Thursday, May 28, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Records Retention vs. Spring Cleaning (5/28/15)

Question: We have boxes of old records cluttering up city hall. They aren’t doing anyone any good. Can I just toss ’em?

Answer: It sounds like you are gung-ho to do some spring cleaning! But, hold up a minute! It is a misdemeanor to destroy government records in violation of state law.

State law requires city officials to make and preserve all records necessary to a full and accurate knowledge of their official activities. It requires cities to inventory their records and attach a schedule establishing a time period for retention or disposal of records. This is called a records retention schedule. When the city’s record retention schedule is approved by the State Records Disposition Panel, the city may dispose of the types of records listed in the schedule at the time prescribed by the schedule. The city must maintain a list of records it disposes. If records contain private, confidential, or nonpublic data, they must be destroyed in a manner that prevents their contents from becoming known.  

The state law on record retention and destruction doesn’t just apply to paper records. It also applies to electronically created records and emails.  

What you can toss
That doesn’t mean you can’t start de-cluttering without having adopted a records retention schedule. Cities have a lot of data that does not qualify as a government record and therefore is not subject to a record retention schedule.

State law excludes data and information that does not become part of an official transaction, library and museum material made or acquired and kept solely for reference or exhibit purposes, and extra copies of documents kept only for convenience of reference and stock of publications from the definition of records. Because they are not records, they do not have to be saved according to an approved records retention schedule. You can get rid of them when they are no longer useful to the city.

Also, personal communications, like grocery lists, cute photos of your grandchildren etc., that are unrelated to city business are not government records and can be destroyed without regard to a records retention schedule. Keep the cute photos of grandkids somewhere else, though. You know—memories, and all that.

The Minnesota Clerks and Finance Officers Association (MCFOA) has a General Records Retention Schedule for Minnesota Cities available on its website. Many Minnesota cities have adopted this schedule to help manage their records.

See the League of Minnesota Cities Handbook for Minnesota Cities Chapter 27  for additional information on records management.

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.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Election Campaign Signs (5/21/15)

Question: We have a special election coming up, and there have been some complaints about signs being posted in the right-of-way. Can we have a city employee remove the signs?

Answer: Sometimes. The authority responsible for the road where the sign is posted may remove an illegally placed sign, so cities may remove noncommercial signs posted illegally on city streets.

Other sign locales? Not so much. Counties are responsible for signs on county roads, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation is responsible for removing illegal signs from state highways.

For most cities, illegally placed signs on city streets are removed by public works or police department staff because they are usually the first to notice them as they regularly travel city streets.

Cities may also contact the owner of the sign and have them remove the sign or designate a city staff member to do so. Candidates should not remove illegally posted signs that they do not own.

Always remember that removing illegal signs should be done in a fair and impartial manner. When a city removes an illegal sign, it is best practice to store the sign and notify the owner of the storage location, so he or she may pick up the sign. Many cities choose to temporarily store signs at city hall or a public works garage so they are easily retrievable by the owner.

More information about election campaign signs can be found in this new Election Campaign Signs information memo.

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.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Research Q of th Week: Counting Votes—Did That Pass? (5/15/15)

Question: If something needs a majority vote to pass, what if a council member is absent that day? Is it the majority of the council, or a majority of those present?

Answer: It seems like it should be so simple. The city council meets and most of the members vote yes on something. It passes, right?

Ah, now for that annoying legal response—it depends.

Let’s break it down.

Assume you have a quorum of councilmembers present (three of five members for most statutory cities). Many motions and resolutions pass if a majority of those present vote yes.

Now for the tricky bits.

Ordinances must garner a majority vote of all members of the council to pass an ordinance. That means to pass an ordinance a five-member city council must have three “yes” votes—even if one or more council members are absent.

And, if you’re messing with zoning in your city, it takes two-thirds of the council to vote “yes” to change the classification of property from residential to either commercial or industrial. Think of this as “the peace and quiet rule,” keeping businesses somewhat separate from homes.

Interestingly, in a geeky sort of way, it takes four “yes” votes on a five-member statutory city council to publish just a summary of an ordinance, rather than the entire ordinance. The same rule, four "yes" votes from a five-member statutory city council also applies to accepting gifts (like that new slide for the park) or to vacate a street, unless everyone near the street petitions for the vacation.  In all these scenarios, the actions just won’t pass if only three members of council are in attendance at a meeting. The law requires four votes.

Of course, as soon as I say that, the exceptions to the rule comes to mind. If there is one vacancy on your council, or one person cannot vote on a matter due to a conflict of interest, the required number of votes drops down to three “yes” votes.  And as always, charter cities must check the charter as that may prevail on voting riddles. Let’s just say it’s complicated. So call or email LMC's Research and Information Service. We love these head-scratchers: (651) 281-1200 or (800) 925-1122.

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.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Civility With a Dose of Humility: A Message from the LMC President

Every now and then a city in Minnesota struggles with issues of incivility. It happens. But by emphasizing civility, local government can separate itself from the pack and get back to the real work of delivering city services and representing taxpayers.

How to keep these incidents from happening in the first place is what it's all about. League President Dave Osberg ('14-'15) sat down to share some of his advice on civility taken from his 25+ years working in city government.

Osberg, city administrator of Eagan, knows that burning bridges, shutting down the ideas of others, and rushing into action when there's steam rising is no way to operate.

Maybe most importantly, Osberg has learned that he's not always right, and "winning at all costs" usually means losing a lot more than just a vote. A dose of humility can be, Osberg says, just what the doctor ordered for keeping that temperature down.

Check out civility resources recommended by the LMC/MCMA Civility Task Force on LMC's Focus on Civility in Local Government hub page.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Spotted: Minnesota Municipal Clerks Institute at LMC

Today at the League, registrants for the Minnesota Municipal Clerks Institute were powered up and ready to pursue their professional accreditation. The time and hard work that clerks all across the state put into polishing their skills throughout the year is vital to the health of local government in Minnesota.

Which reminds us, clerks—we need to talk.

No, this isn't about the agenda packet for this month. Or the permit applications you processed yesterday.

Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of making cities hum we all forget to make sure YOU know that WE know that YOU ROCK. Ya know?

So in honor of Municipal Clerks Appreciation Week, we just wanted to say thank you—you are appreciated. Keep up the good work.


League staff

Research Q of the Week: Be Prepared for Workplace Injury Reporting Requirements

Question: I want to be prepared in case someone gets hurt on the job. What do I need to do on the paperwork side of things right away?

Answer: We're liking the Scout sensibility. Nice work. When a city employee is injured on the job, cities have certain reporting requirements under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Here are three important things to know so you can always be prepared:

What to report?
A city must report all injuries and illnesses that employees believe are work related. If an employee claims a work-related injury, the city should contact the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT) as soon as possible so that it can conduct an investigation to determine whether the employee is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The LMCIT will also help the city comply with its reporting requirements to the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry within the required deadlines.

When to report?
An employee is required to report an injury or illness to the city within 180 days of its occurrence. The city, in turn, must generally report work-related injuries or illnesses within ten days of learning of them. The city must report the death or any life-threatening injuries of an employee within 48 hours.

What reporting form is mandatory?
Cities must fill out a mandatory reporting form called the First Report of Injury (FROI). Directions for its completion are on its back, and the LMCIT is available to assist with any questions. The LMCIT recommends submitting the FROI on the same day the injury is reported if possible. The city is required to give the injured employee a copy of the FROI and the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation System Employee Information Sheet.

See LMCIT risk management memo Workers’ Compensation Claim Management for more information about the management of a workers’ compensation claim.

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, May 4, 2015

Video: City Officials Explain Workforce Housing Needs in MN

Imagine being a large employer committed to your community in Greater Minnesota and ready to grow. Now imagine that despite open job positions in your operation, the workers you need to drive expansion are being discouraged by impossibly low vacancy rates and limited housing stock.

This is the situation workers and employers in several Greater Minnesota cities face every day.

For cities and large employers dealing with this troubling reality, there simply aren’t enough homes for new employees to move into, and despite strong demand, it can be nearly impossible to finance the construction of new, market rate apartments and houses. As a result of this market failure, growing businesses are being forced to look at other regions for expansion, costing the home city jobs and threatening local economic vitality.

In this video, city officials from Windom and Austin talk about the importance of building new workforce housing in their communities, and the need for the state to help finance market-rate, workforce housing.

So what’s being done to bridge the gap? Several League of Minnesota Cities-supported legislative proposals are embedded in omnibus bills being considered right now by both the Minnesota House and Senate. The League is advocating for a grant program that would help cities with emerging workforce housing needs and for tax increment financing authority to help cities fund housing development.

Check the weekly Cities Bulletin for updates on workforce housing proposals and what you can do to help.