Monday, November 24, 2014

Your Roadmap to the November-December Issue of Minnesota Cities Mag

The November-December issue of Minnesota Cities magazine mailed last week to subscribers, and is
available online now. Here’s a quick tour of what’s inside:

If strategic planning sounds like a “kumbaya” exercise to you—think again. Minnesota cities are using these flexible roadmaps to turn ideas into reality and to focus staff and elected officials on the priorities at hand. Get started on the road to better government with Strategic Planning—Building a Roadmap to Success. WEB EXTRA ALERT: You can view the strategic plans for the cities of Carver and Hopkins in The Results: Strategic Plan Documents.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman is wrapping up his one-year term as president of the National League of Cities. As fearless leader, it was Coleman’s role to lead on city issues at the national level, specifically, NLC’s three main priorities for 2014: passing immigration reform law, preserving the tax exemption on municipal bonds, and establishing a sales tax for Internet commerce. Coleman also added a personal touch to his term by prioritizing Minnesota values like outdoor recreation for kids. See more about Coleman’s presidential term in Mayor Coleman’s Year as NLC President.

The City of Medina had a 1970s-era pole barn posing as a public works facility and a growing population. Hmm. When something had to give in 2007, the city began down a winding road to find a project that fit the budget and garnered community buy-in. It took five years, but the city struck upon a retrofit opportunity that allowed for an honest-to-goodness public works facility as well as an expansion of City Hall and the Police Department. Oh yeah. Find out what happened to the pole barn in Ideas in Action: Medina’s Space Expansion Success.

As always, columns such as From the Bench (summaries of recent court cases that may affect Minnesota cities), Two-Way Street (staff from Red Wing and New Ulm discuss youth curfews), and Bits & Briefs (quick-hit news and info from the municipal world and beyond) are ready for your reading enjoyment.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Can You Spot the Issues? A Look at Data Security

Greg Van Wormer speaks about data security.
A lot of media attention is focused on big data security breaches where thousands, or even millions, of credit card numbers become compromised. With a focus on credit card security, it can be easy to forget that there are other types of data that can be vulnerable to potential security breaches.

To help clarify what cities need to protect, and how breaches can happen in cities of any size. Greg Van Wormer, LMC’s Assistant Technology Services Director, recently presented some scenarios demonstrating potential data security issues.

Read through the scenarios below and see if you can spot how the Data Practices Act is being violated.

Scenario #1:

A night custodian is on his/her rounds when they notice that the city clerk’s computer has been left on. This clerk also manages human resources, and displayed on the computer screen is a letter of reprimand. The custodian reads the letter, learning who is being reprimanded and what they are being reprimanded for.

What security risks are in this scenario? There are multiple issues. The fact that the clerk’s computer is on and not password protected violates the Data Practices Act. The night custodian also violates the act by reading the letter because he or she is accessing data they don’t have permission to access. A further consequence is that the subject of the letter of reprimand could sue the city. To avoid these issues, make sure all computers are password-protected and automatically log-off if they  haven’t been used in a designated amount of time.

Scenario #2:

A city manager is sending out an email to residents who signed-up to be notified when there is a snow emergency. The email list is relatively small, and the city manager sends the email through their city email account. The city manager copies all the emails into the email and hits send.

How did this violate the Data Practices Act? When the city manager sends the email, the email addresses are visible to all the recipients. This unintended disclosure violates the act by sharing information that is not for the public. A solution to this problem is to use a third-party email service that will send it to your list without showing other recipients’ emails.

Want to know more about how to protect your city’s data? Here are some resources you can explore:

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Research Q of the Week: TNT, Not Quite Dynamite (11/20)

Question: "TNT" a.k.a. Truth in Taxation? What’s up with that?

Answer: It’s a term that no longer shows up in the law, but you may still hear it bandied about.

And no, this is not about an AC/DC song. We're talking about city budgets here.

While “TNT” laws used to require expensive published notices and numerous public meetings, the intent of the law was to allow the public to speak to elected officials about city budgets at a public meeting—before those budgets were adopted. It only applied to larger cities, and a similar requirement still exists in current law. But the term “truth-in-taxation” used to refer to the multiple hearings was taken out of the law in 2009.

Let’s call these "public participation meetings" instead. Now, in cities with more than 500 residents, the public must be given a chance to speak to the council about city budgets at a public meeting, held at or after 6 p.m., when the city budget and levy is being discussed.  Also according to this law, this public participation meeting must occur sometime from Nov. 25 to Dec. 29 of 2014. And, it must take place before the budget and final tax levy is adopted. So as you plan your budget and levy discussions in the coming months, include a time for the public to speak, too.

For more information on these public participation meetings—oddly, I admit—still referred to as Truth in Taxation, see page 7 of the 2014 Budget Guide for Cities and instructions from the Dept. of Revenue.

I can’t resist reminding you of one more drop-dead date: all cities and special taxing districts must certify the final property tax levy to the county auditor by Dec. 29, 2014. If this deadline is missed, the final levy for 2014 will stay the same as it was in 2013. For more on that, see Chapter 22 of the Handbook for Minnesota Cities and the same Dept. of Revenue instructions, linked above.

Written by Jeanette Behr, research manager 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. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Spotted: Keeping it 'Fresh and Local' at the 2014 Metro Regional Meeting

City staff, elected officials, and business partners came to the table in Minneapolis last week for the fresh and local Metro Regional Meeting in Minneapolis. In addition to presentations and discussion of computer & network security and civility, state demographer Susan Brower shared a few trends and opportunities on the horizon related to aging and diversity. Metro Cities also held their annal policy approval meeting.

To wrap up the evening, members of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (having an event in the same place!) joined attendees for a reception and meeting of the minds inclusive of all corners of the state.

Andy Berg (Abdo, Eick & Meyers), Silv Carlson (Woodland),
and Scott Zerby (Shorewood)

George Tourville (Inver Grove Heights)

Heidi Omerza (Ely)

John Young Jr. (Hawley) and Ron Johnson (Bemidji)

Mark Sather and Jo Emerson (White Bear Lake)

Photo credit goes to LMC staffers Danielle Cabot and Jenna Kramer

Friday, November 14, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Triggering a City Election Recount (11/14)

Question: So, what triggers a recount in a city election? Is it automatic if the numbers are close?

Answer: Got a close call? After election results are finalized, some cities will be asked to have a recount on close races. Recounts may be requested by a candidate or from a court order—but there are no automatic recounts for city offices in Minnesota.

A losing candidate for a city office may request a recount, at the expense of the city, if:
  • The total number of votes is more than 50,000 and the difference between the votes cast for that candidate and for the winning candidate is less than one-quarter of one percent of the total votes counted for that office. 
  • The total number of votes is between 400 and 50,000 and the difference between the votes cast for that candidate and for the winning candidate is less than one-half of one percent of the total votes counted for that office.
  • The total number of votes is less than 400 and the difference between the votes cast for losing candidate and for the winning candidate is less than 10 votes.
In the case where two or more seats are being filled from among all of the candidates for the office, the elected candidate with the fewest votes is the candidate used to determine if the difference between the winning candidate and losing candidate is close enough to have a recount.

If a candidate requests a recount but is not within the margins mentioned above, the recount would be at that candidate’s expense unless the final result is changed more than the margin of error for the vote counting machine or the requesting candidate is declared the winner.

More information on this process is available here: Secretary of State’s 2014 Recount Guide 
And because you may need a few, here you go: a selection of rubber finger tips

Written 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, November 7, 2014

Gathering at the Community Table: A Round-Up of the 2014 Regional Meetings

Lakeville City Clerk Kelly Rasche
was at the table this year!
Coffee and conversation are Minnesota traditions—and city officials in our state are just like the rest of us…happy to indulge in both whenever (and wherever) possible!

Municipal leaders had the chance to do just that when the League of Minnesota Cities staff held a series of statewide Regional Meetings this October. Held every fall in different Greater Minnesota Cities (east, west, north, and south), this year we had a chance to visit with more than 300 city officials in eight locations.

The agenda was heavy on two-way dialogue, as well as the usual options for cream, sugar, or artificial sweetener, of course! Along with mayors, councilmembers and city staff gathered around tables to ponder two timely topics: effective strategies for authentic citizen engagement (or, simply put, how to get residents involved in city government), and maintaining work-life balance.

Discussion highlights included tips on getting citizens to attend city meetings, effective sharing of information, taking the city's message to residents at other community group meetings, and managing mobile phones, among others.

The issue of civility was also addressed—in cinematic fashion, no less. Attendees were treated to a newly-produced LMC video that featured the mayor, council, and staff of the fictional city "Mosquito Heights."
Meeting attendees prepare to watch the
latest Mosquito Heights production.

The latest Heightian adventure showed our characters struggling through the issue of building a new public safety center in a hostile environment marked by personality conflicts, role confusion, and angry citizens. Following the video, meeting attendees convened into roundtable groups to reflect on the potential causes and costs of incivility in their own communities, along with possible remedies.

Each gathering also featured a learning session on technology and data security, along with an update on League legislative activities. And at the conclusion of the meetings in each location, city officials had an opportunity to meet and greet local candidates for the state legislature.

On the whole, not bad for a day's work—all in the name of tradition!

P.S. - There is still one meeting left for this year. The Metro Regional Meeting will take place on Thursday, Nov. 12 in Minneapolis...get details and see the agenda online!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Flying The Stars and Stripes (11/6)

Question: Should my city fly the U.S. flag at half-staff on Veterans Day? How about other patriotic holidays?

Answer: The U.S. flag is one of our country’s oldest symbols and represents the principles of justice, liberty, and democracy. It is displayed at half-staff as a symbol of respect. (The term “half-staff” means the position of the flag when it is one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the staff.)

The U.S. flag should be displayed daily on or near the main administrative building of every public institution. But, cities should not fly the U.S. flag at half-staff on Veterans Day. Who says? The U.S. Flag Code (4 U.S.C. §§ 5-10) provides voluntary guidelines for the proper handling and displaying of the U.S. flag, as well as information on when the flag should be at half-staff.

Read on for some city-specific tips for flying the U.S. flag.

When should the flag be at half-staff?
  • On Memorial Day, the U.S. flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon and then raised to the top of the staff.
  • The U.S. flag should be displayed at half-staff by the U.S. president’s order, upon the death of principle figures of federal government or the death of the governor of a state.
  • The U.S. flag should be displayed at half-staff by the governor’s order, upon the death of a present or former state official or the death of a member of the Armed Forces who dies while serving on active duty.
How long?
The length of time the U.S. flag should be displayed at half-staff varies from 30 days for the death of a U.S. president, to the day of the death and the following day for a member of Congress. When flown at half-staff, the U.S. flag should first be raised to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff position and should be raised again to the peak before it’s lowered for the day.

So with the upcoming holiday, take a moment to review the U.S. Flag Code and remember to keep the stars and stripes flying correctly.  [post updated 5/22/15]

Written by Susan Naughton, research attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1232.

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

Monday, November 3, 2014

Spotted: LMC Ambassadors Visit Waite Park Regional Meeting

LMC ambassadors (l-r) Bill Craig, Sev Blenkush, and H. Dan Ness were spotted at the Waite Park Regional Meeting last week. Great photo, guys!

Through the Ambassadors Program, retired city officials and staff (a.k.a. the folks that have seen it all) work to connect you and your city with the right LMC services and make sure your city's needs are being addressed. Want to get in touch with an LMC ambassador? Learn more about the LMC Ambassador Program here.

Photo credit goes to LMC staffer Heather Corcoran