Friday, January 29, 2016

Spotted: City Officials Get a Great Start to the Year at the 2016 Leadership Conferences

Peter Kageyama shares stories from lovable communities
he's visited across the country.
"Let's build cities that grab people by the heart and never let go!" That was the closing advice of speaker Peter Kageyama at the 2016 Experienced Officials Leadership Conference. Peter is the author of For the Love of Cities: The Love Affair Between People and Their Places and the follow up, Love Where You Live: Creating Emotionally Engaging Places.

More than 100 local elected officials from across the state came together to learn about creative place making and how to empower co-creators in their communities to build more emotionally engaging cities.

Experienced city officials got creative as they
brainstormed ways to build community during
the $500 challenge.
During the conference, officials were invited to share their own stories of how they were creating unique and engaging communities. Councilmember Harley Droba explained how the Icebox of the Nation, International Falls, is sharing its stories with the world through Icebox Radio Theater. Mayor Jo Emerson shared how White Bear Lake celebrated setting a world record for the longest sundae.

Kageyama also asked officials take part in the $500 Challenge. Participants brainstormed fun, affordable ways to build lovable communities, including a black light skate night, movies in the park, stand still parade, “decorate a lamp post” contest, and many more.

Peter Kageyama will be back in Minnesota this summer as a Senior Fellow at the Annual Conference in St. Paul June 14 - 17.

Newly elected officials learned about tools that will help
them have a great start in their new role!
While experienced officials were discovering tips for creating lovable cities, 40 city officials participated in the Newly Elected Officials Leadership Conference, including two councilmembers from Minnesota's newest city, Rice Lake. These new mayors and councilmembers learned the nuts and bolts of municipal law and finance, and the importance of having a vision, working well with colleagues and staff, engaging the public, and keeping a civil tone at city hall.

Did you attend one of the Leadership Conferences? Share your highlights in the comments below!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Spotted: The Work Comp Cash Cab

Sure, it's possible to move through a work day without a clear understanding of what other departments do, what other people's job descriptions are, or even their names. But why would you want to?

League and Insurance Trust staff periodically gather for "Department Presentations" to learn more about the important work being done by staff in other parts of the building—to put faces to names and create a more holistic understanding of the League's mission and services among staff.

Most recently, the copy center, loss control, and  workers' compensation claims departments presented on how they spend their hours on the clock. To keep it interesting, the workers' comp claims team incorporated a variation of the television quiz show "Cash Cab" and invited staffers Michael DeMorrow and Executive Director David Unmacht along for the ride.

Photo credit goes to LMC HR Director Laura Kushner

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Colorful Nicknames—Who Is the City Attorney?

By Korine Land
[Kori is an attorney with the firm Levander, Gillen & Miller. She serves as attorney for the cities of Cottage Grove, Randolph, West St. Paul, and South St. Paul, as well as several JPA entities. Do you have a city story to tell? Submit your idea to]

Kori Land is city attorney for Cottage Grove,
Randolph, West St. Paul, and South St. Paul.
 As a city attorney, who am I? “Naysayer,” “Buzz Kill,” “Wet Blanket,” “Party-Pooper.” These are names I have been called in my role as counselor to cities. I prefer to think of myself with titles such as “Reasonable,” “Forward-Thinking,” and “Protective.”

As the League reminds us, city attorneys represent neither the city staff nor the city council. We represent the city. Sometimes our “client” needs protection from the city staff and the council.

The role of the city attorney is both reactive and proactive. We are here to guide cities in matters that suddenly appear (the police K-9 just bit a resident in a park while “off-duty;” the community development director went to a foreclosure sale while you were on vacation and bought a bowling alley) and to be thinking about how to protect the city in the future (drafting an ordinance on e-cigarettes or medical marijuana).

We have prepared ordinances prohibiting circuses and carnivals. We have prepared ordinances both enacting and then repealing the requirement that 10 percent of the charitable gambling proceeds be given to the city. We have reviewed memoranda of understanding that preserve the ability of cities to do something in the future but bind them to absolutely nothing today.

We respond within minutes, hours, days, or months to cities’ requests for review, research, reactions, comments, ordinances, and cover memos. We answer our cell phones on nights, weekends, and early mornings to discuss bail recommendations, emergency press releases, the gift law, or that nuisance property with graffiti. Cities’ needs are complicated (a hazardous building process); their needs are simple (tell the resident the city is not going to cut down his neighbor’s tree). The answer is not always as positive as the city would prefer, but it is thoughtful and it is usually—yes—overly cautious. But that’s ok! Remember that our role is to keep cities out of trouble. So, as a result, we can sound kind of negative, thus resulting in the names mentioned above.

For now, I would like to just keep the nameplate I have, which is “city attorney.” The councils can attach their own colorful nicknames as they see fit.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The January-February 2016 Issue of Minnesota Cities Magazine is Online Now!

The latest issue of Minnesota Cities magazine mailed this week and is now available online! The first issue of 2016 is full of info and great city stories to inspire and motivate you during these cold mid-winter weeks.

Some of the highlights:

They're here! The winning entries of the 2015 Mayor for a Day essay contest have been announced. From breakfast meet-and-greets to fostering cultural awareness, the leaders of the future share what they would do to encourage citizen engagement. Check out LMC’s ‘Mayor for a Day’ Essay Contest Winners to see who's running for your office in about 20 years.

Several ongoing debates at the Capitol will have big implications for Minnesota cities not just in 2016 but for years to come. Brush up on where issues like transportation and tax exemptions stand  in "2016 Legislative Session: Taking Care of Unfinished Business."

Collaboration may be a buzzword—but does it really work? See how the city of Paynesville and their important township and county partners made the near-impossible happen in "Happy Trails—Paynesville Brings 30-Year Vision to Life." Want more city success stories? See how the city of Crystal corrected course when a development project took an unsuspected turn in "Redevelopment: Four Stages of Resident Communication."

And as always, check out From the Bench for summaries of recent court cases, St. Paul to City Hall for an important message from Executive Director David Unmacht, and Bits & Briefs for a roundup of city conversation-starters.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Newly Elected Officials: Welcome to Office! Now What?

Know a newly elected city official? Chances are, as they settle into office, they’ll have tons of questions about how things are supposed to be. Elected officials are expected to know how their city runs right awayeverything from legal requirements to Open Meeting Law, financial responsibilities, and more.

The League’s 2016 Leadership Conference is just the place to help elected officials, as one past attendee put it, “get a grasp on how everything works.”

More experienced elected officials are also welcome to attendeveryone needs a refresher once in a while, right?

Here’s what attendees of the 2015 Leadership Conference had to say:

“I learned a lot about how the budget works, how property tax is figured to include who actually pays what portions, how assessments are determined and how levies work. There was a lot to understand, but the presenter was very good at ‘stating it in English'.”

“I found out it's important to be transparent with decision making and ensure that any possible legal issues are clearly defined and resolved. Our major responsibility is to ensure that we do not place the city in a position of legal liability.”

“Sustainability is critical when making all finance decisions. We must set goals, know what our resources are for reaching those goals, understand the difference between wants and needs, and set our priorities to ensure sustainability and growth at the same time.”

“I now know the rules and definitions about property values, how commercial, residential, and farm affect the funding pie.”

“I learned what about the common shortcomings of not knowing the rules and, legally, the best practices to initiate meetings, conversation, and, generally, conducting yourself in public.”

Register by January 19 for the 2016 Leadership Conference and get a great start in your new city leadership role!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Building Lovable Cities—Q&A with Peter Kageyama

What does it mean when a city is ‘lovable’?

In less than two weeks, explore the topic of lovable cities as Peter Kageyama shares his expertise on lovable cities in his hands-on workshop at the 2016 Leadership Conference.

Peter is a community development consultant and grassroots engagement specialist. In 2014, he explored the topic of lovable cities during his keynote speech at the Annual Conference. This January, he will be working with experienced officials to go in-depth and demystify what makes a city lovable.

Peter recently took some time to answer some questions about lovable cities.

How would you define a lovable city—are there signs you can see when you’re in a lovable city?
A ‘lovable’ city is one that you feel connected to—emotionally, physically, spiritually. There are many signs that you can see when you’re in a lovable city, but not all of them are obvious. I remember visiting cities that were down on their luck during the height of the recession, but still I saw residents with hope for the future. Providing that life and love is a sign everyone can see and take note of. Those are the most common signs—little things people do that show their love. Just like in personal relationships, small gestures that show people really care. At the 2016 Leadership Conference, I will work with city officials to view their cities through a different lens, one where they will be more aware of all the little signs residents create showing they love their city.

You mentioned seeing how much people love their cities, and how meaningful that is. Why is that emotional connection so important?
When you have an emotional connection, when you’re emotionally engaged, it’s because you love something. When you love something, you’re more willing to overlook shortcomings and go the extra mile for it. If you’re a city official, then caring is your job. That’s why you do what you do—because you love your community and want to see it thrive, you work for the satisfaction that you’ve contributed and made your city a better place. The question is, how do you get others to act on it? In my experience, the emotion is there. Residents live in and love their city, but they just might not realize it or know what to do with that emotional connection. As a city official, the real trick is then harnessing that emotion. When that happens, then our communities really thrive.

City officials are caretakers of their communities—how can they make the most of this unique role and draw out that love residents have and translate it into action?
It's true that city officials are the caretakers, but it’s not all on them. Most people think that city leaders have the sole responsibility of making sure our cities thrive, but all residents possess an unofficial leadership, and that is a hugely untapped resource. That’s what city leaders can harness, and it opens the doors to the process of city-making for everyone. What I want to do at the Leadership Conference is work with experienced officials so they can develop ways to tap into the resource of citizens and nurture that emotional-engagement.

Many projects can require a big investment of city resources. What can cities do to spark community engagement and create a more lovable city, without breaking the bank?
Most of the things that truly show how loved a city is are actually smaller things. It’s the unexpected, delightful, and sometimes silly things that we notice and keep with us. Once again, I feel it’s like a relationship. It’s wonderful to get a gift, but it’s often the card that holds the true meaning and profession of love, no matter the expense of the gift. City-making isn’t all big infrastructure. It’s also the smaller things: a dog park or community garden. A neighborhood event. These gestures have a disproportionately large impact on the community. Those little, silly things are what show our love for our cities.

What wonderful, and maybe silly, story do you have about your city? Get ready to share your city love-notes with Peter and your colleagues Jan. 22-23 in Brooklyn Center! Register by Jan. 19 to be a part of the 2016 Leadership Conference—visit the League's website to find out more and register.

Want an extra bonus to attending this year’s workshop? All attendees will receive a complimentary copy of Peter Kageyama’s new book Love Where You Live!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Research Q of the Week: City Funds, Drones, Social Media—Top 5 from 2015 (1/7/15)

Question: Out of curiosity, what were the most popular Research Question of the Week posts on The City Spot blog in 2015?

Answer: That is a great question! League staff work hard to provide useful and cutting-edge information to Minnesota cities in a variety of formats—including this blog. In reviewing Research Question of the Week posts over the last year, the most popular questions had a few common themes around city employees and use of city funds, as well as hot topics such as drones and social media.

To keep up-to-date on what other city staff and city officials have found interesting, check out the top five blog topics from 2015:

1.    Can a City Employee Work on a Public Holiday?
2.    Breaks for City Employees
3.    Drones and Minnesota Cities
4.    Nonprofit Donation Decisions
5.    Posting Lost Dog Info on Facebook

As 2015 comes to a close, we want to take a moment and thank you for all you do for cities.  Happy holidays!

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.