Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year from LMC and Executive Director David Unmacht

A message from the executive director of the League of Minnesota Cities:

The new year is here, and brings with it much anticipation, high expectations and renewed energy.

To all our members and friends, I can’t wait to see what ideas, projects, and activities are in store for you in the year ahead.  2016 will be no different than any year as I am confident each of you will resolve to continue your great work on behalf of your citizens, city and community.

As you reflect on your past accomplishments and unfinished business, please remember that the League is here to help you grow and thrive. We are committed to excellence in our service and partnership so please don’t hesitate to connect with our staff or myself.

No question is too simple and no problem is too complex. It’s our business to support you, but it’s also our professional passion.

As I reflect on my first five months with the League I am thankful for the opportunity to serve Minnesota’s great cities. I am excited about the year ahead and the many opportunities we will accomplish together.

Best wishes to you in 2016,


Research Question of the Week: Notice for Emergency Meetings (12/31/15)

Question: So how about those emergency meeting notice rules you promised?
Answer: OK, we went over the rules for special meetings last week. This week: emergency meetings. Oh yeah. We know how to have fun.

Emergency meetings
Emergency meetings are a type of special meeting. One might say that emergency meetings are “special” special (special?) meetings of the city council. According to statute, an emergency meeting “is a special meeting called because of circumstances that, in the judgment of the public body, require immediate consideration by the public body."

A city should carefully consider whether the subject of a meeting is truly an emergency, or if the matter could be properly considered at a special or regular meeting of the city council.

Emergency meetings are called in the same way as other special meetings—either by the mayor, or two members of a five-member council, or three members of a seven-member council. The notice requirements for providing notice to councilmembers are the same as for a non-emergency special meeting. However, there is no requirement to post a public notice or publish a public notice of the meeting. Any news medium that has signed up to receive notice of meetings is to be notified of the emergency meeting as soon as practicable after notifying the councilmembers.

Written by Quinn O'Reilly, staff attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1271.

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

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Notice for Special Meetings (12/24/15)

Question: What’s the deal with notice for special meetings? How about notice for emergency meetings?

Answer: Yes, of course all your city council meetings are special. But on a technical level, "special meetings" are meetings held at a time or place that is different from the regularly scheduled meetings.

Special meetings are often scheduled to deal with specific items that need to be addressed before the next scheduled meeting.

Often public hearings are scheduled outside the regular meeting, and if it’s not a regular meeting, it’s a special meeting. (Of course, when it comes to special meeting notices, public hearing notice may have its own statutory requirement, depending on the subject matter.)

In statutory cities, special meetings may be called by the mayor or by any two members of a five-member council, or three members of a seven-member council. Home rule charter cities may have different requirements for calling special meetings.

When a special meeting has been called, the clerk must:
  • mail a notice to all councilmembers at least one day before the meeting stating the time and place of the meeting. If all councilmembers attend and participate in the meeting, the notice requirements will be considered to have been satisfied.
  • post written notice of the date, time, place, and purpose of the special meeting on the city’s principal bulletin board at least three days before the meeting. A principal bulletin board must be located in a place reasonably accessible to the public. If the city does not have a principal bulletin board, the notice must be posted on the door of its usual meeting room.
  • mail or deliver notice to each person who has filed a written request for notice of special meetings with the city. Notice to these individuals must be mailed or delivered at least three days before the meeting. Alternatively, the city may publish this notice in the official newspaper at least three days before the meeting.
The rules are a little different for emergency meetings. We'll review those next week.

Written by Quinn O'Reilly, staff attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1271.

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

Monday, December 21, 2015

Ugly Sweater Day at LMC—Ugly for a Good Cause

"Hey, did you just call her sweater ugly?"

Things got ugly at the League building last Thursday. Real ugly.

In the second annual Ugly Sweater Day (theme: getting ugly for a good cause!) staff and board members donned their most garish apparel in an effort to out-tinsel, out-groan, and out-fundraise each other.

Donations to the department director's sweater contest, modest entry fees for an employee ugly sweater competition, and a buck-a-pop donation to "dress down" for Thursday's activities snowballed into over $1,200 that will be donated to Emma Norton Services, a St. Paul organization that provides stable shelter as well as mental health and chemical dependency support services to women and families.  Like we said, "Ugly for a good cause." Learn more about Emma Norton Services

Executive Director David Unmacht shows off his finery.
 The sweater's ornate candy cane details allegedly
went "missing" early Thursday morning.
Who won?
Over the past month staff have been donating to see which director would wear a special homemade sweater creation. Despite some heated competition and last-minute campaign shenanigans, staff donated the most to see Executive Director Dave Unmacht wear the prize at Thursday's board meeting.

Dave's red carpet moment:

"What are you wearing today, Dave?"

"Well, it's a reindeer ... puking."

Staff and board finery
In addition to the reindeer that swallowed too much cheer, attire on display by staff featured some festive denim fringe, knitted snowmen with snowflake buttons ("my wife made me wear it"), and a wrist-to-wrist representation of a mantle, complete with faux evergreen garland and stockings hung with care.

The winner of the employee costume contest took the top honor by also sporting striped elf pants, completing her ensemble.

Not to be outdone, board members got in on the action too. Brian Scholin of Pine City stole the show with his heavily-adorned Rudolph sweater that plays music when you squeezed the nose. That was a lot of sparkle, Brian. Maybe too much sparkle.

Best wishes to all during the remaining days of 2015! May all your sweaters be ugly and your hearts and homes warm and bright.

Underwriter Antonio Montelibano is pretty sure that's a
women's cardigan he's wearing.

Board member Brian Scholin embraced
the sparkle to win best board sweater.
Go ahead, have a hearth-y laugh at LMCIT's Dan Greensweig.
HR Director Laura Kushner is the ugly sweater mastermind.

Jammie Bauermeister and
Joyce Hottinger make it
look good.

Left to right: Board members Jonathan Smith of Frazee, Heidi
 Omerza of Ely, and Mike Mornson of Hopkins spread
some cheer and raised eyebrows.

Photo credits go to Joyce Hottinger and Jeff Korte

Friday, December 18, 2015

Research Q of the Week: The Handbook for Minnesota Cities (12/18/15)

Question: Where can I find the Handbook? And what's in it?

Answer: The Handbook for Minnesota Cities is a comprehensive resource on municipal issues that is updated annually after the state Legislature has adjourned. The Handbook, produced by the League, has 26 chapters and starts with the basics of local government construction in Minnesota and includes chapters on issues like development, budgeting, and records management.

Some of the more popular chapters include:

Chapter 7: Meetings, Motions, Resolutions, and Ordinances covers the basics of meetings like giving notice for a special meeting, when a council cannot meet, and the tasks a council should do at its annual meeting. The Open Meeting Law requirements for councils and their boards/commissions/committees is discussed in detail include when and how a council should go about having a closed meeting. The Handbook also includes an explanation of what actions can be made by motion, which should be documented in a resolution or are required to be an ordinance.

Chapter 6: Elected Officials Council Structure and Role
includes the basics of who is qualified to hold office in Minnesota, terms of office, and what to do when there is a vacancy on the council. Gift law, conflict of interest, and incompatible offices are also covered to help protect councilmembers. The role of the mayor, individual councilmembers, and the council’s authority in general is discussed. When the council can delegate authority to staff or a council committee is also explained.

Interested in your city's economic development? What types of businesses and professions a city can and cannot license is reviewed in Chapter 11. How a city can help spur development is considered in Chapter 15. And property taxes, including setting the levy, is examined in Chapter 22.

If this sounds like the best idea since figgy pudding, check it out today. The Handbook is available for free online. Accessing the Handbook online ensures you are viewing the most up-to-date information. A printed copy of the Handbook can also be purchased. Here's the order form.

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

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Spotted: Infrastructure Data at Your Fingertips

An interactive map dedicated to infrastructure data lit up the faces of city officials testing it out yesterday at the League offices. This geographic information system (GIS) project is being developed by the Office of the State Auditor (OSA) with the support of the Pollution Control Agency, the Department of Health, the League of Minnesota Cities and the University of Minnesota.

State Auditor Rebecca Otto and her team have taken this preview on the road to Buffalo, Austin, Fairmont, Worthington, New Ulm, and St. Paul over the past two months to gather feedback.

How does it work? With a touch of the screen (or click of the mouse), the map displays corresponding information about water and wastewater infrastructure, including age and financial information. It could someday be used to display information about roads, too. 

The project consolidates existing data that cities already report to places like the Department of Health, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Public Facilities Authority, and the State Auditor’s Office.

What's next? The OSA team will polish up the maps based on comments they've gathered from their travels before making them publicly available, and could potentially add more information types to the database.

Photo credit goes to LMC staffer Jeff Korte.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Spotted: Not Quite Santa's Workshop

It's not quite Santa's Workshop, but this group of staff from the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) and the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT) spotted here are putting together something that may delight your city soon!

In case you haven't guessed, these folks got together last week to put together and mail out the property/casualty dividend checks to LMCIT member cities. It took a full room of volunteers to help with the envelope-stuffing—members of the property/casualty program are receiving over $16 million for their hard work helping reduce claims over the past year.

You can learn lots more about the dividend and LMCIT over yonder on the public safety blog, "On the Line" with LMCIT's Rob Boe.

Photo credit goes to Rob Boe

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Can a Minnesota City Ban Guns? (12/10/15)

Question: Can my city pass an ordinance banning guns in city limits?

Answer: No. You may have heard that the U.S. Supreme Court just refused to hear a challenge to a city ordinance banning assault weapons and semi-automatic guns in city limits. But the idea of a city ordinance banning guns likely does not jibe with state law in Minnesota.

What cities can't do
In Minnesota, the Legislature preempts city authority to ban guns in city limits and does not allow cities “to regulate firearms, ammunition, or their respective components.”

What cities can do
Under that same state law, cities do have the authority to adopt zoning ordinances that govern where a federally licensed firearms dealer may operate a firearms business in a city.

Cities can also regulate the discharge of guns in the city, and as such could pass an ordinance banning the discharge of guns in the city. Common exemptions to a ban include discharge of BB guns, acts of self-defense, firing of blank ammo during a ceremony or performance, or hunting in agricultural zones with permission of the police chief.

We have some sample ordinances if you would like to see them. Just give us a call at (800) 925-1122 or (651) 281-1200 and ask for Research, or send an email to

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, December 3, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Can a City Employee Work on a Public Holiday? (12/3)

Question: I'm a city employee. Can I clock a few hours at work on a public holiday? 

Answer: We know you love your job, but believe it or not, one job perk for most city employees is not having to work on public holidays.

State law sets a number of holidays when no public business can be transacted except in cases of “necessity.” So that means no city employees can work on a holiday unless the employee’s work is a necessity, such as the work of a city’s public-safety employees or plow drivers in the case of treacherous weather. State law sets the following public holidays:

• New Year’s Day (Jan. 1)
• Martin Luther King’s Birthday (third Monday in January)
• Washington’s and Lincoln’s Birthday (third Monday in February)
• Memorial Day (last Monday in May)
• Independence Day (July 4)
• Labor Day (first Monday in September)
• Veterans Day (Nov. 11)
• Thanksgiving Day (fourth Thursday in November)
• Christmas Day (Dec. 25)

In addition, all cities have the option of deciding whether Christopher Columbus Day (second Monday in October) and the Friday after Thanksgiving will be holidays. If you usually eat too much Turkey on Thanksgiving, you probably see the wisdom in that one. If a city does not designate these two particular days as holidays, public business may be transacted on them.

Finally, if a holiday falls on a Saturday, the preceding Friday is designated a holiday, and if it falls on a Sunday, the next Monday is designated a holiday.

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, November 24, 2015

Spotted: Let's Get Together at the Metro Meeting in Minneapolis

The 2015 Regional Meetings came to an end last week with the Metro Meeting in Minneapolis. Over 100 city officials got together to discuss hot topics and get updated on key issues impacting cities throughout the state. Big thanks to our co-host-with-the most, Metro Cities, and all the attendees!

See some highlights from the 2015 Metro Meeting below:

Metro city leaders, including Mayor Kathi Hempken of New Hope, were
able to connect about city issues at the Metro Regional Meeting last week.

City Councilmember Bonnie Brever of St. Anthony Village was ready to
learn more about transportation issues facing Minnesota cities.

MnDOT Metro District Program Delivery Director Tom O'Keefe, MnDOT Commissioner Charles Zelle,
and Met Council Chair Adam Duininck hosted a panel on the future of transportation funding
and fielded questions from city officials.

The League's new executive director, Dave Unmacht, attended each of the
Regional Meetings in 2015 to meet members and introduce his vision for LMC.

What were some of your highlights from the 2015 Metro Meeting? Let us know in the comments!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Competitive Bidding Basics (11/19/15)

Question: The competitive bidding law is confusing. When do we need to get bids and when do we don't?

Wouldn't it be great if we could just have speed-talkin' auctioneers handle the details? Perhaps in a bolo tie? No? Well anyway, the key is knowing when competitive bidding is required according to state law and when competitive bidding doesn’t need to be used. Two things trigger competitive bidding:

Type of contract + Estimated price

Type of contract
The competitive bidding law applies only in two situations:
• Contracts for the sale, purchase, or rental of supplies, materials, or equipment or
• Contracts for the construction, alteration, repair, or maintenance of real or personal property
Cities are not required to follow the competitive bidding process when contracting for professional services, such as for engineers, lawyers, architects, and accountants.

Estimated price
The estimated price of the contract also determines if the competitive bidding process is required:
  • Contracts over $100,000: The city must use the competitive bidding process.
  • Contracts between $25,000 and $100,000: Competitive bidding is allowed but not required. The city can either:
    • Use the competitive bidding process or 
    • Contract by direct negotiation (requiring at least two quotes)
  • Contracts $25,000 or less: The city has discretion to:
    • Contract by direct negotiation (requiring at least two quotes) or
    • Buy or sell the item on the “open market” (ex. Ebay)
For example, if the city is building a new fire hall, which would cost more than $100,000, then competitive bidding is required.

If, on the other hand, the city was buying a fire truck that was $50,000, then the city would not have to use the competitive bidding process. But if the city did, then it has to follow the requirements of the competitive bidding process, even though it wasn’t originally required to do so.

Competitive bidding can be complicated, even at regular speed, so check the League’s Competitive Bidding Memo for more information.

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.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Changing Council Pay (11/12/15)

Question: How do we change city council pay? 

Answer: How to change city council pay is a common question we get. State law provides the authority for altering councilmember pay in statutory cities. An attorney general opinion indicates that charter cities may either use the state statute or a charter provision to change councilmember pay.

Increasing pay
A city council may increase the pay to its members by passing an ordinance. However, following the passage and publication of the ordinance, the pay increase does not take effect until after the “next succeeding municipal election.” A council can pass an ordinance raising pay at any time, but councilmembers will not see their pay increased until after the next election has occurred. The ordinance should indicate the date when, after the next election, the increase will take effect.

Lowering pay

If a city council wishes to lower the pay for its members, the council must pass an ordinance to do so. However, unlike a pay increase, a pay decrease can be effective immediately. An ordinance for an immediate reduction in councilmember pay is in effect for twelve months, unless a council specifics otherwise in the ordinance. After twelve months, council pay will revert to the original amount, unless the ordinance specifies something different.

How to pay councilmembers

State law does not indicate how councilmembers get paid or for which services. Some cities pay members for each meeting, other cities pay a set amount annually, and still other cities do something different. While cities have flexibility in determining how to pay councilmembers, how a city pays councilmembers should be explicitly described by the salary ordinance.

Though cities have flexibility in paying councilmembers, cities may not include a provision for vacation or sick leave in their councilmember compensation. At the same time, the statute says the elected official’s salary cannot be diminished due to absence from official duties because of vacation or sickness.

Written by Quinn O’Reilly, staff attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1271.

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Read the Nov-Dec 2015 Issue of Minnesota Cities Magazine Online!

The November-December 2015 issue of Minnesota Cities magazine is now available online and will be
arriving in mailboxes this week. Here are a few of the highlights:

Read a cautionary tale on small city financial reporting and take heart in the many resources and advocates available to help. Get to a better bottom line with "Staying on Top of Financial Reporting."

Are you hearing crickets at your regular city council meetings? You're not alone. See how several Minnesota mayors are breaking out of city hall to find out what residents really think in "Mayors Connect with Residents."

By now you've heard that LMC's new executive Director David Unmacht has hit the ground running. Maybe you even met him at one of this fall's Greater Minnesota Regional Meetings! Well it turns out Dave has examined his footwear in preparation for the journey ahead of him. Read Unmacht's new column "St. Paul to City Hall: A New Pair of Shoes" to see just what we mean.

Also not to be missed, check out a plain-language Q&A on the new public pension accounting standards in "Let's Talk: GASB 68 Public Pension Accounting Rules," a peek at how the City of Alexandria executed a daunting street reconstruction project in "Ideas in Action: Alexandria’s Public Involvement Key to Street Project Success," and a look at best practices surrounding residency requirements in "Letter of the Law."

Friday, November 6, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Holiday Decorations in Minnesota Cities (11/6/15)

Question: Can a city spend money on holiday decorations?

Answer: Statutory cities may spend money on decorations, signs, plaques, and attached accessories for public streets, buildings, and parks. Where a city decides to display decorations and how much money is available to use on decorations is a decision for the city council and their designated staff. 

Secular vs. religious meaning
With the store aisles already filled with decorations (love it or hate it), you might also be wondering if there are limits on what a city can display.

Cities should be careful that decorations, such as those for the Christmas holidays, are not primarily religious in nature. A common approach many cities have chosen to take is a more “winter wonderland” theme with snowflakes and white lights versus recognizing any particular religious holiday.

Another easy way to think about it is decorations with a primarily secular meaning (e.g. Christmas trees, Santa Claus decorations, reindeer, wreaths) will generally be found constitutional while those with a primarily religious meaning (e.g. nativity scenes, menorahs, crosses) will have a greater chance of being challenged based on case law and past interpretations of the Establishment Clause.

Cities should also carefully consider the prominence of the locations it selects for decorations as the city should not be contributing to the advancement of religion.

Religious events on public property
Another common concern with holiday decorations is how a city should treat a special holiday event in a city park by a religious institution. When a religious organization requests to host a  special event like a live nativity, the city should consider the request under the same standards it would for a request of the same nature coming from a non-religious organization.

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

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

Spotted: Let's Get Together in Montevideo, Springfield, and Austin

The 2015 Greater Minnesota Regional Meetings wrapped up last week with visits to Montevideo, Springfield, and Austin. Thanks to all the attendees and to the seven host cities in Greater Minnesota!

The agenda at each meeting focused on providing city officials with a diverse range of information that they could use to improve their communitiesfrom effective communication to tips on keeping city hall safe, and more. 

What were some of your highlights from the Regional Meeting agenda? Let us know in the comments!

City officials got together to break bread, share ideas, and gain tools at this year's
Regional Meetings, annual gatherings that travel throughout the state each fall.

LMC intergovernmental relations staff (IGR Assistant Director Anne Finn is
shown here in Montevideo) gave the annual legislative update.

MnDOT representatives gave city officials an update on the current state of transportation funding.
Officials explained the gridlock that halted funding during the 2015 session, and took questions
and recommendations from the audience on the topic of future transportation funding

Let's get prepared! This year's Regional Meeting agenda includes a review of city hall safety tips.

Didn't make it to a Regional Meeting this year? There's still time to register for the 2015 Metro Meeting in Minneapolis!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Holiday Liquor Sales (10/29/15)

Question: What are the holidays when liquor off-sale isn't allowed in MN? I can never remember.

Answer: Holiday season is a brewin' and so is common confusion about when liquor stores are closed or not closed based on state law.

There are actually only a couple cases when liquor cannot be sold off-sale on a holiday. So if grandma's fruitcake is missing it's secret ingredient, remember these two simple "closed for business" rules before making a liquor run:
  • A liquor licensee may not sell off-sale on Thanksgiving Day.
  • A liquor licensee may not sell off-sale from 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve, through Christmas Day. 
That's it. Simple to remember!

Apart from these holidays, no off-sale licensee may sell liquor on Sunday of course, whether it’s a holiday or not. (There are some exceptions to the general Sunday off-sale ban such as brewpub sales of growlers and farm winery sales.)

Also, cities can be more restrictive on hours of off-sale than state law, but in any case no off-sale liquor may be sold before 8 a.m. or after 10 p.m. on days other than Sunday.

If you have other questions related to liquor licenses, the League memo Liquor Licensing and Regulation is a great place to start.

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. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Spotted: Let's Get Together in Crookston, Battle Lake, and Becker

Paynesville's mayor, city council members, and city administrator
traveled to Becker for the 2015 Regional Meetings.
Last week, city officials from across the state got together to share ideas at this year's Regional Meetings. What were some of your highlights from Crookston, Battle Lake, or Becker? Let us know in the comments!

Transportation Commissioner Charles Zelle traveled to Crookston
and Becker to talk about the future of transportation funding
and how state funding impacts all of Minnesota.

Dave Unmacht shared his ideas with city officials in Battle Lake. This is Unmacht's
first series of Regional Meetings as executive director of the League. 

Let's get communicating! Councilmember Harold Johnson of Osseo
was excited to bring new ideas back to his city after the meeting in Becker,
which included discovering ways to be a more effective communicator.

This week, League staff are traveling to Montevideo, Springfield, and Austin as the 2015 Regional Meetings wrap up in greater Minnesota.

Interested in attending the 2015 Regional Meetings? Registration is open now for the Metro Meeting in Minneapolis!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Six Tips for Working with Your City Attorney (10/22)

Question: I'm a newer councilmember and I haven't quite figured out how to interact with the city's attorney. Do you have some advice for working with a city attorney? 

Answer: The relationship between the city and its attorney is important—and it's great that you want to know more. Here are some tips to help strengthen this relationship and protect the city from liability.

1.) Tell your city attorney what you are going to do before you do it.
If you wait until after the deed is done, it will be too late for your city attorney to advise you on the legal consequences of the city’s action. If possible, obtain your city attorney’s advice before taking action.       

2.) Be candid with your city attorney.
City attorneys cannot give you their best advice unless you are completely candid. The answer to almost every question depends upon the facts. Accurately tell your city attorney all the facts.

3.) Hold regular meetings with your city attorney.
If possible, have your city attorney attend all council meetings. If this is not possible, meet regularly with your city attorney and send the city attorney copies of your meeting minutes.

4.) Send your city attorney a copy of the council agenda before the meeting.
Let your city attorney review agenda items and staff reports before the council meeting. The city attorney should not learn about a potentially problematic action for the first time at a meeting.

5.) Don’t demand an opinion from your city attorney at a meeting.

A city attorney does not immediately have the answer to every question. Give your city attorney time to properly research and analyze an issue.

6.) Make sure you understand the city attorney’s advice.
You can’t make an informed decision if you don’t understand your city attorney’s advice. Ask questions if you don’t understand what your city attorney is telling you.

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, October 19, 2015

Let's Get Moving! Transportation Commissioner Charles Zelle Discusses Funding and 2015 Regional Meetings

There’s been a lot of talk about the need for more investment in state and local transportation systems, but it's been hard to get things moving.

Ready to get moving? City officials from Ranier are excited
about transportation funding at the 2015 Regional Meeting
 in Mountain Iron.
Department of Transportation Commissioner Charles Zelle took time to answer some questions about the funding gridlock, and what Minnesota cities can do to go forward. He and his staff are on the road this fall engaging city officials in this funding discussion at the 2015 Regional Meetings.

What are the consequences of the gridlock over transportation funding?
Our transportation system is growing older. Within the next 10 years, half our pavements and more than a third of our bridges will be 50 years old. Our pavement conditions are worsening. We’ve seen congestion begin to grow in some areas. All of this has a direct impact on the economic vitality of the state: It costs motorists more to idle in congestion and repair vehicles damaged on bad roads, and businesses find it hard to attract employees to a region with poor transportation. The longer we wait to address these problems, the greater the cost will be.

How has this impacted Minnesota cities?
Local governments manage most of the miles in the state road system, and residents expect a certain level of service and quality of roads. Counties and cities are struggling now to keep their infrastructure in good condition, and as the system ages, cities will find it more and more difficult to meet these expectations.

Though there has been some gridlock, what opportunities do you see for the future of transportation funding, and what would that mean for cities throughout Minnesota?
In the last legislative session there was broad, bipartisan support for the idea of addressing transportation needs in the state. That was gratifying. And the administration has made it clear that it will listen and consider options that provide a long-term, dedicated, and sustainable way to fund transportation.

Looking at the state as a whole, what would you say are the goals for future transportation funding proposals?
Future goals are to provide funding that is long-term, dedicated to transportation, and sustainable.

You, along with members of your staff, will be meeting with city officials throughout the state at the League’s 2015 Regional Meetings. What do you hope to accomplish during these discussions?
We want to remind everyone that the transportation funding need continues to exist and is becoming more critical as time passes. We know that citiesas well as counties, townships, and the state systemare all in need of more revenue. We also will ask them to help spread the word and talk to their local legislators prior to the legislative session.

Commissioner Zelle will be at the Regional Meetings in Crookston, Becker, Springfield, and the Metro Meeting in Minneapolis. Representatives from the Department of Transportation will be at all of the 2015 Regional Meetings.

Have you registered for the Regional Meeting in your area? Register now for Regional Meetings in Montevideo, Springfield, and Austin, and the Metro Meeting in Minneapolis.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Spotted: NLC Executive Director at the League of Minnesota Cities

LMC had a special visitor today when Clarence Anthony, executive director of the National League of Cities, stopped by! He's seen here talking with LMC President Steve Nasby of Windom (left) and LMC Insurance Trust Administrator Pete Tritz (right).

Anthony was on his way to meet with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman (former NLC president) but made some time to meet with the League board, who had their monthly meeting today. Talk about great timing.

In his comments to the board, Anthony stressed the value of city government’s ability to “get the job done” at the local level and the challenge of advancing legislation that's good for cities in the midst of federal gridlock. He talked about NLC’s advocacy efforts on federal issues that affect cities across the nation and encouraged Minnesota city leaders to get involved, including serving on NLC committees and the board.

Photo credit goes to LMC staffer Jeff Korte.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Spotted: Let's Get Together in Mountain Iron

The theme for the 2015 Regional Meetings is "Let's Get Together," so that's just what we did this past week in Mountain Iron! Dave Unmacht, the League's new executive director, is pictured above as he meets with city officials at his first Regional Meeting with the League. Check out the photos below for more highlights spotted at the Mountain Iron meeting:

City officials from the Iron Range and beyond gathered for a day of
sessions on transportation, communication, security, and more.

Heidi Omerza, city councilmember in Ely, gears up for the day's agenda.
This year's regional meetings include a 2016 legislative preview and tips on city advocacy.

LMC Insurance Trust loss control consultants Tracy Stille (left) and Troy
Walsh (right) talked to city officials gathered in Mountain Iron about how
they can keep their city halls safe.

League staff will continue to travel across Minnesota for the 2015 Regional Meetings. Visit the League's website to register for the meeting nearest you!

Photos taken by Don Reeder, assistant director of communications for public affairs.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Research Q of the Week: City Business on Columbus Day (10/2/15)

Question: Can city councils meet on Columbus Day?
Answer: Whether to set your sails for a three-day weekend or not depends on if the city has designed Columbus Day as a holiday. (I know, I was surprised when I first learned this too!) 

Generally, state law provides certain public holidays when no public business can be transacted, except to deal with emergencies. The transaction of public business includes conducting public meetings.

However, state law provides that cities have the option of deciding whether Columbus Day should be a holiday. If Columbus Day is not designated as a holiday, public business may be conducted on the day, including having a council meeting.  (Note: cities also have the same ability to designate or not designate the Friday after Thanksgiving as a holiday.)

If a city does designate Columbus Day as a holiday, then the council should set an alternate meeting day for any regular meeting days that falls on that day.

By the way, the public holidays are:

•    New Year’s Day (January 1)
•    Martin Luther King’s Birthday (the third Monday in January)
•    Washington’s and Lincoln’s Birthday (the third Monday in February)
•    Memorial Day (the last Monday in May)
•    Independence Day (July 4)
•    Labor Day (the first Monday in September)
•    Christopher Columbus Day (the second Monday in October)
•    Veterans Day (November 11)
•    Thanksgiving Day (the fourth Thursday in November)
•    Christmas Day (December 25)

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.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Spotted: Fall 2015 Police Loss Control Workshops

Its official: the League's fall police workshops are underway! 

Pictured above is Doug Holtza retired police commander and adjunct criminal justice instructorteaching the police report writing workshop in Bemidji on Thursday morning, September 24. The officers who attended were from the Bemidji area and represented multiple departments. 

The course itself is a blend of classroom instruction, interactive discussion, and active-writing exercises. The officers have just finished their first writing assignment during a working lunch, and the assignments were printed and turned in for evaluation. 

There are still a few of these courses left this fall. For information on upcoming workshops, visit

Photo taken by Rob Boe, LMCIT's Public Safety Project Coordinator. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Research Q of the Week: City Policies and Legislative Action (9/24/15)

Question: How does the League of Minnesota Cities decide what legislative action is best for cities?

Answer: We don't decide. You do! Before the League’s team of intergovernmental relations (IGR) staff step into the fray of the legislative session they have already gone through an extensive education process to learn what cities need from state government.

The process starts every summer when current city officials and staff (over 150!) meet on policy committees to discuss issues important to cities. At the last policy committee meeting of the summer, draft policies are approved.

These are then published so that all city officials and staff can take a look and add their comments. Later in the fall, the LMC Board of Directors meets to discuss the draft policies and comments received from members.

After the Board has approved the draft policies, IGR staffers work with the Board to set their priorities for the session based on these policies.

If you served on one of the four policy committees, thank you for being a part of this important process. If you weren't able to participate but would like to take a look at the results and submit your comments, the member comment period runs through Oct. 30. Policy comments can be sent to

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

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

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What If Kids were in Charge?

Have you ever wondered what Minnesota cities would be like if elementary school students were mayors?

Now is the time to find out! From starting annual community celebrations and activities, to organizing park clean-ups and installing chocolate fountains, kids can come up with hundreds of creative ideas for what they would do if they had the chance to be mayor.

This fall, fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders who live in Minnesota are invited to submit their best ideas about how they would encourage more citizens to get involved in their cities for the League's third 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 Gaylord, Minneapolis, and Wabasha. Jaquelyn Wibstad, of Gaylord, suggested getting the community involved in a Halloween celebration. Nora Cornell, from Minneapolis, suggested having workshops where citizens could create crafts that would be donated to the needy. Talia Miller, of Wabasha, suggested creating more accessible parks and pools so everyone could enjoy the fun her city offered. What will fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders say this year?

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 23.

Share this information with students, teachers, and others in your community and see what it would be like if fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders were Mayor for a Day!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Read the Sept-Oct Issue of Minnesota Cities Magazine

The September-October 2015 issue of Minnesota Cities magazine is available online for your digital
consumption this fall.

What’s inside? Take a look at these three highlights:

You know what property tax rates are in your city, but how about in cities across the state? See trends and what's behind them in the 2015 Property Tax Report along with information on levies, local government aid, and property values.

Judy Johnson, city councilmember of Plymouth, and Ed Belland, public safety director of Medina, were both recognized for outstanding local government service at the 2015 Annual Conference. See the story behind the awards in "League Recognizes City Leaders."
League Recognizes City Leaders

When residents make a push to include rural critters in residential city life, it tends to create a buzz. See what staff from the cities of Dassel and Ramsey have to say in "Two-Way Street: Does Your City Allow Bees or Farm Animals in Residential Areas?"

As always, columns such as From the Bench (SCOTUS has a few things to say about sign ordinances), Bits & Briefs (timely tidbits and other news), and Ideas in Action (Belle Plaine's newest recreation venture is a bullseye) are all available to inform and engage you in issues affecting local government.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Collecting Social Security Numbers (9/17/15)

Question: Should cities or city libraries collect Social Security numbers? 

Answer: There may be authority and good reasons for a city to collect social security numbers (SSNs). But there are also questions to ask before a city or related entity decides to move forward. If your city is already doing this or is thinking about it, read on.

At the outset, note that SSNs are classified as private data under state data practices law.

Do cities have the authority to do this? According to state law only if it is needed for the programs authorized by the state legislature, the city council, federal law or rule. If your city is collecting SSNs for convenience, say maybe to help patrons check out a library book should they forget their library card, the authority to do that is questionable.

Some other things you'll want to think about:

Tennessen warnings
Does your city provide the required warnings? Because SSNs are private data on individual people, a city or related entity must provide a Tennessen warning when they ask a person to provide their SSN. That means a city must inform people, preferably in writing, what the city will use the SSN for and more. In some situations, a person may refuse to provide their SSN and still receive the city service at issue. So is it worth it to ask for it?

Does your city have secure storage of SSNs? State data practices law enacted in 2015 requires that cities control who in the city has access to private data, including SSNs. The law also makes it a possible breach of security if a person affiliated with a city improperly accesses or discloses an SSN and compromises the security of that data. If a breach occurs, cities must let the people affected know about the breach, investigate the breach and create a comprehensive report about it.

State law also bars cities from openly displaying an SSN on mail that is sent out by the city. That's a no-brainer, right?

Based on all of the above, check with the city attorney before doing so. If you city currently collects SSNs, work with the city attorney to review the practice to make sure collection and storage of them is in tune with current law.

One last note: cities may collect part of an SSN with a few less complications. See Partial Social Security on the Minnesota Information and Policy Division’s website.

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, September 10, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Breaks for City Employees (9/10/15)

Question: Does a city have to provide meal breaks for city employees? Are these paid breaks?

Answer: City staffers work hard, and regular breaks can keep us all refreshed and on task. State law requires all employers in Minnesota, including cities, to provide two types of mandatory work breaks for employees:

Mandatory restroom breaks
State law requires employers to allow employees time away from work to use the restroom at least every four hours. If you need to check your fantasy football lineup more often than that, well, you may be out of luck.

Mandatory meal breaks
State law requires employers to give employees who work for eight or more consecutive hours sufficient time off to eat a meal, but employers do not have to pay employees during meal breaks. Cities may want to encourage their employees to take meal breaks for both safety and productivity reasons.

Cities can negotiate different restroom and meal breaks with their union employees under a collective bargaining agreement. Also, be aware that cities may need to provide certain employees with additional work breaks in order to comply with other state and federal laws, such as those providing rights to pregnant employees and employees with disabilities.

For more information about city employment issues, please see the League’s HR Reference Manual.

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.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Setting Building Fees in MN Cities ( 9/3/15)

Question: Can our city generate revenue from building permits?

Answer: It depends on what you mean by revenue. Municipal fees must be proportional to the cost of administering the program tied to the fees. First a little background:

At one point, the Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) published a schedule of what the building permit fees should be, but then they stopped. The League of Minnesota Cities briefly picked up where DLI left off, but we promptly stopped when cities were challenged for using these recommendations.

The underlying problem with the fee schedule was that any single entity setting rates for all cities cannot possibly account for the varying range of program costs from one city to another. This led to the perception that cities were using building fees as a revenue generator.

That was probably 10 years ago. Ideally, at this point, there’d be no cities relying on schedules from that time. You're not, right? Of course not.

Just thought I'd check.

These days, we direct folks to the language that was added to rule and statute in response to these discrepancies.  Minn. Rule 1300.0160, subp. 2 says “Fees established by the municipality must be by legal means and must be fair, reasonable, and proportionate to the actual cost of the service for which the fee is imposed.”  There’s similar language in statute under Minn. Stat. § 462.353, subd. 4.

The most important thing to remember when setting building permit fees is that it’s not allowed to be a money-maker. It’s there to cover costs only.  However, if it’s not currently covering the city’s costs, then of course that should also be addressed. It is important to work with the city attorney and financial services provider because building fees continue to be very actively litigated by the building community. The fees must be defensible, and this is something which only the city attorney and financial services provider can help determine.

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, August 28, 2015

Research Q of the Week: How to Amend an Ordinance (8/28/15)

Question: We just passed an ordinance not that long ago, and now it needs to be amended.  How does the city amend an ordinance?

Answer: You actually already know how to do it! The council must follow the same procedures for amending an ordinance as it does for passing the ordinance in the first place. That means the change in an ordinance can’t be done by resolution, but must be passed as an amending ordinance.

After the amendment is passed by a majority of the council, the ordinance must be attested to, published, and included in the ordinance book.

A common question is how should the amendment look? The form of the amendment should be like new ordinances with respect to title, enacting clause, body, closing, and signatures.

If the ordinance is short or if the changes are numerous, the council will usually re-pass the entire ordinance in its amended form, repealing the old ordinance in a separate section. Another option would be to title the new ordinance as an amendment, and then recite the entire ordinance as it would read after amendment.

If the ordinance to be amended is so long that the cost of publishing it in its entirety would be costly, the council can pass an amending ordinance that only includes the sections that will change. The council can include several amendments to the same ordinance in different sections of the same amending ordinance.

For more information, see the chapter on Meetings, Motions, Resolutions and Ordinances found in the Handbook for Minnesota Cities. 

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.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Cities Matter Game Show is Back at the State Fair

Do you know which Minnesota city is the lutefisk capital? Or how many Minnesota mayors are women?

If you're going to the State Fair this year (Aug. 27-Sept. 7) you can find out! Step right up and test your Minnesota city knowledge at the Cities Matter booth located in the Education Building--we'll be there the full run of the fair with the interactive Cities Matter Game Show. Everyone who plays has a chance to win a prize!

Minnesota students entering grades 4-6 will also have the chance to compete in the League's annual Mayor For A Day essay contest. Pick up an entry form at the booth, or print one from the League's website. The deadline to submit an essay is Oct. 23.

So don't forget to add the Cities Matter Game Show booth to your route at this year's State Fair and see how many questions you can answer!

Cities Matter is a project of the League of Minnesota Cities. Find out more at

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Video: Getting to Know 'The New Guy' Dave Unmacht

Well there's a new face at the League of Minnesota Cities—David Unmacht recently took the helm as executive director. He brought his coffee cup and desk tchotchkes into the office on Aug. 3.

Dave has a background in both city and county government, and most recently worked for Springsted as a strategic planning consultant.

You may have received a letter of introduction from Dave recently—isn't it great to get mail? Because letters can feel a little formal, Dave sat down with a few LMC staffers and a video camera to share a bit about himself and to answer some not-so-serious questions too.

If you have your own ice breakers for Dave, he'll be attending each Regional Meeting scheduled this fall in a city near you, and now has his own official LMC email address for connecting with members. Welcome, Dave!