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.