Thursday, July 30, 2015

Research Q of the Week: You Can’t Put That on the City’s Website (7/30/15)

Question: Should I be linking to city council candidate websites from the city's website? Are there actually rules about what goes on the website in the first place?

Answer: State law provides that the purpose of city websites and publications is to provide information about the city’s duties and jurisdiction or to help people access city services and information. So no cat memes—sorry. To your question, political campaign or party links are also a no-go. Here's the list of prohibited and permitted items listed in law:

Just say no to ...
•    Links to any blog or website maintained by a candidate, political committee, political party, principal campaign committee, or state committee.
•    Pictures or other materials that tend to attribute the website or publication to an individual or group of individuals instead of to the city.
•    The words “with the compliments of” or letters of personal greeting that promote elected or appointed city officials.

Give the 'all clear' to ...
•    Biographical information about elected and appointed city officials, a single official photo of city officials, and photos of city officials performing functions relating to their office.
•    Photos, webcasts, archives of webcasts, and audio and video files that facilitate access to city information or services or inform the public about the duties and obligations of city offices or that are intended to promote trade or tourism.
•    Press releases, proposals, policy positions, and other information directly related to the city’s legal functions, duties, and jurisdiction.

Make note: the list of permitted content is not comprehensive, meaning any content that meets the purpose described above and that is not specifically prohibited is also allowed. So follow these basic rules and do what's right for your community when you put on your webmaster hat.

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, July 23, 2015

Research Q of the Week: When to Use an Engineer (7/23/15)

Question: How much does the law say a project must be estimated to cost before a city is required to use an engineer?

Answer: We get this question from time to time, so let’s construct an answer to this frequently asked question.

Under state law, whether an engineer is used is not determined by the dollar value of a project. There used to be a $100,000 cost threshold, but that is long gone. Now there are simply a number of functions that statute and rules say require using an engineer.

State law requires that anyone who offers to provide the following services must be a licensed engineer:

[A]ny technical professional service, such as planning, design or observation of construction for the purpose of assuring compliance with specifications and design, in connection with any public or private structures, buildings, utilities, machines, equipment, processes, works, or projects wherein the public welfare or the safeguarding of life, health, or property is concerned or involved, when such professional service requires the application of the principles of mathematics and the physical and applied engineering sciences, acquired by education or training, and by experience.

State rule further states any plans or specs for erection, enlargement, alteration or remodeling, or renovation of any building structure or other work needs to be prepared and certified by a licensed architect or engineer.

There are exceptions to the engineer requirement, but the most interesting exemption is for elected officials. The exemption is for any elected official, when in discharging the duties of the office, who is required to do work or perform service of the character of work usually done by an engineer. So while a council member shouldn’t go opening an engineering firm on the basis of winning an election alone, they can at least safely approve decisions made by the city engineer.

More information can be found on page 31 of Chapter 23 of the Handbook for MN Cities.

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. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Water Fun and Lifeguards (7/16/15)

Question: It is definitely swimming season. What should cities know about lifeguards?

One of the best things about Minnesota in the summer is swimming--whether in a pool or in a lake. Lifeguards are a crucial part of safety when it comes to water fun.

So here are the rules for lifeguards: Beach lifeguards employed by a city must be 16 years old or older. Pool lifeguards employed by a city need to be at least 15 years old. In addition, lifeguards who are younger than 18 must be continually supervised by an adult who is 18 years of age or older.

Lifeguards must be certified in first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and have a Red Cross lifeguard certification or an equivalent. Continual safety training must be provided to lifeguards on recognition of responsibilities, accident prevention, and dealing with emergencies.

It is essential that a policy and procedure manual be developed which outlines lifeguard duties and facility policies. This will help to eliminate confusion and create standard operating procedures for emergency situations. Additional training should be provided for items such as filling out pool inspection reports, accident and incident reports, etc.

Remember that when it's time to dive into summer, a well-prepared and trained lifeguard can give you and residents peace of mind.

For more information, see the League’s Park and Recreation Loss Control Guide.

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, July 15, 2015

Are You Ready for the July-August Issue of 'Minnesota Cities' Magazine?

We sure hope so, because the July-August issue of Minnesota Cities magazine is now available online!

Inside the cover story, "Emergency Management: Are You Ready?" you'll hear from other city officials about how they are preparing for the worst-case scenario. Web Extra: See video from the city of Stockton, where a flood in 2007 knocked out power and phone service for four days. Four. Days.

Some city councils are considering the use of body-worn cameras by their police forces. These "body cams" are small devices with big legal implications. League staffer Rachel Carlson uses plain language to walk readers through some of the main considerations in "Letter of the Law: Body-Worn Cameras and the Data Practices Act."

This issue also includes retiring League Executive Director Jim Miller's last column. In "As I See It: Farewell and Thank-You," see what he has to say with his parting words to city officials.

Also not to be missed: An interview about how to avoid common missteps with municipal bonds, a fresh roundup of info and ideas in "Bits and Briefs," and summaries of recent court cases that could affect Minnesota cities.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Organized Ordinances and Codification (7/10/15)

Question: The city’s ordinances are in complete disarray. I always have trouble finding the ordinance I’m looking for, and I never know whether the one I find is the most current version. What can the city do to organize its ordinances?

Answer: Have you considered codifying your city ordinances? Codification is the process of organizing a city’s ordinances into an easy-to-use reference book called a city code. It involves removing repealed and obsolete ordinances, editing for proper grammar, consistency and clarity, and a legal review to eliminate conflicts between ordinances and state and federal laws.

A well-drafted city code helps keep a city's operations humming because all current ordinances on a given subject are grouped together under one title or chapter of the code. Because outdated or unlawful ordinances are removed, the chance that the city will enforce an invalid ordinance is nixed.

The result is one easy to use body of current, enforceable law. I bet that sounds pretty dreamy right now, huh?

So how does one go about this quest for organized ordinances?

Shameless plug alert
The League of Minnesota Cities works with American Legal Publishing to provide codification services. If the city’s ordinances have not been codified, American Legal Publishing can create a new customized code of ordinances for you. If the city already has a city code, but it was published many years ago, American Legal Publishing can recodify it for you.

American Legal Publishing also offers a Basic Code of Ordinances designed for Minnesota cities with populations under 500. The Basic Code of Ordinances can be adopted as the new city code in place of, or in addition to, the city’s existing ordinances. It covers a wide variety of subjects and is an economic alternative for cities that lack the funds for a custom-built code. It is used by over 100 Minnesota cities.

American Legal Publishing posts example Minnesota city codes on its website. You can see them at If you are interested in more information about codifying your city’s ordinances you can contact American Legal Publishing at 1 (800) 445-5588.

Written by James Monge. He really does think organized ordinances are dreamy—like a tropical island. Or a unicorn. 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, July 2, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Election Filing Fees in Minnesota Cities (7/2/2015)

Question: I heard something about filing fees changing. What should our fees be for running for city council these days?

Answer: State law for statutory cities sets the fees at $2 for fourth-class cities, $5 for third- and second-class cities, and $20 for first-class cities.

Charter cities can set their fee in ordinance or remain silent on the fee and charge the same as statutory cities.

These fee amounts have been in effect since 1959—when a gallon of gas set you back a quarter, Doris Day was a box office star, and Alaska and Hawaii joined the Union as the 49th and 50th states, respectively.

However, in the 2015 legislative session, the law was amended to allow cities to increase their filing fee if they choose. Under the new law, charter and statutory cities may, by ordinance, increase candidate filing fees for elections to city office. The fees can be no higher than $15 for fourth-class cities, $40 for third- and second-class cities, and $80 for first-class cities.

If a charter city sets their filing fee in the charter, they may make a charter amendment to increase fees. Charter cities are not subject to the same caps on filing fees as statutory cities.

So it's up to your citymodify filing fees to better reflect your community, or keep it classic and let state statute take care of the rest.

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.