Friday, April 25, 2014

Be Like Mike! Attend the 2014 LMC Annual Conference in St. Cloud

What parts of LMC's annual conference do you look forward to each year? Energizing speakers? The idea-packed exhibit hall? Meeting your awesome colleagues from around the state?

Conference Planning Committee Chair and Hopkins City Manager Mike Mornson took some time recently to count down his own top three reasons why the 2014 LMC Annual Conference is a must-attend event. Can you tell he had some fun doing it? Yeah. We thought so.

An extra bonus? You can save on registration with early bird pricing now through May 1. We hope to see you in St. Cloud June 18-20.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Corporate Seals Face a Trademark Move (4/24)

Question: Can a city register its corporate seal as a trademark?

Answer: I promise I’ll tell you—but first—a brief bit of history. The use of seals began when writing was not common and a coat of arms or other mark was used to distinguish people. Neat, huh? Accordingly, a city’s corporate seal is an official mark or insignia that is used to distinguish it from other cities. A city’s corporate seal can be used to promote or distinguish the city and its services and is commonly placed on its official documents.

The Minneapolis City Council, for example, adopted its official seal on June 5, 1878.  Minnesota state law now authorizes cities to use a corporate seal.

Recently the city of Houston, Texas and the District of Columbia filed federal applications to register their respective corporate seals as trademarks under the federal trademark law commonly referred to as the Lanham Act.  In short, registering a trademark will protect the owner’s exclusive right to use the mark.

The federal trademark office and its appeal board denied the applications, concluding that the Lanham Act prohibits municipalities from registering their corporate seals as trademarks.

The decision was appealed and on Oct. 1, 2013 the Federal Circuit Court affirmed the decision below holding that the Lanham Act unambiguously prevents municipalities from registering their seals. This is probably an unintended consequence of the law. Chances are Congress didn’t have city seals in mind when the language was crafted.

The court did note that a city has other means of “preventing ‘pirates and cheats’ from using its city seal to deceive the public” and that presumably it could “pass an ordinance prohibiting such activity.” The U.S. Supreme Court has decided not to review the Federal Circuit Court’s decision.

For more summaries of court decisions impacting cities, see the most recent “From the Bench” column in LMC’s Minnesota Cities magazine.

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

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Can’t We All Just Get Along? Promoting Respectful Dialogue at City Council Meetings

The beauty of democracy is that every opinion counts. However, sometimes the way these opinions are expressed can derail—rather than further—the conversation.

Take city council meetings. When you put into one room people who have different goals, values, and perspectives—but are all equally passionate about being a voice for their community—tempers may flare, making the meeting less productive than it could be.

But approaching the meeting with certain soft skills can lessen the chance of hard feelings.

Mayor Jo Emerson
One Minnesota municipal leader has gotten this technique down. White Bear Lake Mayor Jo Emerson sets specific expectations at her city’s council meetings. Those speaking must stick to the debate at hand—they can disagree on the issues, but no personal attacks allowed! She will rule folks out-of-order if they start getting personal.

Mayor Emerson recently weighed in on this topic for us:

As an elected city official, why is this issue (running effective and respectful council meetings) important to you?
A well-run and respectful meeting allows the council to concentrate on the issues before us so we can be more effective.

What are some of the things you’ve done in your city to promote civil public discourse?
As mayor, I believe it starts with me to set the tone and ensure our meetings are respectful and well run. When there is going to be a heated public hearing, I will remind the public of the ground rules before they come up to speak (which are to be concise and respectful). I do not allow anyone to attack the council or the staff.

Have you seen a difference in your city council meetings since implementing some of these changes?
I've received feedback from citizens that they have noticed a change. They feel we are more cooperative and are getting good results.

Would you like to hear more about how to get the most out of your city council meetings? Both Mayor Emerson and LMC General Counsel Tom Grundhoefer shared specific techniques for running effective meetings during this free webinar, given on May 6.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Spotted: Scenes From Across the State (photos)

The League's Public Safety Program Coordinator Rob Boe is on the road for our 2014 Safety & Loss Control Workshops, and here are a few things he’s spotted across Minnesota:

Paul Bunyan and his trusty ox, Babe, greet Rob in Bemidji.

Peace officers from the Ashby Police Department attended the workshops... did firefighters from the New Ulm Fire Department.

Grass outside the Brooklyn Park Community Center was covered in a fresh coat of snow...

...but an ice-breaking ship comes in off of open water in Lake Superior - a sure sign of spring?

lMCIT staffers Linda Durrence and Laura Grundtner greeted members with a smile.
Thank you for joining us at this year's workshops - we loved seeing you!

If you'd like to keep up with Rob's adventures throughout the year and hear about the latest from the public safety world, be sure to check out his blog!

Photos taken by Rob Boe

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Chicken Talk and Questionable Comedy (4/17)

Question: What happened when the chicken crossed the street?

Answer: It depends on your city’s ordinance. Okay, that may not have been the best joke, but chickens seem to be the talk of cities lately. Like other animals, cities take different approaches for regulating chickens. Some cities include chickens in the same regulations that apply to other farm animals or livestock. Other cities have ordinances that allow chickens in the city under certain circumstances. However a city decides to regulate chickens, it is important to be clear about the regulations.

There are no state laws that address urban chickens or keeping of chickens in cities, so it is up to the city council to decide if it wants to regulate the keeping of chickens. A city may choose to allow chickens, allow chickens if a permit is obtained, or prohibit chickens.

If a city chooses to regulate the keeping of urban chickens, some common requirements include:
  •         Allowing only hens (no roosters)
  •         Limiting the number of hens allowed
  •         Maintaining coops or runs in a sanitary and humane condition
  •         Keeping chickens contained or under control at all times
  •         Locating coops a certain distance from property lines and other structures like houses
Unless specifically included in the definition, chickens and roosters do not fall under the regulation of ordinances that reference livestock. If a city would like to include chickens as livestock, it can by defining the term to include chickens, poultry, fowl, or other similar descriptions. The bottom line is that if the city wants to regulate chickens, it should make sure that chickens are covered by ordinance.

Now, for another try at a chicken joke. Why don’t eggs tell each other jokes? Because they would crack each other up.

This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information or taking any comedic cues from its content.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

See the Light: Retroreflectivity Policy Deadline Nears

The light that is reflected back from the surface of a street sign, called “retroreflectivity” (RR for those in-the-know), can make the difference between safe travels and big tragedy on your city streets, especially at night.

To address the importance of visible signage, new federal and state regulations require cities to have a policy in place by June 13, 2014 for maintaining the retroreflectivity of their signs and replacing signs that are worn out.

What cities need to know
First off, cities do not need to have their signs tested and updated by the deadline, but they do need a plan in place to test and replace inadequate signage moving forward. Having a policy to address retroreflectivity will not only reduce a city’s potential liability, but it’s a smart safety move for protecting citizens.

Make sure your city has a policy to help drivers see the light.
“The concern is that an injured motorist or third party might be able to prove that the city’s failure to meet the sign RR requirements contributed to an accident,” says Chris Smith, an LMCIT risk management attorney. “Regardless of liability, I think it’s important that cities make sure their signs are visible. I think this is especially important as our cities age and we have more older drivers on the road who may have a more difficult time seeing signs.”

Some small cities may be under the impression that they do not need to comply with the new sign RR requirements, but that is not the case.  If your city maintains roads open to public travel, this applies to you. Implementing an RR policy without a city engineering staff may be challenging, but your city council and staff will need to take on the project regardless and give some careful consideration to how to go about choosing one of the many methods available. Citizen volunteers may even be able to help with visual inspections when manpower is scarce, suggests Smith.

A guide to getting started
Want more? A new memo on sign retroflectivity is now available to help you understand what is expected of cities and how to take the first steps. A model policy is included and has been designed to simplify the process of adopting an RR policy. Sound like a bright idea? Your city is just a few steps away from maintaining more visible, easier-to-navigate streets!

View the LMCIT Sign Retroreflectivity Memo and Model Policy

Have questions about RR that the memo can’t answer? Members can contact Chris Smith at (651) 281-1269 or

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Research Q of the Week: How About a Little Sunshine? (4/10)

Question: I know that sunshine laws require government to be transparent and open to the public most of the time. What are the exceptions?

Answer: Spring is finally here and we could all use a little sunshine! Lucky for those in Minnesota cities, "sunshine" is also part of good government. The Open Meeting Law is a “sunshine law” that promotes public access to government decision-making.  It generally requires city meetings to be open to the public, and applies to city council regular and special meetings, work sessions, executive sessions, and public hearings. By requiring that city meetings be open to the public, the Open Meeting Law ensures the public’s right to be informed of city actions, detect improper influence, and present its views to the city.

Ahhh, sunshine feels good, doesn’t it?

But there a few times when closing a meeting is called for by law, and it’s important to know when that is. The Minnesota Legislature has identified certain limited instances when closing a meeting may be necessary. A meeting must be open to the public unless there is specific statutory authority allowing the city council to close a meeting. 

City council meetings must be closed:

  • for preliminary consideration of allegations or charges against an individual subject to its authority.
  • to discuss certain information pertaining to crime victims.
  •  to discuss active investigation data.
  •  to discuss internal affairs data relating to allegations of law enforcement personnel misconduct.
  •   to discuss educational, health, medical, welfare, or mental health data that is not public.  

City council meetings may be closed:

  •  to evaluate the performance of an individual who is subject to its authority.
  •  to consider strategy for labor negotiations under the Minnesota Public Employer Labor Relations Act.
  • for attorney-client privileged communications.
  •   to determine the asking price for real or personal property to be sold by the government entity.
  •  to review confidential or protected nonpublic appraisal data; or
  •  to develop or consider offers or counteroffers for the purchase or sale of real or personal property.
  •  to receive and discuss security briefings and reports if disclosure of the information discussed would pose a danger to public safety or compromise security procedures or responses.

A city council meeting can only be closed if one of these exceptions to the Open Meeting Law applies.

But first ...
Before closing a meeting the council must state on the record the specific grounds permitting the meeting to be closed and describe the subject to be discussed.  Except for meetings closed for attorney-client privileged communications, all closed meetings must be electronically recorded. Unless otherwise provided by law, the recording must be preserved for at least three years after the meeting. The city council should consult the city attorney prior to closing a meeting.

For more information on the Open Meeting Law see the League of Minnesota Cities informational memo on Meetings of City Councils or 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.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Spotted: Training ‘Heroes’ in Woodbury (photo)

Angela Kain, a paid on-call emergency medical technician in Woodbury, was recently spotted teaching a hands-only CPR class. Kain regularly teaches the classes as part of the city’s “Take Heart Woodbury” public health campaign.

Woodbury launched the campaign in February 2012, and now more than 8,000 residents have been trained in hands-only CPR. The program was the winner of a League of Minnesota Cities 2013 City of Excellence Award. You can read more about Woodbury's CPR initiative in the November-December 2013 issue of Minnesota Cities magazine.

Does your city have an innovative program worth celebrating? LMC is accepting applications now for 2014 awards.

Credit goes to photographer Lainie Steffen
Photo by Lainie Steffen

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Ready, Set, Garden (4/3)

Question: We want to help residents get back outside and enjoy the weather! Are there any best practices in establishing a community garden program?

Answer: Good idea! After all that cold and snow—the best escape may be getting outside together to garden. Has your city considered setting aside some area of the city for a community garden? From Grand Marais, to Pipestone, cities embrace community gardens.

These city green spaces go way back. During World War I, many cities encouraged community gardens to combat what was known as the “HC of L.” Translation? The “High Cost of Living.”

Today, cities encourage community gardens to add beauty to cityscapes, provide healthy food options for residents and to build community. Fresh veggies, sun and exercise. What’s not to like?

If your city is interested, make it as simple as possible, but have rules. Many cities require applications and waivers, for example, see Watertown’s application (pdf). There are lots of resources online, including a Community Garden Resource Sheet from the Minnesota Department of Health (pdf) and wheelbarrows full of information at Gardening Matters.

This is also a wonderful area to work on with volunteers.

It’s not only about garden plots. The city of St. Paul allows residents to plant boulevards (that area between the sidewalk and the street) to “enhance and improve the aesthetic appearance of city streets, avenues and alleys.” See that city ordinance on St. Paul's website.

After the winter we’ve had, let’s get out there and dig it.

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