Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Collegiate Roots, Fresh Air and Independence

The air is crisp, classrooms are humming, and somewhere out there a lone groundskeeper is retouching a bright white 50-yard line. It's fall, and we're feeling mighty collegiate today. What can we say? It's in our roots!

The timeline of Minnesota cities and the League is of course interwoven with Minnesota's rich history, and one of the state's most notable institutions is no exception. Ski-U-Mah, anyone?

League office space in the library building, 1938.

That's right, the League of Minnesota Municipalities started out as a part of the University of Minnesota's Extension Office alongside a new Municipal Reference Bureau. The League benefited from the resources of the University and the Reference Bureau. Our first established offices were even in the campus library building.

Executive Director Dean Lund
But the time came when the interests of the League and the interests of the University diverged. Among other concerns, the Board of Regents wanted the League to keep its focus on research and information services, while member cities and staff recognized the importance of expanding efforts to advocate for cities in the political arena.

And so in 1972, amidst budget pressures of their own, the University's Board of Regents voted to stop funding League activities to the tune of about $160,000.

 LMM Executive Director Dean Lund and President Phil Cohen convinced the Board to give the League one more year of funding in order to create a plan for the future.  A+ on that one, guys.

A flyer from 1973 announces the move to new off-campus digs.
A swiftly formed Future of the League Committee pulled out their pencils and got to work. After surveying members and inspecting operations, they recommended that starting in 1974 the League should operate independently, relying on its members for funding; that the League should continue to provide the same level of services to its members; that advocacy efforts on behalf of cities should continue; and that the new fee rates should sustain the League's activities for several years.

Rather than disbanding or providing just a fraction of its former services, the League was instead bolstered by the support of its members (the best!) who agreed to sharp dues increases to keep their organization alive.

While the years to follow weren't easy, it was the right play for Minnesota cities. Looking back, we can see that independence was just what the League needed to grow and thrive—refreshing, just like a breath of autumn air.

Learn more about the Municipal Reference Bureau and League research in next week's centennial blog post!

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