Monday, December 29, 2014

Spotted: A Good Government Legacy Lives on in Medina

Mayor Elizabeth Weir of Medina is spotted here sharing a plaque commemorating former Mayor Tom Crosby, who died in 2013. Crosby set the stage for a successful public works and police department facilities expansion when, in the depths of the Great Recession, he pursued the purchasing of an existing property to retrofit. As a real estate attorney, Crosby had a hunch that the purchase would be a good deal for the city, despite the doom and gloom of the economy.

Crosby's vision lives on through the completed project—an award-winning, cost-saving, all-around great government facility (where the showers are no longer used for storage). You can read about Medina's successful expansion in the latest "Ideas in Action," featured in Minnesota Cities magazine.

Photo credit goes to Kathryn Forss

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Don't Quit Your Day Job (12/25)

Question: I'm starting my first term in office soon, and I'm starting to worry about taking time off to attend all these meetings. Is there any information out there that will help me sort this out with my supervisor?

Answer: Hello to all of you elected officials out there in the blogosphere. Thank you for the valuable work you do for your communities. Did you know that because the work you do is so important, the Minnesota Legislature adopted a law (Minn. Stat. § 211B.10) that requires your boss to give you time off from work to attend public meetings? Here’s the scoop about the key requirements of the law:
  • A person elected to public office must be given time off from work to attend meetings required by their public office.
  • The time off may be without pay, with pay, or made up with other hours, as agreed to between the employee and employer.
  • When an employee takes time off without pay, the employer must make an effort to allow the employee to make up the time with other hours when the employee is available.
  • No retaliatory action may be taken by the employer if the employee takes time off from work to attend public meetings.
For more information about elected officials and their role see chapter 6 of the Handbook for Minnesota Cities, freshly updated with 2014 law revisions and info.

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. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

LMC Extreme Makeover Edition 2014 at Emma Norton

League staff, family, and friends recently converged at a local nonprofit, Emma Norton Services, to make-over a much neglected common room.

Emma Norton Services, located near the League on Robert Street in St. Paul, provides housing and support to women, children and families that are homeless and dealing with addiction and/or mental illness. Nearly 200 residents a year benefit from EMS's work.

LMC employees donated over $700 to help with the project to rejuvenate the third-floor lounge, and one staffer volunteered to purchase the lounge a new television. The "bee-autiful" summer fundraiser for ENS also resulted in a priceless photo of Executive Director Jim Miller and League President Dave Osberg wearing "bee antennae."

Out went the ceiling fan caked with dust, dark and dated paint, and mismatched couches.

In came new light fixtures, uplifting wall art, soft blankets and coordinating furniture.

Residents picked out the paint colors to kick off the project. Also volunteering her time was friend and coordinator Shirley Kramer, who put all the elements together to create a peaceful, welcoming space.

 League staff partner with neighborhood organizations several times a year to contribute to the health of the community that surrounds us. The second-floor ENS lounge got its own makeover in 2013.

The message League staff hope to deliver to residents? "You have value."

The League is honored to partner with great organizations like ENS to help build community in the Frogtown/Capitol Heights area—because great communities are what we're all about.

Before: old couches, dark paint
Before: poor light, old tube TV

After: lots of light, cozy touches
After: coordinating furniture, fresh paint

Photo credit goes to LMC staffer Jeanette Behr

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Cocktail Room License Law, Distilled

Question: We have a microdistillery in the city that sells their product under a license granted by the state. Now they’re saying they want a license from the city to have a cocktail room? What is this?

Answer: It's good news for those who deserve the occasional adult beverage following a long day of synthesizing municipal law, that's what.

Specifically, this is a new license as of the last legislative session. While the state licenses microdistilleries to provide samples of distilled spirits manufactured onsite, cities may license a state-licensed microdistillery to operate a “cocktail room.” Think of a microbrewery's taproom, except with Manhattans and martinis instead of lagers and IPAs.

The cocktail room license authorizes the on-sale of distilled liquor produced by the distiller for imbibing at the distillery or at a place adjacent to a single distillery location owned by the distiller.
  • This license is only available to those distilleries licensed as "microdistilleries."
  • No distiller is allowed more than one cocktail room license.
  • No single business is allowed to hold both a cocktail room license and a taproom license.
  • No single location can hold both licenses even if the businesses are separate.
  • The cocktail room license may be issued by a city with or without a municipal liquor store.
Combine these rules into your city's licensing repertoire, shake, and serve up a boost to your city's craft spirits industry responsibly.

Written by Edward Cadman, special counsel with the League of Minnesota Cities. Ed can't figure out how to incorporate the phrase "hot toddy for your body" into this blog post. Probably for the best. 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, December 12, 2014

Happy Ugly Sweater Day—to Support St. Paul's Project Home

Seeing your boss in a tacky sweater may be an everyday occurrence for some, but an honest-to-goodness UGLY SWEATER? That's a sight to behold.

LMC staff had our own Ugly Sweater Day last Friday to raise money for a good cause.

League employees have been donating money over the past several weeks to support the work of Project Home, a joint effort among faith communities in the St. Paul area to provide homeless emergency shelters when all other sites are filled.
  • When donations hit $250, management team promised to don some ugly apparel.
  • When donations hit $350, board president Dave Osberg, city administrator of Eagan, joined in. 
And of course, staff were invited to show off their own tinsel-y, over-adorned closet treasures.
Prizes (small, public sector prizes) were given for the three top ugly sweaters worn by staff. There were some, umm, clear "winners."

LMC management showing off their finery. No executive directors were
harmed in the taking of this photo, despite those arm antlers.

LMC Board President Dave Osberg and LMC Executive Director Jim Miller
sport some "bee antennae" to kick it up a notch on that buckle and reindeer.
*More info on the antennae to come.

Uh, is that sasquatch? Attorney Dan Kurtz
takes the cake. Or coffee, in this case.

Photo credit goes to LMC staffer Danielle Cabot, whose lone 
ugly sweater is adorned with shiny, fake ice.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Research Q of the Week: The OT Enforcers and Your City (12/11)

Question: I'm working on my city's employee classifications, and I'm confused. A salaried employee can't earn overtime—right?

Answer: This is always a tricky question because of a common misunderstanding about how the words “hourly wage” and “salary” relate to the payment of overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The short answer is "maybe," and it's worth a look to understand why.

First, let’s define some words and phrases:
  • Hourly wage means that the amount paid is based upon a rate per hour. 
  • Salary means that a certain amount of money is paid regardless of the hours that are worked.
  • Overtime pay is earned when more than 40 hours are worked in a week. 
  • Exempt means that workers are not eligible for overtime pay. Non-exempt means workers earn overtime pay.
—Oh yeah, and the "FLSA" is the federal law that regulates employee pay, among other things, and the U.S. Department of Labor ("DOL") enforces the FLSA. Got that?

Now, let’s take a look at that misunderstanding about overtime pay. It is a commonly held belief that salaried workers are exempt and hourly wage workers are non-exempt. However, believe it or not, a salaried worker can be non-exempt and thus eligible for overtime pay.

So, the real question is whether or not a worker is exempt or non-exempt.

To help answer that question, the DOL has created two tests: the salary test and the duties test. An employee must pass both tests in order to be classified as an exempt employee. There isn’t enough space on this page to fully explain these tests, so for more information you should take a look at the League’s Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA): Determining Exempt vs. Non-Exempt Status information memo. 

Close enough won't cut it
Classifying your employees correctly is important because the DOL has stepped up enforcement of the law over the last several years, and the penalties for non-compliance are severe. The DOL determined that in 2013 employers failed to pay over $130 million in overtime wages. Ouch. Penalties include back pay, an equal amount of liquidated damages, attorney’s fees, and court costs.

Additionally, willful violations can result in criminal prosecution and a $10,000 fine. The typical investigation goes back two years, but records must be kept for at least three. Failure to maintain adequate records will also result in additional penalties.
If you have more questions about overtime and the FLSA I encourage you to visit the DOL website, review any of the DOL Fact Sheets, or contact the League’s Research department at (651) 281-1200 or

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, December 4, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Cheat Sheet to City Administrative Roles (12/4/14)

Question: What is the difference between a city clerk, city administrator, and city manager?

Answer: Have you ever wanted a quick cheat sheet on city administrative positions? If the answer is yes, then look no further. Below is a quick primer on the differences and similarities between city clerks, city administrators, and city managers (warning: this is by no means comprehensive).

Type of office
Statutory (elected or appointed)
Non-statutory (usually created by ordinance or resolution)**
Statutory form of government*
Standard Plan
Plan A
Plan B
Standard Plan
Plan A (most common)
Plan B
Numerous (minute book, ordinance book, notice of elections, notice of meetings, records custodian, and more than can fix in this little box)
Varies from city to city but generally day-to-day operations
Head of administrative branch
Relationship to other city staff
Other than for deputy clerk, no appointment or removal power of city staff
Varies from city to city
Can appoint and remove city staff without council approval (except for city attorney)
Policymaking ability
Can recommend ordinances, resolutions, and policies
Financial responsibilities
Bookkeeper (maintains financial records except those maintained by treasurer)
Varies from city to city
Chief purchasing agent for anything $20,000 and less (unless lower limit set by council)
*Standard Plan: council and elected clerk 
*Plan A: council with appointed clerk
*Plan B: council-manager plan of government
*Home Rule Charter: can have a clerk, administrator, and/or manager. What administrative positions they have would be determined by their charter.
An administrator can be hired in a Standard Plan, Plan A, or Home Rule Charter city, but is not required by statute in any plan.
**Administrator: can be hired in a Standard Plan, Plan A, or Home Rule Charter city, but is not required by statute in any plan.

While there is no way to exhaustively list what those in these city administrative positions do in a blog post (many earn the right to wear a cape on a weekly basis), this chart is meant to give you a few of the highlights.

To learn more about these and other city administrative positions, see the League’s Handbook Chapter on City Administrative Staff.

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.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

2015 Is Almost Here…But Your Community’s Newly Elected Officials Can Get Started Now

Do you have newly elected city officials in your community—or are you one yourself? If so, these new leaders should know that they can be prepared and take advantage of many League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) resources before they even take office!

For example: this month, the League is hosting two free webinars—and both are a great fit for those who are new to municipal office.

The first, to be held from 1-2 p.m. on Tuesday, December 9, is the December Budget Forecast and 2015 Legislative Outlook for Cities. One member of the team who will present this webinar, Intergovernmental Relations (IGR) Liaison Heather Corcoran, says: “One of the great things you can do now that you are elected to your city council is introduce yourself to your state legislators and communicate with them when things impact your city—to do that, it’s important to be informed about what is happening at the Capitol.”

With the state budget forecast released on December 4 and the 2015 Legislative Session beginning on January 6, this is a perfect time to get up to speed on what’s happening at the state level that impacts cities. Along with his staff, the League’s IGR Director Gary Carlson will sort through the complexities of both the budget and upcoming policy issues in advance of the webinar in order to present only the information most relevant to member cities.

Read more about this webinar and register here. 

The second December webinar (from 2-3 p.m. on Wednesday, December 17) is The Four E’s of Great Governance. Kris-Norman Major, director of the public administration programs at Hamline University School of Business, will present.

Those of you who have been elected to municipal office likely ran because you want to improve your city in some way. As Kris points out: “Being stewards of the common good is a tough job that requires making tough decisions.”

For example, how do you weigh competing interests? In what way do those competing interests and values come into play when making policy decisions? This webinar will examine some of those challenges, provide a possible framework for weighing policy options, and consider how to maintain civility while having difficult conversations—all while using the 4 E’s of great governance (economy, efficiency, effectiveness, and equity) as a prism.

 Read more about this webinar and register here.

And newly elected city officials: don’t forget to mark the calendar for your 2015 Leadership Conference! Held in Brooklyn Center on January 30-31, this two-day crash course will review legal and financial basics, as well as your roles and responsibilities as new councilmembers and mayors. (Read more and register here.)

Finally, stay tuned to this webpage——now and throughout the year for the most relevant information compiled just for newly elected officials.

And last, but not least, from all of us here at LMC to you: best of luck in your new role!