Thursday, October 30, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Behind the Not-So-Scary Scenes of Election Day (11/30)

Question: Oh my gosh, it’s almost time for perhaps one of the spookiest days of the year for city staff. ELECTION DAY! It’s so terrifying, I’ve blocked it out. What is it that happens on that day again?

Answer: Don't be afraid! City staff plan year-round to take the "eeee!" out of elections. What are city staffs doing behind the scenes to avoid a fright? Here are some of the more important things that must be done by city staff on and around Election Day:
  • Election judges get election materials, including precinct voter rosters and absentee ballot applications, from the clerk before 9 p.m. the night before (Nov. 3) or the clerk can arrange to have them delivered to the polling places before voting begins.
  • Before voting begins on Election Day, election judges prepare the polling place with a variety of duties required by law, such as posting the Voters’ Bill of Rights.
  • The city clerk must post a sample municipal ballot at each polling place.
  • Polls must be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Where the city administers absentee ballots, individuals returning absentee ballots on behalf of another voter must deliver these ballots by 3 p.m.
  • After polls close, two members of the ballot board must count the ballots, “tabulating the vote in a manner that indicates each vote of the voter and the total votes cast for each candidate or question.” The results must indicate the total votes cast for each candidate or question in each precinct and report the vote totals tabulated for each precinct. The count must be recorded on a summary statement.
  • Within 24 hours after the polls close, election judges must deliver the summary statements, ballots and other materials to the county auditor or clerk. Also within 24 hours of the polls closing, the absentee ballot board must accept or reject absentee ballots that arrived after rosters/supplemental reports were generated.
  • Within 48 hours after the polls closing, the clerk must return polling place rosters and completed voter registration cards to county auditors.
  • Nov. 7 is the first day the city council can meet as canvassing board for the municipal election this year. A canvassing board reviews the results of an election and either certifies vote totals as official, or orders and administers a recount if necessary.
The Secretary of State’s election division is always the best one-stop shop to help plan your not-so-scary Election Day: 2014 City Clerk Election Guide

Written by Edward Cadman, special counsel with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1229.

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

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Spotted: City Staff 'At the Table' for Regional Meeting in Madelia

Who was at the table for Madelia's Regional Meeting last week? Here are just a few city officials who dedicated their day to learning more about current city issues and networking with others. Thanks for joining us and other city officials at the table.

Up this week are Regional Meetings in Thief River Falls, Vergas, and Waite Park. If you're attending one of our "fresh and local" Regional Meetings, be sure to get a photo with one of our prop signs and show that you're at the table, too!

Sleepy Eye Councilmember Joann Schmidt
Mountain Lake City Administrator
Wendy Meyer
Marshall Councilmember
Joe DeCramer
Lakefield City Clerk Kelly Rasche
Photo credit goes to LMC staffers Laura Harris and Heather Corcoran

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Bicyclists on Motorways (10/23)

Question: A bicycle pulled up behind my car yesterday and it got me wondering—what are the rules for bicycles on roads?

Answer: We have had such a beautiful fall season that there have been many people on bicycles enjoying the crisp, fall air. While a bicycle in traffic probably isn’t there solely to soak in the sights, it also isn’t there to get in the way of cars either. Let's go through some basics of bikes on roadways that just might surprise you: 

Bicyclists on the Roadway
Bicycles are allowed to operate on roadways right alongside other vehicles. They are regulated by Minnesota Statutes 169.222, which grants them all the rights and duties applicable to automobile drivers. This means yielding to pedestrians, obeying traffic signals, and moving in the same direction as traffic.

Additionally, bicyclists have a right to use the full traffic lane—yes, really. Cars cannot pass a bicycle unless there is at least a three-foot buffer between the car and the bike, which is more than an arm’s length for most people. Not enough room? Then a driver may not pass.

Bicyclists on Sidewalks
It is sometimes suggested that bikes should be on the sidewalks; however, this is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, state law prohibits the use of bicycles on sidewalks within business districts. That law does grant cities the power to pass a local ordinance to allow bikes on sidewalks, but cities cannot prohibit bicycles from city streets, regardless of the district. Second, it can actually be more dangerous to ride on sidewalks because cars often fail to look for fast-moving cyclists when approaching intersections and using driveways.

Visibility and Signals
In terms of visibility, bicycles are required to have a front light and rear deflector when operating at night. I was surprised to learn that a tail light is actually not required. It is also interesting to know that bicyclists need to use hand signals to indicate their turns, however, if both hands are required to maintain control of the bike then hand signals are not necessary.

Because our roads are shared spaces it is important to understand how to travel in harmony. I know that I learned some things while researching the question, so if you ride a bicycle, know someone that does, or drive in an area that has a lot of bicycle traffic, please share this information and someone else can learn from it too!
Written by Jake Saufley. Contact the League's Research and Information Service staff by emailing, or by calling (651) 281-1200 or (800) 925-1122.

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Building Inspection Law Shows LMC Policy Process in Action

The League’s policy committee process can take challenges facing cities and create policy solutions to tackle them—but it doesn’t work without you. The 2015 Draft City Policies are now available for review and comment by all Minnesota city officials through Oct. 24. Not sure how the policy committee process can make an impact on your city? Read on for just one example of the policy process in action:

Building inspectors sidelined
Many Minnesota cities need to have a licensed building inspector to enforce state building code—ideally this is a position paid for by fees resulting from their work. But in recent years these cities have found that when a state project such as a school is being built, that their city inspectors have been rejected in favor of Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) inspectors, who then earn the fees from these local and regional projects.

When city officials began inquiring about what qualifications their inspectors would need to complete these larger inspection jobs, they found little in the way of consistent standards or a process for obtaining what is called a “delegation agreement” with the state to allow local inspectors to inspect state projects.

Seasoned city building inspectors were particularly miffed at missing out on projects that were being built just a few blocks away from their City Hall. 

Rob Wolfington has been the city manager in Benson for 19 years. Benson’s building inspector, Mike Jacobson, splits his time between the cities of Benson, Pennock, and Grove City. Without a delegation agreement, Jacobson was passed over for several major local projects in recent years.

“Out here in western Minnesota the only real building that’s been going on in the past three years have been schools and hospitals. And the state was taking all the permit fees and then doing the inspections,” said Jacobson.

Giving cities a voice
Wolfington, who served on the Improving Service Delivery Policy Committee in 2013, brought the problem to the attention of LMC lobbyist Patrick Hynes.

Over the following weeks, other city officials were encouraged to share their experiences with the building inspection process for state facilities. It turns out the city of Benson was not alone, and a position on the issue was added to the 2014 City Policies.

Hynes was able to work with the Association of Minnesota Building Officials, state officials, local inspectors, and legislators to get everyone on the same page, and to begin work on legislation that would start to address the discrepancy.

“Patrick—frankly he’s the one that gets the credit,” said Wofington. “He grabbed onto it like a bulldog and shook it.”

The law passed in the 2013-2014 legislative session as a result of this process allows for three types of delegation authority, and clearly spells out what qualifications are needed for these projects. It’s a step in the right direction, say city officials, and couldn’t have happened if any city were to go it alone.

“The policy committee process gives you voice,” said Wolfington. “It’s a measurable goal if it makes it into the League’s policy book.”

See what policies are being proposed for the future of Minnesota cities at Submit your comments on the 2015 Draft City Policies to,

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Spotted: Fulda City Staff 'At the Table' in Granite Falls

Clerk-treasurer Julie Burchill and deputy clerk Vicki Deuschle of Fulda attended Monday's Regional Meeting in Granite Falls to learn about data security, legislative issues, civility, and more. Thanks for joining us and other city officials at the table, ladies.

If you're attending one of our "fresh and local" Regional Meetings, be sure to get a photo with one of our prop signs and show that you're at the table, too!

Photo credit goes to LMC staffer Lena Gould

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. Contact the League's Research and Information Service staff by emailing, or by calling (651) 281-1200 or (800) 925-1122.

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.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Research Q of the Week: The Difference Between Early & Absentee Voting (10/2)

Question: Is there a difference between early voting and absentee voting?

Answer: Yes! Now that no-excuse absentee voting is available, in-person absentee voting is often called early voting. While the terms are often used interchangeably, and voters may not be able to tell the difference, there is a difference.

Absentee voting
Absentee voting allows a voter to cast a ballot prior to Election Day in-person or through the mail. The voter seals the ballot, which is then opened in the few days allowed prior to the election. The results are totaled when the polls close on Election Day with the rest of the ballots cast in the precinct.

Early voting
Early voting is done in-person only. Voters complete their ballot and place the ballot in the tabulator, exactly the same way a voter would on Election Day. This gives voters a chance to correct any errors on their ballot such as an over-vote so that it is cast in the way they want. When voters leaves the polling place, they know their ballots were filled out correctly and that their votes will be counted.

Early voting also has advantages administratively. By having the voter deposit their ballot in the tabulator, the election administrators have the opportunity to correct errors. Election judges do not have to open and sort envelopes to be counted in the (very busy) days leading up to the election. No results of votes cast during early voting periods are totaled until Election Day.

Current Minnesota law allows for absentee voting in the 46 days prior to an election, but does not permit cities to allow for early voting. The League of Minnesota Cities supports the adoption of legislation establishing an early voting process. 

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.  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

LMC Launches New Civility Resources

“Whether real or perceived, there seems to be a widely held belief that people are too often behaving in ways that are just, well, uncivilized when dealing with government.” So says Kevin Frazell, director of member services at the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC).

So what’s a city to do? And what’s really going on? We weren’t sure, either!

Getting to the bottom of it
The League of Minnesota Cities and the Minnesota City/County Management Association called for the creation of a special civility task force. A key result of the work of the 13-member joint task force—comprised of local government elected officials and staff from across the state—is a collection of resources for better understanding, preventing, and addressing incivility.

“A few people seem to think the best approach to achieving their public policy goals is to demean and ridicule—rather than collaborate with—others,” observes Kevin. “These entrenched attitudes and open hostility are making it difficult to carry out even the most basic functions of governing.”

At LMC, we believe that good government starts with collaboration, and that differing opinions should be what make us strong, not what breaks us down. Lively and productive debate on a topic helps us think through the issues thoroughly—but when things turn ugly, productivity can really take a nose dive.

Where can you find help?
With that in mind, the task force created a series of resources meant to help guide your city through a variety of sticky situations. You’ll find tips on how to deal with highly partisan councilmembers, elected officials with narrow agendas, relations between council and staff, disruptive citizens at city council meetings, and much more.

Taking it on the road!
Civility in local government is also on the agenda at LMC’s upcoming Regional Meetings this fall. We’ll use the fictional city of Mosquito Heights as a case study of a community struggling with incivility to discuss real-life solutions for this issue. (Side note: If you’re curious about Mosquito Heights, see this previous post for a little primer!)

Overall, the League knows that most cities are running smoothly and that incivility may not be a significant issue for the vast majority. As LMC Training and Conferences Manager Laura Harris points out: “Examples of uncivil behavior and dysfunctional governments show up regularly in the news media and on social media—but you don't see people sharing links to YouTube videos of tame council meetings or cordial interactions with constituents.”

Don’t wait until it happens in your community! Whether or not your city is currently dealing with incivility, it’s best to be prepared! Check out these resources now for tips and tricks before an incident occurs at or register today for a Regional Meeting near you.