Thursday, April 30, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Mayors and Matrimony (4/30)

Question: Can our mayor legally marry people? I mean, people who aren’t marrying the mayor herself?

Answer: Once in a while word gets around that some mayor, somewhere officiated at a wedding. In all likelihood, that couple is now in all ways securely hitched, but not because of a power of the office of mayor.

Under state law, civil marriage (the only kind the state acknowledges) may be “solemnized” by only particular people. Most of them are judges. Or retired judges. Or court administrators. Or former court administrators. Also retired court administrators. Anyway, a lot of them just chose the right job to help couples say “I do.” Legislation has appeared in recent years to add mayors to the mix, but it hasn't gotten very far. Cold feet, perhaps. The League remains neutral on the topic.

Then there are the religious folks who can solemnize. For the most part, any licensed or ordained minister of any religious denomination may solemnize a civil marriage. The standard for being a minister is, at a minimum, having proof of authority from the minister’s “spiritual assembly.” We don’t know who is or isn’t a spiritual assembly, but there are some organizations whose spiritual assembly will fully instill solemnization authority upon anyone devoted enough to click a few internet links.

So, can the mayor marry couples by virtue of their office? No. But if they or anyone else Googles “how to get ordained,” it’ll be ding-dong, the bells are gonna chime in no time.

Written by Edward Cadman, special counsel with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1229.
This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Mike's Math: How It All Adds Up at the 2015 Annual Conference

It all adds up at the 2015 Annual Conference in Duluth, but what does it add up to?

Annual Conference Planning Committee Chair and LMC board member Mike Mornson took some time to go through the unconventional math of the 2015 Annual Conference. See how Mike combines hot topics, adventurous activities, inspiring speakers, and more to equal the 2015 Annual Conference.

Find out more about the 2015 Annual Conference on the League's website.

Monday, April 27, 2015

One Last Hurrah: The Final 2015 Safety & Loss Control Workshop

The League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT) staff has been on the road for the last month. They've traveled to nine locations for the 2015 Safety & Loss Control Workshops, bringing tips on mitigating risk and the latest industry news to city employees across Minnesota.

Here are some scenes from this year's final workshop in Cohasset on Thursday, April 23:

A beautiful morning dawns at Sugar Lake Lodge.

League staffer Laura Grundtner welcomes a workshop attendee to the registration desk.

A scrumptious breakfast and motivational message sets a positive tone for the day.
Municipal parks and rec employees hear about how to reduce vandalism
in city parks from Loss Control Consultant Paul Gladen.

LMCIT's Public Safety Program Coordinator Rob Boe
welcomes peace officers to a session on key case law for police.
(If you haven't yet, check out his public safety risk management blog:

Workshop attendees network and enjoy lunch.

League Research Attorney Amber Eisenschenk speaks about the importance of data security.

Workshop attendees participate in an on-site safety
inspection at the Cohasset Public Works Facility.

Did you miss this year's Safety & Loss Control Workshops?
Don't worry...we've got a seat saved for you next year!

Photos taken by League Marketing Communications Coordinator Maggie Biever

Friday, April 24, 2015

Spotted: Copies of the 2015 Directory of Minnesota City Officials Have Arrived!

It's April, and that can only mean one thing: the 2015 Directory of Minnesota City Officials have been printed!

At the end of every year, the League collects information from all 852 cities in Minnesota and publishes the only printed directory that provides comprehensive information on every city in Minnesota. The 2015 Directory is your source for listings of city officials, city hall contact information, council meetings dates, and more!

Want to learn more about the 2015 Directory of Minnesota City Officials—or order a copy of your own? Visit!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Research Q of the Week: City-Sponsored Festivals (4/23)

Question: Can the city hold a festival?

Answer: 'Tis the season for festival planning! The answer depends on whether spending your city's funds will be a valid public purpose expenditure. What is considered a “valid public purpose expenditure” you ask?

valid public purpose expenditure = public purpose + authority

So a city should ask itself: is the reason we want to put on this city festival for the public? And if so, does the city have the authority to spend city funds in this way?

While the purpose is a city-specific question, I can help on the authority question. There is no general authority for festival expenditures, but there is specific authority in state statute in limited circumstances:

County Fairs
Any city can appropriate money to a county and district agricultural society or association if the following conditions are met:
•    The society or association is a member of the Minnesota State Agricultural Society and
•    The city has a county fair held within its city limits or in close proximity

Memorial Day Observances
All cities have the authority to spend money for Memorial Day observances in "commemoration of the noble and valiant deeds of the nation’s soldier dead," as law puts it so eloquently. Cities can spend up to $300 annually for each 75,000 of population.

Centennial and Historical Celebrations
While state statute doesn’t specifically give cities authority to spend money for city centennial celebrations, an argument can be made that cities can spend money on such local celebrations under a statute allowing cities to spend money to commemorate important historical events that occurred in the city. All statutory cities and second, third, or fourth class charter cities can spend money to commemorating the anniversary of any important and outstanding event in the city’s history. Does your city host one of these festivals commemorating a historic event? We'd love to hear about it in the comments.

Interested in learning more about public purpose expenditures? For more information, see the League’s Public Purpose Expenditures Memo.

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, April 16, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Good Tax News for Cities (4/16)

Question: When does a city have to pay state sales tax on purchases?
Answer: It is rare to get good tax-related news. But, that’s just what the State Legislature gave cities in 2014. It amended state law to provide that statutory and home rule charter cities are exempt from paying sales tax on many goods and services. City purchases of inputs used to provide the following types of services qualify for the exemption:

•    Administration of housing programs
•    Ambulance and public safety services
•    Aquatic facilities
•    Cemeteries
•    Chore and homemaking services for the elderly
•    Correctional services
•    Farmer’s markets
•    Health and fitness centers
•    Housing facilities
•    Ice arenas
•    Licensing services
•    Local festivals and fairs
•    Municipal airports
•    Public transit
•    Recreational and athletic facilities
•    Road and street maintenance and lighting
•    Sewer and water services
•    Wastewater treatment services

In order to purchase items required to provide these services without having to pay sales tax, the city must complete a Form ST3, Certificate of Exemption and provide it to the seller at the time of purchase.

Some examples of goods and services that cities can throw in the shopping cart free from sales tax include:

•    Cleaning and maintenance of buildings
•    Lawn care and tree removal services
•    Construction equipment that is not licensed for road use
•    Most firefighting, police, and emergency equipment including repair parts, accessories, protective gear, fuel, foam, water, etc. (This exemption does not apply to motor vehicles, but another sales tax exemption may apply to some emergency vehicles.)
•    Office supplies, computers, software, printers, furniture, etc.
•    Vehicles that are not licensed for road use, such as aircraft, snowmobiles, and watercraft
•    Road-building materials and the delivery of aggregate materials
•    Utilities, chemicals, and fuels

However, not everything a city purchases qualifies for the sales tax exemption. Purchases by cities to provide the following goods and services remain taxable:

•    Gas and electric utilities
•    Liquor stores
•    Golf courses
•    Solid waste hauling
•    Solid waste recycling
•    Landfills
•    Marinas
•    Campgrounds
•    Cafes
•    Laundromats

For more information on the state sales tax exemption for cities see Minnesota Revenue’s Sales Tax Fact Sheet 176 Local Government – Cities, Counties, and Townships.

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.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Using the Power of Play for Work

Working for a city can be rewarding, inspiring, and exciting. But it can be challenging, as well. Every now and then it becomes necessary to inject a little play into work to revive spirits and renew passion.

Steve Gross—one of three keynote speakers at the 2015 Annual Conference in Duluth—took some time to chat about the power of play. We asked him a few questions:

You use the power of play to build healing, life-changing relationships. How does the power of play relate to the relationship between city officials and their communities?
When I say ‘play’ I’m not referring to a type of activity, or a kids’ game. It’s a spirit you bring to whatever you’re doing—a commitment to be respectful and joyful, and to engage with the world around you. You can strengthen relationships—and your own happiness—by listening to others. Engage them. Be open to new ideas, and show that you value others’ contributions.

How do you encourage engaging the world with passion and joy? What difference does renewing passion and working with joy make?
Einstein said “The important thing is to keep the important thing important.” When you are engaging the world—and work—with passion and joy, you are paying attention and are aware of what’s going on around you. It’s important to set the intention, or create a plan, to focus on the important things, whatever they may be. And you can create a plan to focus on what you need to do to be able to focus on those important things, and then get to that joyful place.

What can others take away when you encourage them to access their own playfulness? How can individuals encourage this in others and how can it benefit the workplace?
The best advice is to be it. Sometimes, when you try to make people be more positive, you can have the opposite result. It’s best to be open, be joyful, be compassionate. If you’re genuine and caring that attitude will be contagious.

Steve will be talking about the power of play, engaging the world with passion and joy, and more at the 2015 Annual Conference. Find out more about the conference—and all three keynote speakers—by visiting  

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Limits on City Employee Pay (4/9/15)

Question: Is there a limit on how much we can pay a city employee?

Yes. Well, kind of—I’ll explain.

State law limits compensation for city employees to 110 percent of the governor’s annual salary with annual adjustments made based on the Consumer Price Index. The governor’s salary for 2015 is $123,912, so *pulls out calculator* the limit for city employees is $165,003.

That’s not a bad chunk of change! Most city employees in Minnesota do not earn nearly that much annually, but there are a few cities that offer these higher salaries in hopes of attracting and retaining the best-of-the-best in highly skilled positions.

The limit does not include other benefits offered like insurance or sick leave. There is also a waiver process a city can go through if they believe the position should be paid more than the limit. For more information on this topic, see the League’s memo on the governor’s salary cap law.

Are you curious now what fair salaries for your city are? We have a tool that can help cities with that! After your city has shared your own salary data, you then gain access to the League's annual Minnesota Local Government Salary & Benefits Survey. The survey results include information on public sector services, salaries (union and non-union), and non-salary benefits. 

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, April 8, 2015

Four Generations—The Hawley Way

By CJ Holl
[The author served with Mayor Gary Johnson as councilmember from 2008 to 2014 and is a current Pelican Rapids city councilmember. Do you have a city story to tell? Submit your idea to]

Gary Johnson was elected mayor of
Hawley, MN in 2008.
Hawley is a small town of 2,500 about 20 miles from Fargo-Moorhead and, like many rural Minnesota towns, has seen many changes over the years. Once a retail center with an agricultural base, the town is now a vibrant bedroom community.

One thing that has been consistent within the city since the beginning is the involvement of the Johnson family. Mayor Gary E. Johnson, the current mayor, has been at his post since 2008. He is the fourth-generation Johnson mayor in the town’s history.

Hawley was incorporated in 1871, and the Johnson mayors date back to Gary’s great-grandfather Andrew Johnson, who served in 1891 and again in 1895. Andrew Johnson brought many businesses to the fledgling community, including a bank, an automobile dealer, a grocery store, a creamery, a potato brokerage, and a lumber yard. The main family business was the Johnson’s store, which was started in 1887 and was a department/general store and later a grocery store in downtown Hawley.

E.P. Johnson, Gary’s grandfather, was mayor from 1946 to 1949 and again from 1952 to 1954. E.P. went on to serve two terms as a representative in the Legislature. Burton Johnson, Gary’s father, served as Hawley’s mayor from 1972 to 1984.

E.P. Johnson’s brother, E.W. Johnson, also served as mayor for one year in 1933. All told, there have been five Johnson mayors of Hawley—spanning roughly 20 percent of Hawley’s 144 years.

The current Mayor Johnson said he learned about hard work and city service from his father, Burton. Burton was mayor for 12 years, and served in city government for a total of 24 years, including a long run as a councilmember.

“It was something all of us were aware of,” Johnson said of his dad’s service. “I remember being 14 or 15 years old and dad coming home at midnight. His commitment was legendary.”

When his father was the mayor, Johnson said, the city had only one meeting a month, which made for a late night, especially for a local grocery store owner.

Johnson said he has been proud of continuing the Johnson civic service tradition, but it hasn’t always been easy. Like most rural towns, as transportation, business, and community needs changed, Hawley lost many downtown retail businesses. Lately, however, it has highlighted its rural, small-town roots and values to attract new residents and businesses including a new concrete plant, a new implement sales and service facility, new retail, as well as other manufacturing and service business expansions. Hawley now is in the envious position of having to attract and free up housing space for new residents.

“We need to be progressive and continue to grow. If you don’t grow, you die,” Johnson said, adding that there is still a need for an enhanced community center, convention and meeting space, housing, a downtown anchor business, additional retail, and recreational amenities.

Johnson, who recently retired after more than 30 years at Honeywell, said he will continue to serve as long as the community wants him. And there could be a fifth generation waiting in the wings. His daughter, Jennifer, hasn’t yet stepped into local politics, but owns a local accounting business and has dabbled in a few committees and civic organizations.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Research Q of the Week: What the Well? City Authority to Regulate Use of Water Supply (4/2/2015)

Question: Our city provides water to the community, and we've heard rumors that a bigger business wants to drill a private well so it can use the water for its business. Do we have a say in that?

Answer: Since 1949 cities have had authority to regulate “the use of wells, cisterns, reservoirs, waterworks, and other means of water supply” in city boundaries. This authority includes the power to prohibit private wells in a city.

Zoning law provides yet more authority for cities to prohibit private wells or to prescribe areas of the city where private wells are allowed. City zoning authority can also be used to regulate structures, which would include private wells.

Why does this matter? For sure, Minnesota has water. But the supply is not endless. City water systems must protect groundwater supplies and conserve water resources. If all or even a few of the businesses or townhouse associations in your city drill their own wells and use many gallons of water, it can quickly cause problems for city water systems.

So what should cities do to protect local water supplies and infrastructure? To protect your city water supply and system, consider passing an ordinance that deals with private wells. Work with your city attorney to address wells used for irrigation, sprinkling or other uses, not just for drinking water.

The statutes and case law make it clear that cities have authority to regulate the use of wells to the extent of prohibiting them, and to require that the property owner connect to the city's water system in the interest of everyone's safety and welfare.

But remember, the limited tasks of constructing, repairing, and sealing the well are subject to Minnesota Department of Health regulatory authority. That's a blog post for another day. Oh well.

Got questions? You can email LMC's Research and Information Service ( for sample ordinances, or call us at (800) 925-1122 or (651) 281-1200.

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.