Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Halloween Blizzard of 1991: Mother Nature's Trick (Not Treat!)

Jack-o-lanterns were blanketed by snow
(courtesy Pioneer Press)
No one expected the record-breaking amount of snow that fell across the state over just a few days during the Halloween blizzard of 1991. After all, temperatures had been unseasonably warm (in the mid- to upper-60’s) on October 29.

But by the time kids were ready to trick or treat, at least half a foot of snow had blanketed the state. Within just a few days, 36.9 inches landed in Duluth and 28.4 inches in the Twin Cities—and a swath of at least one to two feet covered the entire state.

When it was over, the storm had caused millions of dollars of damage across the Upper Midwest. However, Minnesota cities escaped largely unscathed. The League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust received less than $75,000 in claims (including ice damage, a roof collapse caused by the snow, and a slew of auto losses to city cars).

That is likely thanks in large part to public works employees across the state, who toiled non-stop when surprised by this monster storm. On the eve of the anniversary of this historic event, here are some memories from those workers who were on the front lines 22 years ago...

Costumes were covered by winter jackets
(courtesy of Eric Miller, Pioneer Press)
Little did we know
“I had only been working for the city one year when this took place. I remember that it started out being a nice fall day, and we were pouring concrete sidewalks. They had been talking about some snow coming, but most people felt that it would melt on contact since the pavement temperatures were so warm. Little did we know! Later that afternoon we were plowing snow on the main arterials, and it just kept coming. Day two of plowing I was amazed to turn down residential roads that didn’t have one car that had attempted to drive down the road in the last two days. Just a sea of white and no sign of life other than families huddled inside their homes watching out the front window as I went by, just thankful to see a plow. The day the storm started we didn’t have all of our plow trucks ready, which sent us scrambling—so to this day we have all of our plow equipment mounted by the end of October because of this event.”
-Ken Frosig, Street Maintenance Supervisor, City of Bloomington

Rain quickly turned to snow
Stuck cars were a sight all over the state
(courtesy of Chris Polydoroff - Pioneer Press)
“I remember that day like it was yesterday. Rain quickly turned to snow. We have a two-man crew, and my colleague who lived in the country got snowed in. So I was plowing the city streets by myself. I started at 1 a.m. and plowed until 7 p.m. the following night. Vehicles were all over, stuck. Emergency routes were plugged up. The forecast had said 6-7 inches, and we ended up with 23.5 inches. But because of better equipment, what used to take 12-16 hours to plow would now take only about 5 hours.”
-Bud Ranta, Maintenance Supervisor, City of Cook

 The high winds kept blowing the streets shut again
“We had two phone lines at that time, and we were getting so many calls that you couldn’t call out on either of the lines. If you picked up the phone, somebody was on it calling us. The high winds kept blowing the streets shut again in the open areas. There were so many vehicles stuck that there were streets we couldn’t plow. Plow operators had to be extremely careful because there so many vehicles completely covered with snow.”
-Steve Nauer, Street Maintenance Superintendent, City of Brooklyn Park

Traveling by skis or foot was sometimes fastest
(courtesy of Joe Oden - Pioneer Press)
The storm taught me to be ready
"I remember the storm well. I started in 1986, so looking back I was still considered the new kid on the block by some. I recall the forecast for snow in October thinking it couldn’t be too serious, but decided to have the crews hook up all our snow removal equipment and test it so it was operational. Little did we know the next day we would be plowing snow. This storm taught me to be ready. “
-Jeff Davies, Public Works Director, City of Grand Rapids 

I thought that day would never end

“It was like being in hell that day. I knew I would not see home for a few days because we had a lot of work to do to keep the streets open for the safety of the people who live in this city. When it started snowing, it just would not stop. It got heavier and heavier every hour that went by that day. I thought that day would never end. We worked on the roads around the clock for days after to try and get them back in good driving condition. There were no days off for anyone that month. That storm almost shut this city down. At times we had to go in front of the emergency vehicles to get them were they were going. When we were out plowing the city streets, the people were so happy to see us coming they came out with coffee and some goodies for us. We would work around the clock again today if we had to, to keep this city from shutting down. It’s all about pride of the city workers that comes into play.”
-Douglas M. Drusch, Public Works Supervisor III, City of St. Paul 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Great Depression and the Burden of 'Poor Relief' on Minnesota Cities

When the stock market crashed in October of 1929, symbolizing the start of the Great Depression, the entire country felt the impact. Economies large and small were affected, and communities in Minnesota were no different.

At the time, it was the responsibility of a local or county government to provide for residents living in poverty, and suddenly "poor relief," as it was called, was on the minds of municipal officials like never before.

"Leadership through the local government may not be the most desirable way of meeting a huge social problem, yet it is apparent that this assumption of local leadership and responsibility is with us today," stated a League publication for an unemployment conference held in 1931.

At the conference, representatives from 14 cities "made war on the hazards of unemployment and problems of poor relief," according to one news report.

The League urged its members to anticipate and prepare to provide basic needs such as shelter, clothing and food; address the issue of delinquent properties; and create relief work in the form of public works projects.

The League also compiled and reported on efforts by members to address unemployment and poverty:

•    Chisholm's representative reported that the city was employing 80 men for one week a month to work on city infrastructure. In addition, unemployed men would be put to work cutting down dead timber, to be used as fuel by poor households.
•    In Austin, plans to work on the Austin Airport were fast-tracked one year to provide work in the fall and early winter. The Water and Light Board put 15-20 men to work tearing down an old boiler house and turning the old boilers to scrap iron. The city and Hormel community chest committees anticipated they would double the previous year's expenditure of $3,800 on relief.
•    Golden Valley, then a farming town, reported that they arranged for the chairman of the Parent-Teacher's Association in each of their two school districts to look after the needy in conjunction with the justice of the peace.
•    In Alexandria, among other efforts, a coalition of businesses, nonprofits and city officials roused  businesses and households to provide one day of work a month to be given to an unemployed person.
Images from Minnesota Municipalities magazine, 1931

All hands on deck, cities and beyond

In addition to purely parochial efforts, it's clear municipal leaders recognized the gravity of the problem, and the impossibility of solving the crisis while going alone.

Federal funds such as those from the United States Reconstruction Finance Corporation were usually allocated and distributed at the county or city level. Cities were asked to identify public projects such as ditch clearing, laying water mains, and leveling road beds for work relief.

The League also stepped in in November of 1932 to help the state's Public Works Administration process federal grant applications for public works projects in cities. That work was funded through the American Municipal Association (now the National League of Cities) by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.

 How was your city impacted by the Great Depression? What actions did your city take to respond? Let us know in the comments!

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Survey Just for YOU!

You know that whole "talk to us" fuss we've been making? Well now we're going to walk the walk.

Tell us what YOU think about this very centennial blog by completing a quick survey:

Click here to take the survey. Here. Right here.
It's a mere six questions, totally anonymous, that will help us figure out what we're doing right, what we're doing wrong, and what we should consider doing in the future. Whoa, that's a mighty survey.

So go ahead, give it to us straight. Good or bad, we want to hear from you!

Wait, where's the power button? Maybe you should just take the survey while we figure out how to work this thing.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Talk to Us: What You've Had to Say About LMC

Minnesota cities have been hearing the same three little words since day one of the League: "Talk to us."

In the early years, League staff wanted to know what made cities tick, what the cost of doing business was in each city, and what that business was. We built our foundation on gathering that information, and couldn't have done it without the participation of municipalities.

That was just the start. For example, in League archives, we have kept many a record of satisfaction survey results and testimonials from members.
From a 1920s testimonial by J. N. Nicholsen, Austin:
" 'In union there is strength.' Many of our municipal problems are individual, but many also are the same problems that our sister cities have, and it is an assistance to us to know how these problems have been solved in other cities of our class." (Well put, Mr. Nicholsen!)

From 1946 Annual Conference survey comments of N. Schochet, Coleraine: 
"... Some consideration  should be given to newly elected officials, such as a meeting or two like a primary school for municipal officials, taking their functions in general and allowing time for questions." (Great idea! Sound familiar? )

From anonymous comments on social entertainment, 1960:
"No more smorgasbords as they take too much time—no more steaks as they are often too tough—provide a dance (for the ladies' benefit.)" (Hey, you can't please everyone.)

Members continue to demonstrate the value of the League by taking the time to provide compliments and constructive criticism, making their own organization stronger.  More recently, we set up a video camera at the 2012 Annual Conference to ask members to share what they value about the League.

Their enthusiasm is the kind of fuel that will sustain League activities for years to come. Want to share your own thoughts on the value of the League? Let us know in the comments!

Check back on Friday for a centennial blog survey, and another chance to talk to us!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Happy Minnesota Cities Day!

Celebrate! Jubilate! Pontificate (on all the good things cities do)! Why all the enthusiasm, you ask?

Because the League of Minnesota Cities is proud to announce that Gov. Dayton has declared today—Oct. 11, 2013—Minnesota Cities Day!

To help mark LMC's 100th year, the proclamation states in part:

The League of Minnesota Cities will use the occasion of its centennial anniversary to appreciate the rich history of local government in Minnesota, recognize the valuable contributions made by cities to local communities throughout the state, and reaffirm its vision for the future.

In that spirit, the League wants to sincerely thank you—our member cities—for always being valued and trusted partners. Every day, the work you do is vital to making Minnesota the beautiful and vibrant place it is to live.

Here’s to our next century together!

*       *       *        *       *        *

P.S. Wondering why Minnesota Cities Day falls on October 11? Hint: it has to do with the governor’s proclamation for the League's 50th anniversary in 1963. Read more here!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Day (Now Two!) for Celebrating Cities

JUST ANNOUNCED: Gov. Dayton declared Oct. 11, 2013 Minnesota Cities Day. Read on to find out why Oct. 11 ...

 WHEREAS, the year was 1963,

NOW THEREFORE, the League celebrated 50 years of serving cities. …

The milestone prompted a proclamation by Gov. Karl Rolvaag and the State Senate that Oct. 11 of that year would be declared Municipal Government Day.

Over the prior 50 years, cities had become more professional, more cooperative, and Minnesota had become more urban, Rolvaag's proclamation explains.

It states that the League had "itself contributed to much of the improvement in municipal government of which the state can be proud ..."  

—to which we hereunto say, “Awww shucks!”

The days around Oct. 11 were subsequently marked with several municipal government celebrations across the state, designed to demonstrate the value of city government:

In Warroad, the city put their emergency vehicles and equipment on display to invite residents to learn about city services.

In Paynesville and Shakopee, staff invited residents in for an open house and tours of their respective city halls.

And in Minneapolis and St. Paul, a lively “Mayor Swap” resulted in Minneapolis’ North Loop to be rezoned as agriculture (if only for the day).

Luckily, such events are now commonplace throughout the year, no 50th anniversary needed. Does your city promote the value of your services in a special event like Municipal Government Day did in 1963? Let us know in the comments.

Check back on Friday, Oct. 11 to learn more about the proclamation declaring Minnesota Cities Day 2013!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Story Behind the Picture

Captured 100 years ago today, on Oct. 2, 1913, this photo includes 114 delegates bundled up against the chilly fall weather. The occasion? The League's first annual conference. The location? Rice Park in St. Paul.

Fast-forward a century later. Planning commences for the League's 2013 Annual Conference and Centennial Celebration. We wondered: could we re-create the photo in the same spot? The League decided to give it a shot.

The only challenge? With more than 400 attendees expected at the Centennial Celebration, we simply would not fit in Rice Park anymore! Not only had LMC outgrown Rice Park, the trees at Rice Park had also outgrown us and now towered above the spot where those delegates once stood.

So the Union Depot's front lawn was chosen as the new location. On one of the first hot summer days in 2013, delegates attending the LMC Centennial Celebration made their way outside:

In the meantime, Twin Cities photographer Paul Lundquist prepared his equipment and readied himself:

League staff members made their way through the crowd, lining everyone up so they would be in the shot:

Once everyone was set, the photographer climbed his ladder (steadied by a helping hand) to gain the vantage point necessary to capture all of the delegates:

And voila! The re-creation was a success, with approximately 400 smiling delegates imprinting themselves into this moment in history:

Hopefully in 100 years, people will look back on this photo and enjoy it as much as we (and hopefully you!) have all enjoyed that original photo.

And last—but not least—on this anniversary of the League's first annual conference, we wanted to recognize those 35 cities that have had continuous membership in the League for 100 years:

Ada, Albert Lea, Aurora, Bemidji, Buhl, Canby, Chaska, Coleraine, Detroit Lakes, Duluth, Hibbing, International Falls, Janesville, Kasota, Keewatin, Mankato, Minneapolis, Montevideo,  Morris, New Ulm, Northfield, St. Cloud, St. Paul, St. Peter, Sauk Centre, Shakopee, Sleepy Eye, South St. Paul, Staples, Thief River Falls, Tonka Bay, Two Harbors, Virginia, White Bear Lake, and Willmar

Thanks to these founding members for a great first century!