Thursday, February 27, 2014

Research Q of the Week: A New Weapon for Fighting Potholes (2/27)

Question: What’s worse than packed snow on Minnesota roads? Seriously, not much. But pothole season’s a close second, and those tire-eating pits are already appearing. Is there any hope for cities trying to keep up?

Answer: Now there’s a new way to fund resurfacing roads that may help rid roads of those gaping holes—or prevent them: the 2013 Legislature amended state bonding law to allow cities to use street reconstruction bonds (SRBs) for bituminous overlay projects.

Let’s take a short detour. What the heck is “bituminous overlay”? It’s a thin protective surface made up of a mixture of asphalt and other road surfacing materials. Overlays are a cost-effective way to renew and extend the life of a street.

But let’s get back on the road to paying for overlays. Cities may now use SRBs (without a citywide vote on whether to issue the bonds) to pay for bituminous overlays under the amended law. Previously, the law only allowed SRBs to be used to pay for more long-term capital investments like buildings or a shiny, new, from-scratch road.

A number of rules apply when cities issue SRBs:

•    The bonds must be issued under a five-year street reconstruction plan.
•    Notice of a public hearing on the matter must be published in the official newspaper at least 10 days but not more than 28 days before a hearing on the matter.
•    The public hearing must be held, and
•    All council members present at the meeting following the public hearing must approve issuing the SRBs.

A reverse referendum also applies, meaning citizens may file a petition requesting a citywide vote on issuing the SRBs. And, SRBs are subject to the city’s legal debt limit, so consulting with your city’s financial folk is a must.

In sum, if your city is considering issuing SRBs in 2014, the money brought in to the city from that bond may now be used to pay for bituminous overlay projects, too. Potholes, be gone!

Interested in new funding options for transportation infrastructure in your city? Learn about the street improvement district initiative here

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

Monday, February 24, 2014

Now Showing: You'll Laugh. You'll Cry. You'll Advocate.

Join League legislative liaisons on a campy romp through the Capitol grounds (that phrase has probably never been used before) by watching this video tour!

Why? While League staff are prepared to hit the ground running Feb. 25 on a variety of city issues, the truth is, we need you. Nobody can explain city issues and on-the-ground realities better than our members.

So that you can feel confident visiting St. Paul to share your city's story, the "Inside the Capitol" page has been stocked with fresh-popped tips for city officials—everything from how to send a legislator a note to where you can park. This video is now showing on the Inside the Capitol page any time. And just like visiting legislators during session, no ticket stub is required.

What the critics are saying:

 "Awesome video on tips to visiting the Capitol, Heather and Laura! Great stuff!"
 Bart Fischer of Falcon Heights

"That's all there is to it? See you at the Capitol!"
Buzz Olson of Mosquito Heights

"Who's Bert?"
LMC's publication manager

Want a sequel? Learn more about lobbying and access an advocacy guide on LMC's website.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

If You Don’t Write It Down, It Didn’t Happen: The Importance of Paperwork

Paperwork. Most of us dread it—but especially for peace officers, it can be the key to a criminal conviction, a powerful defense in a civil case, and a very public example of an officer’s professionalism.  A police report is not simply a short diary entry recalling the day in the life of a police officer. Careers can be made or broken by a report.
Jason Hiveley

Someone who knows the importance of a well-written police report is local attorney Jason Hiveley. A partner with Iverson Reuvers Condon, LLC, Jason’s practice focuses on the defense of law enforcement and correctional officers in search and seizure, use of force, negligence, and wrongful death cases. 

He regularly conducts in-service training seminars for police and sheriff’s departments across Minnesota—and will be one of the speakers at the League’s 2014 Safety and Loss Control Workshops both this spring and fall.

Jason recently weighed in on just why good police reports are so critical:

What are some of the most common mistakes made in report writing? 
While grammatical mistakes are more common, using conclusory terms and leaving out critical information can be more problematic.  If an officer writes that a suspect was being belligerent without explaining what that means, it will be very difficult for the officer to remember—months or years later—how the suspect was behaving. 

Reports need to contain specific facts.  If the suspect yelled, “I’m going to stab you with my knife,” then the report not only needs to record that quote, but also needs to include the specific safety concerns of the officer, such as, “I thought the suspect was going to stab me or my partner, so I pulled out my firearm . . .”.  

Why are reports so crucial and necessary, especially to you as an attorney?
The statute of limitations for civil rights cases is six years. That means a plaintiff could file a lawsuit today for an arrest that occurred exactly six years ago. Most people do not remember what they were doing six years ago.

However, a police officer will be asked to recall what time they had contact with the plaintiff, why they had contact, where they were located, whether they were joined by other officers, what was said by everyone involved, what force was used, and why the force was used. 

Without a quality, detailed police report, most officers will have no idea how to answer those questions. The officer will be accused of guessing by a plaintiff’s attorney— and a jury may choose to believe the plaintiff’s story.  As a result, we will have a very difficult time defending the case.
Could you explain the phrase “If it’s not in the report, it didn’t happen”? 
This is the mantra of the plaintiff’s lawyer.  For example, in a use of force case, an officer may claim that he was injured by the suspect, which contributed to his decision to use his ASP or Taser to defend himself and effectuate the arrest.  However, if the report makes no mention of the officer being injured, a good plaintiff’s lawyer will note that this claim of an injury was first mentioned after the officer was sued and met with his attorney several times.  This can also apply to claims by an officer that their life was in danger.  If that specific safety concern was not mentioned, it will be tough to convince a jury that a safety concern existed. 

The bottom line? Nobody likes paperwork, but for all of us (not just peace officers) taking the time to get the facts clear up front can save a lot of headaches and trouble down the road. If you’d like to learn more about police report writing, please join us—or encourage your city’s peace officers to attend—the 2014 Safety and Loss Control Workshops in one of nine locations around the state this spring!

Research Q of the Week: Summary of Summary Publications (2/20)

Question: We're updating our licensing ordinance, and someone suggested using summary publication. What is summary publication, and can my city use it?

Answer: Summary publication is providing an accurate, intelligible, but much-shortened version of something the city is required to publish, such as a public notice or ordinance. A properly published summary fulfills all legal publication requirements as completely as if the entire summarized matter had been published.

While statutory cities have specific authority to use the practice of summary publication, staff in charter cities should consult their city charter first. Before pursuing summary publication, the council must approve summary publication of ordinances by a four-fifths vote.

When might this option come in handy? Statutory cities may choose to publish the title and summary of an ordinance if it's lengthy, or if it includes charts or maps.

If a statutory city chooses to publish a summary or condensed version of proceedings, ordinances, resolutions, and other official actions, the summary must meet the following criteria:

• It must be written in a clear and coherent manner.
• It must avoid the use of technical or legal terms not generally familiar to the public.
• The publication must indicate it is only a summary.
• The publication must indicate the full text of the document is available for public inspection at a designated location.
In summary: If your "summary" resembles a car classified ad—"2002 dsl 125k, gd runner, AC, PW, PL"—or appears to be written in legalese instead of English, you're probably off track, and should give LMC's research department a call for guidance.

Don't want the summary on summaries? Check out Minn. Stat. § 331A.01.

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

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Transparency: New Bill Would Promote Easy Digital Access to City Notices

If you are reading this post right now, you're probably doing so using a computer, smart phone, or some other electronic communication device. At the click of a link, it's likely that you're also able to immediately access any one of the 600+ websites hosted by a city government in Minnesota using that same device. Despite this 21st Century convenience, there still exists a state law in Minnesota (established more than 60 years ago) requiring cities to communicate certain information to residents by purchasing printed space, at taxpayer expense, in local newspapers.

That decades-old law requires cities to publish public notices, or legal notices (like meeting minutes, hearing notices, and new ordinances, for example) in a single qualified newspaper that is designated by each city. There is no requirement that the designated paper be the one with the highest circulation in the community, but it must have at least 400 copies regularly delivered to paying subscribers or at least 400 copies regularly distributed for free to local residents. And, if no qualified local paper exists, publication is not required.

SF 1152/HF 1286 is a bipartisan legislative bill that would allow city governments to have the option of posting public notices on municipal websites instead of, or as a supplement to, public notices published in printed newspapers. This bill would not change what notices are to be published or when they are to be published. It would simply change where they need to be published.

The proposed legislation, supported by the League as well as county and school district associations, allows city governments to meet state-mandated publication requirements through less costly electronic means that are more easily accessible to all residents. Those without access to newspapers can receive information by simply looking at a city's website on a computer—at work, home, school, or the public library—or own their own phones, much as they would access information affecting other areas of their lives.

At the same time, SF 1152/HF 1286 does not prohibit cities from continuing to publish notices in the local newspaper if that remains the preferred option. In some communities, local newspapers remain the best method of reaching a majority of residents—particularly those communities where the newspapers are free, reliable, and have wide distribution. But in other communities there are multiple newspapers published, and choosing one means excluding large segments of readers that may not subscribe to the designated paper. And, in some communities, there may be no local newspaper published at all.

Where would you look?
While true that public notices continue to serve as a major source of revenue for publishers, it's also true that fewer and fewer people are subscribing to, or reading, hard-copy newspapers in this day and age. The next time you're at a coffee shop or enjoying breakfast at a local cafe, do a quick headcount and see for yourself how many customers are looking at morning newspapers. Or, simply ask someone where they would look to find information about city council notices and agendas—the local paper that is delivered to less than half of city households, or the city's website. Would they travel to a newstand to purchase a paper, or would they log on to get city information the same way they look at classifieds on Craigslist, theatre showtimes, or up-to-the-minute weather forecasts?

Website publication makes good fiscal and practical sense. It is expected that SF 1152/HF 1286 will be heard in the Minnesota Senate's State and Local Government Committee soon after the State Legislative session begins.

Friday, February 14, 2014

How Does Your City Inspire Love and Romance?

How does your city inspire love and romance? Share your city’s romantic gems in the comments.
From a proposal under the Eiffel Tower to a first date at the corner malt shop, cities inspire love and romance across the globe.

Here in Minnesota, we know all about the romance of cities. After all, St. Paul was just named the most romantic city in the country by USA Today readers.  But one hardly needs to visit the Capitol City to find sweet nothings in the air.

Couples can watch a sunset from a lakeshore vista in Grand Marais, or ride tandem along winding bike paths through Lanesboro. Sweethearts can sip a locally grown dessert wine in Cannon Falls or split dessert at the most romantic restaurant in the state, found in Alexandria.

So, Minnesota cities—we want to hear from you. How does your city inspire love and romance? Share your city’s romantic gems in the comments. What's your most scenic photo op, sweetest street to stroll, most charming public park, romantic restaurant or heart-warming treat shop? Share the love! And of course, let's keep it PG ;)


The City Spot

P.S. What makes a city lovable? Peter Kageyama, author of “For the Love of Cities,” will share his insights as the keynote speaker at the 2014 Annual Conference in St. Cloud. During his address, he’ll explore the role of the most powerful of motivators—the human heart—in our toolkit for city-making. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Research Q of the Week: So, What Are You Doing Presidents Day? (2/13)

Question: Presidents Day is Feb. 17, 2014.  Can we hold a city council meeting that day?

Answer:  Dust off the John Philip Sousa records, because “Washington's and Lincoln's Birthday” (as it is officially known in Minnesota) is a statutory holiday, and city officials will have a bit of free time that evening for such endeavors. In fact, Minnesota state law prohibits cities from conducting public business on statutory holidays except in case of necessity.

If you prefer to not be caught off guard by a statutory holiday like Presidents Day again, grab your calendars and make note of the following holidays when public business cannot be conducted except in case of necessity:
  • New Year’s Day (Jan. 1, 2014)
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 20, 2014)
  • Presidents Day (Feb. 17, 2014)
  • Memorial Day (May 26, 2014)
  • Independence Day (July 4, 2014)
  • Labor Day (Sept. 1, 2014)
  • Veteran’s Day (Nov. 11, 2014)
  • Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 27, 2014)
  • Christmas Day (Dec. 25, 2014)
Cities have the option of determining whether Columbus Day (Oct. 13, 2014) and the Friday after Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 28, 2014) will be holidays. If a city determines that either Columbus Day or the Friday after Thanksgiving is a holiday, then no public business may be transacted on that day except in cases of necessity. Thankfully, the digestion of turkey sandwiches is not considered public business.

If you have any questions about scheduling city council meetings contact the LMC Research Department (  

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

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Business of Funding City Services—Should Cities Operate Liquor Stores?

By Jim Miller, LMC Executive Director

Should government compete with the private sector? At first blush, most would likely say "no." Throughout the history of this country, there has been a strong bias toward government providing only those services not available in the private sector. The argument is partly philosophical—the least amount of government is best—and partly based on the notion that the private sector will do things more efficiently because of competition and the profit motive.

Yet, local governments do have a long history of providing services also available in the private sector—like electricity, golf courses, health club-like facilities, even Wi-Fi. None, however, seems to raise as much perennial discussion about appropriateness as does municipal liquor operations. Reflecting this uniqueness, the State Auditor annually prepares a report on municipal liquor sales, which always receives media attention.

Indeed, the Minneapolis Star Tribune recently highlighted the State Auditor's latest such annual report on municipal liquor sales for 2012. It noted that profits are up for most stores; only about 10 percent reported losses. Importantly, unlike what happens with private sector profits, cities used these funds to help defray the cost of maintaining parks, purchasing snowplows and squad cars and—in one case—building a new fire training facility. All  listed are items of important needs in those respective communities that otherwise would likely have been funded, instead, through property taxes. Still, many of the online reader comments responding to the Star Tribune article were critical of cities being in the liquor sales business.

Profits hold down taxes, fund needs
Local governments were originally given the authority to sell liquor as a means of controlling its use. That reason still exists, but it is also undeniably true that, in many communities, revenue from liquor sales has been used to hold down property taxes. State law does not permit new municipal liquor sales, but it would be ill-advised to require those cities now profitably doing so to divest themselves of that resource. Rather, city councils should continue to be able to make the decision about what is best for their communities, balancing community needs while being cognizant that there may indeed be a time to relinquish that function to the private sector.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Research Q of the Week: When Things Get Weird (2/5)

Question: After reviewing applications for a position with the city and interviewing candidates, now the city council has to decide who to offer the job to. It is always a little weird to talk about pros and cons of each candidate—to spare any awkwardness, can the city council close a meeting to discuss the job applicants?

Answer: Unfortunately, no. While it may be uncomfortable to discuss job applicants in an open meeting, the council meeting must remain open.

The Open Meeting Law (Minnesota Statute Chapter 13D) generally requires all city council meetings be open to the public. There are limited exceptions to this rule, but alas, there is no statutory exception for discussing qualifications of applicants for city jobs.

Meetings must be closed when cities are discussing misconduct allegations or certain non-public data. Cities may close meetings if councils are:

(1) discussing strategies for labor negotiations

(2) evaluating the performance of a city employee

(3) meeting with the city attorney to discuss active, threatened, or pending litigation

(4) discussing the purchase or sale of property

(5) receiving or discussing issues related to security systems

If your city is considering closing a meeting, work with the city attorney to ensure that one of these exceptions applies and the proper procedures related to the closed meeting are followed.

As hard as it can be to talk about the pros and cons of job applicants in an open meeting (particularly in small cities where everyone knows everyone), the public has the right to know how a city makes its decisions.

For more information on the Open Meeting Law and when cities may close meetings, see the League’s Meetings of City Councils Memo.

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

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Spotted: Shakopee Police in Service Training (Photo)

Shakopee police in service training were recently "spotted" by LMC's Public Safety Project Coordinator Rob Boe using the Training Safety Officer program

The man in the bright vest and hat is the designated training safety officer. The vest serves as a reminder that trainees are being observed and need to stay "on script" to create a safe learning environment, said Boe.

The photo was shot at the Scott County Association for Leadership and Efficiency public safety Training Facility near Jordan, Minn. 

Photo credit goes to Matt Johnson of Matt Johnson Photography