few scenes spotted in Biwabik:

Biwabik Mayor Jim Weikum addresses attendees.

Attendees come to the table to discuss work-life balance,
citizen engagement, and other topics.

City officials share their experiences in a small group session.
Ski lifts in Biwabik patiently wait for winter.

Share what you bring to the table by registering for a Regional Meeting in your area and check back here for more photos from this year's Regional Meetings!

Photo credit goes to LMC staffer Greg Van Wormer

Friday, October 3, 2014

What is FirstNet? Find Out More about this New Training

The League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT) is offering FirstNet Safety Training, a web-based training endorsed by the National Safety Council, to all LMCIT members for the first time. This online training tool has been offered to members of LMCIT's Regional Safety Groups for the past several years, so we talked to two long-time FirstNet users to see why the training is such a valuable tool.
Sheila Dubs of the City of Marshall became the coordinator of the City’s safety program in 2009. When Sheila became responsible for Marshall’s safety program she needed a resource that could provide her with base-level knowledge on organizational best practices, could improve Marshall’s safety program, ensure overall OSHA compliance, and ensure that all employees received the training they needed.
Crystal Nicolai is the safety compliance coordinator with the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (WLSSD).  WLSSD has been using FirstNet for nine years, and as a long-time user, Crystal says her organization recognizes that FirstNet provides them with a means to effectively deliver safety training to employees regardless of their location, shifts, or schedules.
How do you use FirstNet?
When asked about the reasons Marshall uses FirstNet, Sheila said “FirstNet has served as a valuable resource in building a robust safety program. It is available 24/7 for adult learners, and is a great tool for our employees who work part-time, in paid-on-call positions and for employees who work shift schedules.” Marshall also uses FirstNet training as a refresher for employees.
Crystal also cited the benefits of FirstNet’s flexibility as a reason WLSSD uses FirstNet. In addition, she said that the training program helps her organization meet their safety goals. “FirstNet has made it possible for WLSSD to consistently reach the goal of 100% attendance at all monthly meetings, and any missed trainings made up within 30 days. FirstNet covers the general OSHA required and recommended safety training, and it can be relied on as an option for employees to make up training online at a time that works with all schedules.”
What benefits does FirstNet offer?
The flexibility of the online training program has been particularly attractive to employees at the City of Marshall.  Sheila said “Several employees prefer the FirstNet courses to the on-site training provided and choose to meet all their individual safety course requirements through this tool. We also have many paid-on-call employees who don’t work regular schedules or regular hours; the online training option ensures that we continue to meet compliance requirements and their individual training needs.”
Particularly appealing to WLSSD are trainings that help them when encountering some unique hazards some facilities contain. “WLSSD has found that the confined space, lockout/tagout, electrical, and defensive driving courses provide the most benefit because what is learned during the training can be directly applied to the work environment,” Crystal said. She went on to say that employees have completed almost all of the 30 courses offered.
Why continue to use FirstNet?
Over all, Sheila feels FirstNet is beneficial to the City of Marshall because “it is a tool by which the city can meet OSHA compliance requirements.  The variety of courses offered assist the city in continuing to sustain a strong safety program, and with new courses being added, it can further enhance the safety program and allow Marshall to offer additional topics to employees.” And, Crystal notes, the ease of use for employees from all levels of computer proficiency and experience, FirstNet is an accessible program for everyone.
To find out more about the FirstNet Safety Training program—including information on upcoming webinars for new and prospective FirstNet program administrators—visit the FirstNet page on the League’s website.