Friday, August 29, 2014

Why Cities Matter, and a Website for the Rest of the Year

State Fair-goers who visit the League's "Cities Matter" booth from now through Labor Day have an opportunity to play a game show that tests their knowledge and offers up revealing facts about cities in Minnesota. Even after the final corn dog is slathered with mustard, though, the effort to help Minnesotans learn about city services continues year-round.

The Cities Matter website, recently updated with new information, serves as the cornerstone for a campaign designed to raise awareness of city services and their direct contribution to Minnesota's quality of life, and to help citizens understand how truly important cities are in their own daily lives.

Pages devoted to specific city services and how those services are funded provide facts that are good conversation-starters not only for those already involved in city government, but also for those who wish to gain a more fundamental understanding of how it works. There is also a special section for teachers who want to include city government studies in their classroom lesson plans.

Social media devotees may also want to check-out the Cities Matter blog and Facebook page, and to follow Cities Matter on Twitter for city news updates.

So take a little time and get to know more about what cities do, and how that work affects family, friends, and neighbors in your community—365 days a year.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Do's and Don'ts of Labor Day for City Government

Question: What are the do’s and don’ts of Labor Day for cities?

Answer: As a kid, Labor Day meant that summer was over and school was about to start. As an adult, I appreciate Labor Day as a day of rest. For the most part, that is true for cities too.

Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday of September. This holiday was created by the labor movement and has since been dedicated to the social and economic achievement of American workers.

Labor Day was first recognized by cities in 1885. Over time, states also recognized this holiday, and it became an official national holiday in 1894.

On the local level, here are a couple of things to keep in mind about Labor Day:
  • Don’t conduct any city business, except to deal with emergencies. Cities should not be holding any meetings on Labor Day. Cities also should not be conducting any city business on New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Columbus Day, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day (per state law, Minnesota Statutes, section 645.44).
  • Don’t keep city hall open. Because cities can’t conduct any city business on Labor Day, city hall should be closed.
  • Do allow on-sale and off-sale liquor sales. People are often unsure about whether liquor sales are permitted on this day. While liquor sales on Labor Day may have been prohibited at one time, that restriction has since been eliminated.
  • Do visit the State Fair. Come see the League of Minnesota Cities staff at our superhero-themed booth located in the Education Building. (For more information, see "See You There! City Careers at the MN State Fair.")

I don’t know about you, but I just realized that on my day of rest I need to have roasted corn, pork chop on a stick, and ice cream from the Dairy Barn!

Written by Irene Kao, research attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1224. 
This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Spotted: Youthful Good Look at Government

Take a good look: these are the city leaders of the future.

Members of the  Rosemount Youth Commission were recently spotted at the construction site of a new splash pad park, where Councilmember Jeff Weisensel (right) gives an on-site briefing. As part of their advisory role to the council, the commission will provide insight on design and use of the park during its development. By having youth participate in government decisions today, cities are improving facilities and programs for the under-21 crowd while learning what priorities will draw these students back to the community after graduating college.

Want to see more examples of youth participating in city government? Check out "Engaging Future City Leaders" in the July-August issue of Minnesota Cities magazine.

Photo credit goes to Terry Gydesen of Terry Gydesen Studio

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Research Q of the Week: No, You Can't Phone It In (8/21)

Question: We have a council member that is going to be out of town on the night of our meeting. Can she attend the meeting by telephone?

Answer: No. Not for the purpose of satisfying a quorum requirement and not as a voting member. City councils are only authorized to conduct meetings by telephone when a health pandemic or emergency makes meeting in-person a not-so-good idea. So, a council member can’t just "phone it in."

However, the Open Meeting Law does authorize city councils to conduct meetings by interactive television provided certain conditions are met:
  • All members of the council participating in the meeting must be able to see and hear one another and all discussion and testimony. A council member that attends a meeting by interactive television is considered present for purposes of determining a quorum and participating in the meeting.
  • The council must provide notice of the regular meeting location and any site where a council member will be participating in the meeting by interactive television.
  • Members of the public present at the council’s regular meeting location must be able to see and hear all discussion and testimony and all the votes of council members. 
  • At least one member of the council must be physically present at the council’s regular meeting location. Every location where a council member is present must also be open and accessible to the public. 
  • To the extent it is practical, the council must allow the public to monitor the meeting electronically from a remote location and may require viewers to pay the marginal cost the city incurs to make the additional connection.
Members of the public viewing council meetings remotely are also responsible for furnishing their own popcorn or TV dinners.  

What about Skype? The Department of Administration’s Information Policy Analysis Division (IPAD) has issued an advisory opinion holding that a council member can attend a meeting by Skype as long as all of the other conditions required for holding a meeting by interactive television are met.  
For more information on city council meetings and the Open Meeting Law, check out LMC's information memo on Meetings of City Councils.

Written by James Monge. 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, August 18, 2014

Play the Cities Matter Game Show Live at the State Fair

Do you know why some cities require licenses for dogs? Or what kind of jobs are done by a city's public works department?

Learn the answers to these and other examples of "meaningful municipal minutiae" by visiting the League's Cities Matter booth in the Education Building at the Minnesota State Fair (Aug. 21 - Sept. 1), and playing the interactive "Cities Matter Game Show."

Test your knowledge of Minnesota cities and city governments and win valuable (sort of) prizes, while impressing friends and family members with your perceptive prowess.

Minnesota students entering grades 4-6 will also have the chance to compete in the League's annual "Mayor For A Day" essay contest  by picking up an entry form at the booth, or by printing a form from the League's website. The deadline to submit an essay is Oct. 15.

So don't forget to add the "Cities Matter Game Show" booth to your fair-going agenda. It's more fun than a bag of deep-fried walleye-flavored chocolate-covered doughnuts-on-a-stick.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Research Q of the Week: All About the 'Benjamins' and Election Judge Pay (8/14)

Question: Which laws govern pay for election judges?

Answer: Lots of laws apply. And first, let us just say that election judges rock.

New this year (because it went up) consider Minnesota's state minimum wage law. For cities with a smaller annual budget— under $500,000—that state minimum is now $6.50 per hour. For cities with budgets higher than that, the minimum pay is $8 per hour. State law Minn. Stat. § 2014B.31 requires that election judges be paid at least that much, but city councils may decide to pay more than that. That same law allows a person to volunteer as an election judge and receive no pay, but they must submit a written statement about that to the city council at least ten days before the election.

What about federal minimum wage and election judges? A federal appeals court judge says no, election judges are exempt from federal minimum wage laws. Evers v. Tart, 48 F.3d 319, 321 (8th Cir. 1995).
The weeds
Ok, so we know the minimum pay for these helpful people. How does a city pay them and do they withhold taxes from that pay? Here’s the quick list:
  • Federal and/or state tax withholding, including withholding for Social Security and Medicare. If an election judge is paid less than $1,600 in 2014, no Social Security or Medicare taxes are withheld.
  • Issuing W-2s. If an election judge earns more than $600 in a year, cities must issue that person a W-2. (According to IRS contacts, W-2s may be issued to judges earning less than $600 for software and bookkeeping purposes).
  • PERA withholding. According to the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), election judges are local governmental employees, but the wages earned in these positions are not subject to PERA withholding.
  • Payroll. The federal government classifies election judges as employees. Therefore, it seems reasonable to pay election judges through the payroll system, rather than other accounts, to ensure accurate tracking of wages paid to each judge. However, this is offered as a practical tip, not as a requirement in law or rule
There you have it, a few laws governing election judge pay. No, these judges probably will not earn many “Benjamins,” a.k.a hundred-dollar bills, but they DO help cities, and especially city clerks, with probably their most important responsibility— conducting elections. 

For more on election procedures, see Chapter 5 of the Handbook for Minnesota Cities. And thanks to all you election judges out there. 

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, August 7, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Are You 'Odd'? Primaries and Local Control (8/7)

Question: Next week is the primary election, and I was wondering why our local officials are not on the ballot. What gives?

Answer: There are a few reasons why this may be the case. First off, not all cities have primary elections because whether to have a municipal primary is a decision made at the local level.

Any city can establish a city primary and have their city races on the primary ballot if the council adopts an ordinance or resolution by April 15 in the year when a municipal general election is held. The city clerk must notify the secretary of state and the county auditor within 30 days after the adoption of the resolution or ordinance. 

Once the city adopts a primary, it stays in effect for all ensuing elections until revoked by the council. The city must hold the primary on the second Tuesday in August of the year in which the city general election is held. 

For nonpartisan offices, a primary is not necessary if no more than twice the number of people to be elected file for office ( i.e., if two council seats are open, and four or fewer candidates file). In that case, the names of the candidates go directly on the general election ballot, sans partisan designation. There would then be no city races listed on the primary ballot alongside legislative, school board, or any other races happening that year.

Another reason you may not have city offices on your ballot is if you are "odd." And by that I mean, you have odd-year city elections. Cities have the option to have their local elections along with state and federal races in the even years or by themselves in the odd years.

Written by Amber Eisenschenk, staff attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1227.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

GreenStep Cities Welcomes 70th Participating City (VIDEO)

 When the City of Roseville passed a resolution to join the Minnesota GreenStep Cities program in July, it became the 70th Minnesota city to affirm its ongoing work toward sustainability and quality-of-life goals for its residents.

The GreenStep Cities program, which was officially launched at the 2010 LMC Annual Conference, is led by an eight-member steering committee of public and private organizations, including the League. Participating cities range in size from Milan (population 326) to St. Paul (290,770).

GreenStep is an easy way for participating cities to track and publicly report best practices while achieving "steps" that lead to public recognition, according to program co-director Philipp Muessig, who represents the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on the steering committee.

"Some of the additional benefits cities often mention are that the GreenStep website is an easy, one-stop site, and that the GreenStep resources enable volunteer commissions to focus their limited time to get the most done, and help cities save money while adding to the city’s appeal," Muessig added.

Watch officials from several participating cities describe the benefits of the GreenStep Cities program in the quick video posted above.