Monday, December 30, 2013

A Closing Centennial Message from LMC's Executive Director

Well friends,

The new year is upon us, and that means the closing of LMC's centennial. Somebody cue Auld Lang Syne, please.

In this week's video post, LMC Executive Director Jim Miller explains how a poignant moment this fall clarified just what has made us strong over the past 100 years. Here's a hint: It's not a building, a law, or even some hearty home cooking, although that didn't hurt one bit.

He also has a pretty time-tested notion about how the League should steer our course over the next 100 years. (Here's some more forward-thinking ideas from LMC President Shaunna Johnson while you're at it.)

It's been quite a century for the League of Minnesota Cities. We hope you enjoyed the ride in 2013 as this blog looked back on LMC's history—we certainly have!

See you "next year!" Stay tuned in 2014 for a new look and fresh content right here at 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Happy Holidays! A Town Crier from 1932 has a Message for You

They don't make stationery like this anymore. 

Or maybe they do. 

—We don't really want to know. 

Regardless, happy holidays from the League of Minnesota Cities!  

Our wish for you this season:

May all your 
town criers be rosy-cheeked
and full of 
good news!

And while our membership fees have changed a bit since the Great Depression when this little mailer was crafted, we'd like to think that sticking with the League in the new year is still a a fine way to "start the new year right!"

What's your city or organization's "resolution" for the new year?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Celebrating This 100th Year

Say it ain’t so! The centennial year is coming to a close, and what a year it’s been. Let’s take a look back at how we’ve honored the past 100 years:

Keepsake Booklet
League staff swam through boxes of archived files, knickknacks, and photos to write a story that has been a century in the making. The result is the Celebrating 100 Years centennial keepsake booklet. Each author dug deeper and found the personal tales behind topics, including the League’s split from the University of Minnesota, the biographies of our executive directors (movers and shakers!), the pioneering formation of the insurance trust, and the founding cities (listed at the bottom of this post).

Special Celebration
What would a centennial be without a celebration? On June 19, hundreds of civic leaders past and present gathered at the Union Depot in St. Paul to kick off the annual conference. Besides breaking bread together and listening to special guest speaker Garrison Keillor, everyone also gathered to make a little piece of history and re-create a photo that was taken at the League’s original annual conference.

                                                   Centennial Garden
League staffers don’t take for granted the LMC building or the surrounding neighborhood in St. Paul where we are lucky enough to work. To give back centennial-style, League staff partnered with the Blooming St. Paul program to dig out an overgrown garden at a local rec center and replant it with hardy perennials to provide a scenic spot for neighborhood kids—you know, the leaders of the future. 

Essay Contest
Speaking of those future leaders … dozens and dozens of students (age 7-12) submitted handwritten essays about what they would do if they were mayor of their cities for a day (including helping senior citizens, installing new sidewalks, and cleaning up parks). Rest assured, the future of our cities is in good hands—watch for the winning entries in the Jan.-Feb. 2014 issue of Minnesota Cities magazine!

A Day of Our Own
To help mark LMC’s 100th year, Gov. Dayton declared Oct. 11, 2013 Minnesota Cities Day! His office signed a special proclamation that read, 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. We're thrilled he recognized the hard work and dedication of our member cities—thank you, Governor!

New Blog
There there’s the matter of this little blog you’re reading right this moment. We’ve spent the year digging up gems from the history of the League and Minnesota cities, and had some fun doing it! A few of our favorite posts include a historic brush with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, talking with public works staff about the Halloween Blizzard of ’91, and learning about women's roles in the League over the years. We hope you’ve enjoyed all of this as much as we have!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

There's No Place Like Home—The League's Offices Through the Years

Over the last 100 years, the League has called approximately six different places home. Here are some quick snapshots (literally!) of those half-dozen buildings where we’ve hung our hats:

It all began at the University of Minnesota, where the League's offices were housed in Walter Library (today home of the Science and Engineering Library and Digital Technology Center).

League staff spent five years (from approximately 1969-1974) in this building at 3300 University Ave. SE in Minneapolis, once again on the U's campus. This piece of retro architecture still stands today!

After the split from the U in 1973, the League moved into the Hanover Building at 300 Cedar Ave. in downtown St. Paul, also home at that time to the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

In 1982, the League moved to 183 University Ave. E. in St. Paul (just over one mile from LMC's current offices!). You may recognize this corner as part of the Gillette Children's Hospital campus.

The League's fifth home was at 3490 Lexington Ave. N. in Shoreview, where building space was shared with the Association of Metropolitan Municipalities.

And now—drumroll, please!—we've arrived at the League’s current home. Located at 145 University Avenue W. in St. Paul, here is a "before" of the space at Rice and University in the early 1990's:

And here is an "after" of the building the League constructed in 1996 and calls home today:

Conveniently located kitty-corner from the state capitol, it's just a brief walk there if you are coming for any of the 2014 legislative session. Please know that our home is yours, and you can park in LMC's lot for free (just be sure to sign in at the front desk!).

Or coming in 2014, you'll even be able to take the new light rail directly to the capitol grounds. Here's a shot of a recent "test-drive" on the tracks:

Bonus tip: no matter which way you arrive, watch this fun video tutorial and learn how to navigate from the League's current building over to the state capitol (as well as what you can expect when you get there):

The bottom line is: the League is your organization, and we’re happy to have found a good home so we can be here when you need us!

How many of the League's buildings have you been in? Tell us in the comments!


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Pearl Harbor, WWII, and Minnesota Cities

The Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor triggered the U.S.'s entry into World War II—as well as a massive change in the daily routine of municipal government.

In a letter to members in the January 1942 issue of Minnesota Municipalities magazine, W.J. Kirkwood, mayor of Crookston and League president, addressed the sudden transition, including this nugget of can-do spirit in the face of an uncertain future:

Let each of us do his part, and let each municipality and each department of every municipality so arrange and so carry out its functions that our municipal governments may smoothly and efficiently fit into America's war efforts. Only in this way can the interests of democracy best be served at its grass roots—in the villages and cities of this great nation.

Cities and the League began to swiftly pivot their daily activity around the war:
  • Councils and staff became occupied with evaluating and often times deferring public improvements to free up resources. 
  • Staff considered ordinances for blackouts, and the role of eminent domain in providing land for things such as military training facilities. 
  • A new emphasis was put on the importance of municipal and federal government cooperation. 
  • Directors found themselves with a dearth of qualified workers, as many city employees were deployed or chose to fill the ranks of government agencies in the war effort.
The League offices were not immune. For example, research assistant Howard Kohn was called up on Oct. 1, 1942, just three months after his hire date. Replaced in November by Bernard Moritz, the position was again left empty when Moritz was called up in December. 
League lawyers were kept busy evaluating war time considerations such as the legality of cities investing in war bonds, and what emergency powers would be available to cities in case of invasion or attack (can a city sell food and fuel if no business is operational enough to do so?). 

When the conclusion of the war finally appeared on the horizon in late 1944, cities again prepared for transition, making plans for the return of veterans, mobilizing public works projects that had been put off, acquiring surplus goods, and building war memorials. 

But the impact on Minnesota cities was felt again in April 1945, when a lingering ban on large conferences issued by the Office of Defense Transportation forced the cancellation of the annual conference for the second time in League history.

To cooperate with the ban's intent to limit gas usage across the country, the League instead held board elections that summer via mail ballot and delivered a robust series of Regional Meetings later in the fall—coincidentally timed with the official surrender of Japanese troops and the closing of yet another dark chapter in American history. 

Do you know how WWII affected your city's operations? Share your city's history in the comments.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing: The Y2K Scare

Y2K. The Year 2000 Problem. The Millennium Bug. No matter what it was called, most of us can remember the rigmarole surrounding this potential disaster almost 15 years ago.

A brief refresher: There were major concerns that as the calendar changed from 1999 to 2000, computer systems around the world would crash. Why? Well, when computers were first created, memory was expensive—so space was saved by using two digits instead of four for the year (i.e. "84" instead "1984"). So the fear was that when the year turned to "00" (for 2000), the computers would instead think it was 1900, and everything as we knew it would crumble.

Predictions included worldwide power failures, a total breakdown of the transportation infrastructure (meaning food could not get to stores), and planes falling out of the sky. The most concerned of citizens stockpiled gas, water, food, and even firewood just in case electrical grids went down, running water ceased, and heating systems failed.

There were legitimate concerns at the local level, as well. Among the worries for cities:
-Would the pagers used by the city’s firefighters notify them of an emergency?
-Does the city have a planned response if water or wastewater pumps cease to operate?
-Would the city’s dispatch system malfunction when the century changed?

In addition, cities were distressed by the potential for liability and Y2K-related claims:  
-What if there is a car accident because a traffic signal doesn’t work due to a Y2K problem?
-What if someone gets sick because the city’s water system malfunctions?

So to help prepare our members, in 1998 the League released a binder full of information entitled Cities Aware, Cities Prepared: A Year 2000 Action Guide.

Among its many recommendations, LMC suggested cities:
  • assign key staff as a Y2K team to prepare an emergency management plan;
  • inventory all software and hardware to see where there might be vulnerabilities;
  • work with vendors, if possible, to test and/or fix noncompliant systems;
  • partner with their LMCIT underwriter to make sure they had some level of Y2K coverage;
  • earmark 5-10 percent of its operating budget as a Y2K contingency, should systems fail; and
  • provide an information resource for the community—via city newsletters, direct mailings, and websites, or even a “Y2K Awareness Day.”

The League even had an employee designated as its Y2K coordinator.

Luckily, when the clock struck midnight and the world leapt into the 21st century—so too did our computers. Systems barely registered a blip on January 1, 2000, and life went on for both cities and concerned citizens as usual.

Ultimately, though, Y2K is a great example of how both cities and the League must always be prepared...even when the result is much ado about nothing!

What do you remember about the Y2K scare? Tell us in the comments below…

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Recipe for Good Government—Centennial Style

A dash of hospitality, a tablespoon full of tradition, and a heap of enthusiasm all went into the pot for this one—the one and only "Minnesota Cities Favorite Recipes" cookbook. This kitchen marvel holds recipes collected from member cities and friends to celebrate the League's 75th anniversary in 1988.

"City officials represent a diverse state. They come from every walk of life and from many ethnic backgrounds, which is evident in their recipes," says the Acknowledgments page.

Here's a sample:

Walnut Potica—Councilperson Marge Peterson of Chisholm
Meatballs for 100—Attorney Charles R. Wahlquist of Lowry
Pink Squirrel Squares—City Clerk Arla Budd of Askov
Microwaved, Baked or Boiled Lutefisk—Mr. "Lou T. Fisk" of the Madison Chamber of Commerce  
Tuna Fish Hot Dish—City Clerk Inga Swenson of Lake Woebegon (Just like the Chatterbox Cafe, she says!)

Along the way, city anecdotes and facts are sprinkled in to spice things up. For example, Vesta became home to the country's first electric cooperative in 1917. Lake City is officially recognized as the "Birthplace of Water Skiing."

And just in case you were wondering, the book DOES hold a recipe for good government, submitted by Mayor Roland Habedank of McIntosh:

Government Cake
2 or 3 Citizens
2 issues
1 election year
1 large group of voters

Combine ingredients carefully. The citizens should be fresh, preferably without grudges. The issues should be pertinent, but not too spicy. It's very important to add as much of the last ingredient as possible. For the topping, combine dedication, concern, and the willingness to learn and communicate. The results are guaranteed a good city government.

We'd like to pass on more recipes from the 1988 archives. Here are two to help with all those leftovers!

Turkey Sandwich
6 cups turkey, diced
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup green pepper, diced
1 1/2 cups celery, diced
3/4 cup onion, chopped
1 (10 3/4 oounces) can cream of mushroom soup
1 (10 1/2 ounces) can cheese soup

Mix ingredients as listed. Put in a roaster pan and cover. Bake and 350 degrees for 1/2 hour. Serve on warm buns. Submitted by Fred Cole, mayor of Easton.

1 cup mashed potatoes
3/4 cup flour
Mix well. Drop into boiling salted water. Cook about 20 minutes or until they float freely. Serve with sauerkraut or gravy. Submitted by Eric Sorensen, city manager of Winona.

What's your recipe for good government? Let us know in the comments!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Know Your Audience: A Message from the LMC President

This blog has focused plenty on the history of Minnesota cities, so how about we shift gears for a moment to ponder how cities can be better prepared for the future? It all starts with knowing your audience, according to LMC President Shaunna Johnson ('13-'14).

Specifically, Johnson wants cities to gather information about their changing demographics—think baby boomers and millenials—and to think about how cities can prepare for declining revenue and increased demand for services.

Changes in how people live and work also pose an opportunity for cities to evolve. You know those public hearings? Johnson challenges city officials to consider how to adapt this important process to better meet the needs of citizens today.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

For the Newly—or Somewhat Newly—Elected!

Info from the 1968 Conference for Newly Elected


Are you one of the newly elected from Minnesota’s 60 cities (or one of the League’s 10 member townships) that just held a municipal vote yesterday?

Or perhaps you are one of the 752 councilmembers or 197 mayors who was elected last year?

Either way, the League has resources to support you! For example, at the turn of every year, LMC holds conferences for those new to city leadership.

Beginning back in January 1957, the League partnered with the University of Minnesota’s Department of Conferences and Institutes to put on a Conference for Newly Elected Mayor and Councilmen on campus.

Some questions they covered then included:

-What are the limitations on council authority? 

-What problems will your municipality face next year? The year after? 1980? (Editorial note: Isn’t it fun to think of a time when 1980 was still the semi-far-off future??) 

-What are public relations basics for municipal officials?

While those conferences only lasted until 1970 (at which point there is a lull in both our records and collective memories), an updated version of the program entitled Leadership Conference for Newly Elected Officials was resurrected by the League beginning in 1987.

And while time has ticked by, many of the core issues around leading a city remain the same. Questions addressed at the conference today include:  

-As a city council, what are we allowed (and not allowed) to do? 

-Where can I find resources to help make sound decisions? 

-How can I avoid common missteps, pitfalls, and negative press?

Newly elected officials also learn about finance fundamentals and legal responsibilities (like details around the open meeting law and data practices, to name just two). And last—but definitely not least—this conference has always been a great opportunity for the newly elected to meet peers in similar positions from across the state!

So if you (or someone you know) would like to attend the 2014 Leadership Conference for Newly Elected officials, click here to get more information and register now.

In the meantime, the League wants to congratulate all of Minnesota’s newly elected city officials!

P.S. - What if you can’t attend the conference—or perhaps just can’t wait for it? You’re in luck! The League has also compiled a whole host of helpful information at, a special webpage created just for the newly elected.

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!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Questions? Research says, 'Bring it on.'

Have you ever called the League with a municipal-related question? If so, chances are you talked with one of the staffers in the Research and Information Service, or simply "Research."

This photo of  research staff from 1980 is staged, but we like it anyway.
No question too small; no situation too parochial; the spirit of the League's Research service remains largely unchanged from the early days when our sister organization, the Municipal Reference Bureau, was answering the many varied questions of city staff and officials.

But instead of fielding concerns about oiling streets and licensing coin-operated phonographs, Research staff today find the most popular questions are often related to complex city operations and best practices related to managing finances, public data, police departments, and more. And of course, there are the perpetual problems such as barking dogs and unkempt property that will continue to perplex councils and staff for at least 100 years more!

What else has changed? Well, volume, for one. In 1913 there were 51 inquiries to the Municipal Reference Bureau. These days, research receives about 4,000 inquiries a year. The mode of contact has also changed. While the first questions were hand-written and received by mail, city officials and staff now submit questions through an online form, via email, or by picking up the phone.

Have a question of your own? Bring it on—the League's Research staff is here for you!

The top 5 types of questions Research tackles every day:*

1.    How does the open meeting law work? For example, can some or all of the councilmembers attend meetings electronically or from a remote location? What notice is required for a special meeting?

2.    What are the rules for financial operations?  Can tax dollars be donated to an art fair to be held in the city, or used for a city celebration? How does the city raise money since cities may not borrow money from a bank? How does state tax law affect cities?

3.    Can you answer a contract question? Joint powers, solid waste removal, law enforcement—you name it, how does our city do it right?

4.    How do we comply with the Data Practices Law? Which data requests should the city comply with? What is the classification of particular types of data? This law is so all-encompassing, cities have many questions about it!

5.    What are the "dos" and "don’ts" of managing citizen engagement? These questions revolve around interactions between elected officials, staff and the public. Questions often touch on protocol when dealing with an upset citizen, as well as how to handle public hearings.

(Other frequent questions deal with operating city utilities and billing, conflict of interest and compatibility of office questions, providing and paying for law enforcement, all those pesky nuisance complaints, and questions related to volunteer fire departments.)

Learn more about the history of League research staff in the July-Aug. issue of Minnesota Cities magazine, and check out last week's blog post for more information about the Municipal Reference Bureau!

*A big thanks to League staffers Elaine Clark in technology services and Jeanette Behr, our research manager, for their efforts compiling and summarizing this data!