Thursday, July 31, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Open Meeting Law and Job Applicants (7/31)

Question: Can a city council close a meeting to consider allegations against a job applicant?

Answer: The short answer is no.

One of the seven exceptions to the Open Meeting Law requires a city council to close a meeting for “preliminary consideration of allegations or charges against an individual subject to its authority.” City councils have typically used this exception to close meetings to discuss allegations against city employees—not fun.

But recently, a city council closed two meetings under this exception to discuss allegations against a job applicant.

The city council made a job offer to an applicant for the position of police chief that was conditional on the applicant passing several examinations. The city council later learned about some allegations against the applicant and closed two meetings to discuss them.

Here’s how that played out

 The local newspaper challenged the city council’s decision to close the meetings and requested an advisory opinion from the Department of Administration’s Information Policy Analysis Division (IPAD).

IPAD advised that the city council had violated the Open Meeting Law by closing the meetings. IPAD concluded that a “public body’s ability to impose discipline and an individual’s obligation to submit to the authority of the body are what makes an individual subject to that authority.”

IPAD determined that the job applicant was not subject to the city council’s authority because the city council had no authority to discipline him or to direct his actions in any way.

Written by Susan Naughton, research attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1232.

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

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Local City Policy Maker Takes the Lead on a National Level

What inspires city council member Michael Wojcik these days? A passion for transportation and making sure that workers can find affordable housing in his community of Rochester, MN.

That's why he advocates for local and national policies that will benefit his constituents.

Late last week, Wojcik joined more than 200 other local elected officials from all across the nation for three days of policy workshops and policy committee meetings at the National League of Cities (NLC) Summer Policy Forum in St. Paul. The forum is held annually in a NLC member city.

Wojcik serves as the vice-chair of NLC's Community and Economic Development Committee (CED), one of seven NLC policy committees that met in St. Paul. Elected officials from cities as diverse as Wichita, KS and Broken Arrow, OK also serve as CED committee chairs.

The CED is responsible for developing policy positions on issues that extend into such far-reaching topics as land use, recreation and parks, historic preservation, and international competitiveness.

Those policy positions will be used by NLC staff and member cities to lobby at the federal government level for city-friendly legislation.

"In Rochester, I've been quite outspoken about the issue of affordable housing, and that's one of the policy areas of focus for CED," says Wojcik. "Through my NLC work, I've learned how other cities similar to Rochester are dealing with housing needs, as well as transportation issues related to local workforces."

Wojcik says he's also learned there's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all policy solution. "While our communities all have some things in common, we still need to consider size differences, regional differences, and many other factors," he said. Sounds a lot like the legislative policy development process for cities right here in Minnesota, doesn't it?

NLC's executive director Clarence Anthony, formerly the mayor of South Bay, FL was among the St. Paul Policy Forum presenters that also included officials from the Federal Communications Commission.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Eek! Campaign Finance Reports on the Web (7/24)

Question: I heard something about a new requirement that we post campaign finance reports on our city website. Is that right?

Answer: Both spiders and cities have websites, but only one of them may have to post all campaign finance reports they receive on their respective web locality. Studies have shown spiders receive too few campaign finance reports for it to be practical, so it’s not the spider.

Now, before you break out in a cold sweat, does your city even maintain a website? If not, you’re done, and instead of posting the campaign finance reports on a website, you and the spider can use that time for other pursuits.

But if your city does maintain a website, there’s one more creepy-crawly question to ask. Does your city have 400 or more registered voters as of last Jan. 1? If not, you need not post any campaign finance reports—regardless of whether your city maintains a website or not.

However, if your city has a website and at least 400 registered voters (as of Jan. 1), the reports must be posted online “as soon as possible, but no later than 30 days after receipt of the report.” The link to the section of the website where the reports are available must be provided to the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, and reports must remain available on the website for four years from the date of posting.

Once the four years are up, the reports may be removed from the website. Now, give that furry little spider a high-five. (Or not.)

Written by Edward Cadman, special counsel with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1229.

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

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Safeguarding Cyberspace: A New Resource to Help Cities Prevent Data Losses

As you are likely aware, data breaches have been headline news lately. Hackers are targeting all sectors—and unfortunately, government has not been exempt.

There have been incidents from coast to coast this year:

  • In Michigan, a flash drive containing the personal information (including names, addresses, and social security numbers) of 2,500 people was stolen from an ombudsman’s office.

  • In Pennsylvania, hackers breached a county’s payroll processor—exposing hundreds of government employees’ bank account and social security numbers.

  • And in Montana, the Department of Public Health and Human Services’ server was recently accessed, putting client information like names, birth dates, and clinical information at risk.

So how can you protect your city and its data? LMCIT (the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust) has a new resource to help. The eRisk Hub—developed in partnership with Net Diligence and NLC-RISC—is a private, web-based portal chock full of timely information.

Whether your city is trying to prevent a claim or has already experienced a loss, this online portal has content for you. The website contains information and technical resources that can assist in the prevention of network, cyber, and privacy losses, as well as support for reporting and recovery of losses if an incident does occur.

If you haven’t yet registered at the eRisk Hub, go to and complete the new user registration form. (PLEASE NOTE: This is a private service for LMCIT members only. If you don’t already have the access code, contact LMCIT Program Administrator Laura Honeck at or (651) 281-1280 prior to logging in.)

Are you worried your city has already experienced a data breach? Call LMCIT claims staff immediately at (800) 925-1122.

To learn more about our new eRisk Hub, please visit

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Need a Cool Read? The July-August Issue of Minnesota Cities Mag is Online Now

The July-August issue of Minnesota Cities magazine mailed last week to subscribers, and is available
online now for your reading refreshment. Take the issue poolside to catch up on these local government highlights:

“It’s easy for adults to think we know what youth want, but when they come with ideas, that’s when we can get things done.” Those are the words of Royalton Mayor Andrea Lauer. Royalton is just one of many cities in Minnesota working to involve the next generation in local government. From full-fledged youth members of city commissions to youth involvement in designing city amenities, see what all the kids are talking about in “Engaging Future City Leaders.”

There’s no shortage of theories about what creates effective leadership, that’s for sure. But when adopting someone else’s recipe for success means acting like someone you’re not, then what? In his latest column, LMC Executive Director Jim Miller faces down the question of authenticity in leadership theories—in his own way, of course. Hear more from LMC's fearless leader in “As I See It: Authentic Leadership.”

Many city clerks could probably recite the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act in their sleep. But how about your fire chief? This issue’s “Letter of the Law” column is dedicated to laws that DO apply to your fire department, but DON’T always get the attention they deserve. Find out what your fire department administration needs to know in Letter of the Law: Fire Departments—Don’t Overlook These Laws.

As always, columns such as From the Bench (summaries of recent court cases), Bits & Briefs (timely tidbits and other news), and Two-Way Street (this month, Harmony and Owatonna staff share their economic development successes) are all available to inform and engage you in issues affecting local government.

Read Minnesota Cities magazine's July-August issue

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Starting a New Chapter After a Council Vacancy (7/16)

Question: Things are good. The sun is shining. The birds are chirping. But a councilmember just left their council seat and it feels like trouble is looming on the horizon.  Now what do we do?

Answer: First, some basics. A vacancy occurs when a councilmember resigns, moves from the city, or for any of the other reasons in Minnesota Statute § 351.02 can no longer serve. Once the position has been vacated, the council must use a resolution to declare the seat vacant and begin work to appoint a successor to the seat in accordance with Minnesota Statute § 412.02,subd. 2a. 

Many cities choose to openly advertise the vacancy to ensure that high quality candidates can be found and to eliminate any appearances of closed dealing. A successor can be any individual that is eligible to vote in a municipal election. After candidates have been found, the remaining members of the council vote to appoint a successor. If there is a tie vote, the mayor may appoint any qualified individual and is not limited to the list of successor candidates.

Yeah but, how long do they serve?
Minnesota law plainly requires the council to appoint a successor, but the law is less clear about how long the appointed successor will serve.  In some cases the appointee will complete the full length remaining in the vacated term, and in other cases the appointee will only complete part of the remaining term.  How can you know what to do? 

—Let's try a "choose your own adventure" tactic to get your answer. Please note that these scenarios assume that the vacated position was initially elected to a four-year term and that the word “councilmember” includes mayors.

Was your vacancy ...

During the first year?
Then: Council appoints a successor to temporarily fill the position.  The city must also hold a special election at or before the next municipal election to elect a successor.  The appointee holds the position until the elected successor qualifies, at which point the elected successor will complete the remaining term.

During the second year?
Then: Council appoints a successor to fill the position and, depending upon when the vacancy occurred, there might or might not need to be a special election.  This is determined by the date a vacancy occurs in relation to the first day to file an affidavit of candidacy in the next municipal election. … Got that? Here’s a tip: this date changes slightly from year to year, but is generally between late May and late July depending upon whether or not the city has a primary election. For 2014, that date is May 20 for cities with a primary election and July 29 for cities without a primary election.

If the vacancy occurs before the first day to file an affidavit of candidacy then the appointee will serve temporarily until an elected successor qualifies after winning a special election at or before the next municipal election.  The elected successor will complete the remaining term. 

If the vacancy occurs on or after the first day to file an affidavit of candidacy then there does not need to be a special election and the appointee will complete the remaining two years of the term. 

During the third or fourth year?
Then: Council appoints a successor to fulfill the remainder of the term. 

For cities in which the mayor has a two-year term, an appointee may complete the remaining term without a special election.

So go enjoy the rest of your day. Vacancies happen, but Minnesota cities have a process in place to handle them, rain or shine.

For more information, check out the League’s Calendar of Important Dates, Cities Special Elections memo, or contact the Research Department.
Written by Jake Saufley. Contact the League's Research and Information Service staff by emailing, or by calling (651) 281-1200 or (800) 925-1122.

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

Monday, July 14, 2014

LMC's Right Track Intern Takes a Positively Presidential Field Trip

City of St. Paul's Right Track interns show their tickets to the
June 26 presidential Town Hall in Mpls.
Your typical summer job may bring to mind hot days mowing lawns, the aroma of French fries at the local drive-up window, or perhaps the unceasing pleasantries of a cash register.

For the League’s Right Track summer intern, Samantha (Sammie) Theng, the first week of her summer job included a trip to a Town Hall meeting with President Barack Obama in Minneapolis. That beats a checkout lane any day.

The City of St. Paul’s Right Track program pairs St. Paul high school students with summer jobs that will build professional skills and help them navigate the workforce. Other employers involved include Ecolab, the Science Museum, local nonprofits, and government offices. About 100 interns are a part of the program this year.

When the St. Paul Mayor’s Office received 10 extra tickets to attend the Town Hall on June 26, Mayor Chris Coleman handed them off to the Right Track program.

Sammie, who is 17, didn’t believe it at first when her supervisor told she was invited. Sammie said her next question was whether it would actually be OK for her to skip work that day.
LMC's Right Track intern Samantha
Theng (right) poses with St. Paul
Mayor Chris Coleman (left).

Reassured, Sammie joined the other Right Track interns and Catherine Pinkert, the manager of the Right Track program, for the field trip to Minnehaha Park.

The speeches didn’t catch the teenager’s attention—“I think all speeches are boring,” she confided—but she said she was interested in the following Q&A, particularly a question about the gender wage gap.

Mayor Coleman took some time to visit with the interns, giving them boxes of M&Ms he claimed he stole from Air Force One. “He’s funny,” said Sammie.

Now in the groove of her regular duties at the League, Sammie is working on a variety of projects. One includes using Excel to document whether cities follow through with loss control safety recommendations. Her work station is located next to Public Safety Coordinator Rob Boe’s desk, another reason to be jealous of her time here at the League.

More info about Right Track:
City of St. Paul's Right Track program web page
Right Track on Facebook
Read about another Right Track intern's experience in the Star Tribune

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Happy Bike Trails to You! (7/10)

Question: The city council is interested in creating a more bike-friendly community.
What can my city do to encourage bicycling?

Answer: It was a gorgeous weekend to ride a bike trail—31 miles just to brag—and I admit it was hard to come back to work. So many people of all ages and abilities were out biking, I thought of the revenue the bikeway brought in to the local businesses in the small and large cities on the route.

While bicycling brings to mind recreation and health benefits, here’s an economic success story to note: Lanesboro in southeastern Minnesota now enjoys $2.3 million of spending a year linked to the Root River State Trail, a focal point of what has become a popular destination in the state’s tourism industry. 

Bike trails can benefit local residents, too. In some cities, the bikeway links all of the city schools and parks. Plus, the state’s Safe Routes to School program provides funding to community and school groups to make improvements to the routes children use to walk and bike to school.

You've got the power
So how can cities help? One reason Minnesota ranks number two in the annual Bike Friendly State Ranking might be that state law gives city councils the power to designate and create bikeways and paths.

A city may designate, by ordinance, that any roadway or portion of a roadway under its jurisdiction has a bicycle lane. Cities can act unilaterally to lower speed limits to 25 miles per hour for these streets and must mark bikeways with appropriate signs. See pages 9-10 of the League’s memo, Special Vehicles Operating on City Streets, for more on state laws and bicycles.

If anyone needs more convincing, take a ride on a bike trail near you—Minnesota’s Heartland and Migizi trails may be the longest paved trail system in the nation—and see how biking benefits residents, tourists, and your health. Oh, and take a picture and post it to the League’s Facebook page: Happy trails!

Info and ideas for your city, no helmet required:

Written by Jeanette Behr, research manager with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1228.

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

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Trivia Time: How Much Do You Know about Minnesota Cities?

How much do you know about Minnesota cities? Put your knowledge to the test with some interesting Minnesota facts! Find the answers at the bottom of this page.
  1. How many female mayors are there in Minnesota?
  2. How many cities are there in Minnesota with populations under 100?
  3. How many city names in Minnesota begin with the letter Q?
  4. What word is used most frequently in Minnesota city names?
  5. Which Minnesota county has the most cities?
  6. What is the average size of a city council in Minnesota?
  7. What are the five most populated Minnesota cities?
  8. Which letter in the alphabet occurs most frequently at the beginning of Minnesota city names?
You can find all this information and more in the 2014 Directory of Minnesota City Officials—available now for only $59!
  1. There are 135 female mayors in Minnesota
  2. 89 cities in Minnesota have populations under 100
  3. There is only one Minnesota city with a name that begins with the letter Q: Quamba
  4. Lake, it occurs 49 times
  5. Hennepin County, there are 46 cities
  6. The average size of a city council in Minnesota is four
  7. 1) Minneapolis-392,008, 2) St. Paul-289,270, 3) Rochester-108,814, 4) Duluth-86,033, 5) Bloomington-85,632
  8. The letter b, there are 78 Minnesota cities with names that start with B

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Safety and Snow Cones on Independence Day (7/2)

Question: Our city is hosting the annual Independence Day parade this weekend. Do you have any tips to help everyone stay safe (and hopefully happy)?

Answer: Limit your snow cone intake to one per hour! Just kidding, of course. There is no such thing as too many snow cones.

In all seriousness, there are some things the city can check on to be sure you are fully prepared. Here are some ideas:

  • Check the parade route and adjoining sidewalks, if any, for potholes, cracks or obstacles. Repairing or marking significant cracks, holes, or uneven surfaces and making a record of that action may help prevent a slip-and-fall. 
  • Look for other things in the public’s way such as scaffolding in front of a building that spectators might try to climb. 
  • Look for movable basketball hoops or skateboard ramps in the street that children might play on or try to move. 
  • Consider your traffic control plan at all phases of the parade route. Determine where people, floats, and animals gather before the parade (commonly known as the staging area) and how to deal with the influx of traffic into that area as people drop off participants. 
  • Separate the units with animals from other parade units—especially horses from bands and floats. After all, nobody really wants to be behind the horses!
  •  Determine where traffic barriers and street closings are necessary on the parade route.
  • Consider if law enforcement or security personnel are required for staffing the parade route on the day of the event.

A city can also be better protected by have specific parade rules—like no throwing candy from a moving vehicle. It may be too late to create new rules for this year, but you can learn more about this in the Parks and Recreation Loss Control Guide, pages 80-81.

Enjoy all the snow cones you can handle this weekend. We hope you have a safe and fun parade!

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