Thursday, September 25, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Cold Weather Rule Notification Deadline (9/25)

Question: It’s baaaackk. Cold weather. So what’s with this Cold Weather Rule and city utilities?

Answer: It’s a law to keep the heat on, and your city plays an important role. Between Aug. 15 and Oct. 15 cities must notify utility customers about the "Cold Weather Rule" found in Minn. Stat. § 216B.097. So Wednesday, Oct. 15 of this year is the last day to send notices about this rule to utility customers if it applies to your city utility.

What’s the rule about? It prevents city utilities from disconnecting service to homes during the cold weather months—Oct. 15 through April 15—if that disconnection would in any way affect the consumer's primary heat source and if the consumer complies with the rule (see below). If a residence has been disconnected before Oct. 15, the rule requires the city utility to reconnect that home. Note that the rule does not allow use of “load limiters” or any device that limits or interrupts electric service in any way during these months.

Customers still pay. If a customer qualifies based on income and fills out the required forms, they must enter into payment plans and are also referred to energy assistance programs. If a customer does not comply with the rule, utility service may still be shut off during the winter, but cities must follow strict notice requirements in the rule before doing that. 

Does this rule apply to city water utilities? That's a great question for your city attorney. One part of the rule defines “utility heating service” as natural gas or electricity used to heat a home—and that includes electricity needed to run gas heating equipment. The cautious approach is for a city utility to refrain from disconnecting a utility service during the winter months if that disconnection could affect a customer’s primary heat source.  Many cities certify unpaid water and sewer charges more than once a year and no longer shut water off, cold weather or not.

 For more discussion of all this, take a look at pages 24 -26 of this Research memo: Securing Payment of Utility Charges.

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. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Spotted: Dr. Richard Gasaway Presenting at 2014 Fireground Safety Workshops

LMC’s Public Safety Project Coordinator Rob Boe ‘spotted’ Dr. Richard Gasaway at our fall fireground safety workshops as he reviewed 10 frequent mistakes and 10 best practices he's discovered and fielded questions from the group.
Firefighters gathered in six cities across the state over the past two weeks to find out more about keeping firefighters safe at incident scenes. Workshops focused on bringing together different roles to see how everyone can contribute to increasing fireground safety.
Find out more about all our fall Safety & Loss Control Workshops on Rob’s On the Line blog.

Photos taken by Rob Boe.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Three Steps to Prevent Employee Theft (9/18)

Question: I don't want my city to end up in the headlines. What can we do to prevent employee theft? 

Answer: It’s an uncomfortable topic, but employee theft occasionally occurs in Minnesota cities. There are generally three key elements that lead an employee to steal: opportunity, financial pressure, and rationalization. Most people who commit theft against their employers are not career criminals. Instead, they are trusted staff who have no criminal history and see themselves as ordinary, honest people caught in a bad situation.

The best way for cities to stop employee theft is by reducing the opportunity for employees to steal. Here are three ways to do this:

1.) Segregate duties
Don’t give all the responsibilities for a job function to one person. For example, one person should be responsible for preparing and sending utility bills, a second person should be responsible for recording payments and reconciling bills with collections, and a third person should maintain custody over the funds and deposit them in the bank. Small cities with limited staff may be able to use city councilmembers to help segregate duties. For example, a city councilmember may be able to make deposits or to reconcile monthly bank statements.

2.) Adopt internal controls
It’s important to establish good financial procedures for employees to follow and to provide evidence for an audit trail. Here are examples of some simple internal control procedures:

•    Endorse checks for deposit as they are received.
•    Make daily deposits.
•    Reconcile receipts with deposits.
•    Reconcile bank statements monthly.
•    Avoid pre-signing checks.
•    Rotate employees who collect cash.
•    Require a receipt when cash collections are given to another person.

3.) Establish an environment of accountability

This means not only creating internal control procedures, but requiring everyone—no exceptions—to follow them. Management should lead by example.

For more information, see the LMC information memo: Safeguarding Your City Against Employee Theft.

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. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Fall into the September-October Issue of Minnesota Cities Mag

The September-October issue of Minnesota Cities magazine mailed last week to subscribers, and is available online now. Check out these highlights—rivaled only by the changing fall colors on their way:

You may know that Dave Kleis, mayor of St. Cloud, and Tom Harmening, city manager of St. Louis Park, each received LMC awards this year. But beyond the official introductions and speeches, what does their work really look like on the ground? Learn more about the careers of these two distinguished city officials in Celebrating City Champions.

How does a city turn acres of poo into an award-winning habitat project? By retiring leaking wastewater treatment ponds and transform them into bucolic, handicap-accessible pheasant hunting grounds. Get the dirty details of Madelia’s ingenious plan and find out why they call Madelia the “Pheasant Capital of Minnesota” in Ideas in Action: Madelia Brings Land Back to Life.

The League of Minnesota Cities’ 22nd annual property tax report is out, and chock full of information about trends and recent policy changes affecting the property tax system. Teaser: The greatest market value growth was seen in the smallest population category. Get the rest of our reader-friendly League analysis in the 2014 Property Tax Report.

As always, columns such as Ask LMC (LMC staff answer YOUR questions), As I See It (Executive Director Jim Miller reflects on role confusion and dysfunction), and Letter of the Law (new HR law changes you need to know now) are all available to help you transition into autumn with a little extra know-how to wow.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Copy That—Charging for Data Requests (9/11)

Question: We just received a request for pages and pages of information we keep offsite. None of the information being requested is about the requester in particular. What can or can’t we charge for as we prepare to respond?

Answer: Cities are frequently asked for information or data, and sometimes a lot of it. What a city may charge in responding to the request will always depend on a few things. One thing that matters is whether the requester is the “subject of the data.” Charges to data subjects is slightly different. In this case the requestor is not the subject of the data.

First thing's first
When figuring out what to charge for any data request, the first thing to ask is, does the person want copies of the information, or do they just want to take a look at it there in the office? If the person merely wants to take a look at the information and doesn’t wish the city to make copies, then there can be no charge to the requestor. Inspection is always free.

If the person requesting the data is not the subject of the data and either wants the city to make them copies or wants the city to electronically transmit copies, regardless of the form of the data, there are two basic cost structures in law:
  • If the request for copies is met with as many as 100 black and white pages of letter- or legal- sized paper, the most the city may charge for the request is a quarter a page.
  •  If the request cannot be met with 100 pages, the city may charge the actual costs of searching for and retrieving the information, including the cost of employee time, and for making, certifying, and electronically transmitting the copies of the information.
Remember, cities can never charge the person requesting information for city time spent separating public from non-public information. However, if it looks like the city will be charging a hefty sum to fill the request, there’s nothing wrong with having a policy of requiring pre-payment from the requestor.

Couple o' resources: 

LMC Information Memo—Data Practices: Analyze, Classify and Respond
Information Policy Analysis Division (IPAD)—Video: IPAD’s guide to copy costs
Information Policy Analysis Division (IPAD)—IPAD web page dedicated to copy costs

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. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Fall Festival Season & Liquor Licensing (9/5)

Question: An organization wants to hold a festival in the city and hopes to sell alcohol.  How does the liquor licensing work for such an event?

Answer: Let me guess, Octoberfest? Halloween? Apple harvest? We have so many great reasons to celebrate in Minnesota well after Labor Day has passed. Most festivals, regardless of season, will take place in a park, the city street, or a private parking lot. But an on-sale retail license within the city typically restricts the consumption and sale of alcohol to the building and any fenced in patio area. It usually excludes the parking lot and certainly the city streets and parks.

Hmm. This means that a different kind of license is almost always necessary.

For the city, the first step is to understand how the alcohol will be served and who will be serving it.  Remember that a license or permit (issued by the city, state, or both!) is required to serve or sell alcohol. Also, think about potential liability and whether or not the group has insurance coverage for the event. Many groups will already have insurance, but for groups that needs one-time, single event coverage, the League has a program called TULIP that can help. 

Now, there are two main methods to lawfully sell alcohol during events:

Temporary on-sale license for nonprofit organizations
One method is the temporary on-sale license. This is a popular choice because it allows alcohol sales for a definite period up to four days on property that is not owned by the license holder. The license may be issued to charitable, religious, or other nonprofit organizations in existence for at least three years; registered political committees; and state universities. Since these organizations might not ordinarily sell alcohol, this license conveniently exempts the license holder from liability insurance requirements under Minnesota Statutes § 340A.409.  It does not mean the licensee is exempt from liability. 

A temporary on-sale license also allows the holder to contract for liquor catering services with a duly licensed on-sale licensee, which is common. This license is issued by the city and must also be approved by the commissioner of public safety. While this license is fairly flexible, one of the downsides is that cities can only issue 12 days’ worth of licenses each year to any single organization or for any single location. 

Community festival authorization for existing license-holders
Another licensing method applies specifically to community festivals.  Here, a license may be issued to any current holder of a retail on-sale license within the city. The license must specify the area in which the alcohol will be sold and consumed and the licensee must prove that it has liability insurance coverage according to Minnesota Statutes § 340A.409.  This license requires only the approval of the city.

Other licensing methods may apply, and the League’s Liquor Licensing and Regulation memo is an incredible resource for general information.  Because every situation is a little different–cities have different ordinances, no two events are the same, and the organizations might be more or less organized than others–don't hesitate to work with your city attorney to hammer out the specific details. Once the work is done, feel free to kick back with a beverage and enjoy the event!
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.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Be Mayor for a Day—The Race is On!

The start of a new school year means that the minds of elementary school students are filled with thoughts of bus stops, math classes, tag at recess, and—ways to make their communities better places to live.

This fall, fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders who live in Minnesota are invited to submit their best ideas about how they would improve parks and recreation, fire, or police services in their cities for the League's second annual "Mayor for a Day" essay contest.

Three winners will be chosen from among submitted essays. Each winning student will receive a check for $100, and have her/his essay published in a future issue of Minnesota Cities magazine. Last year, winners were chosen from the cities of Buffalo Lake, Hastings, Jordan, and Woodbury. Some winners were even featured in their local newspapers.

Essay entry forms can be found on the League's website, and completed essays must be mailed to the League by no later than October 15.

So tag, you're it! Don't miss this opportunity to share your creative ideas, and to tell us what you would do if you were mayor for a day.