Thursday, February 25, 2016

Know the ABCs of the 2016 MN Legislative Session

The Minnesota Legislature is less than two weeks away from convening for the 2016 session! The combination of this year’s late start as well as the construction going on around the Capitol mean that it will be a short and extra-busy time for our state legislators.

So what can you do now to ensure that city issues are addressed during this session's hubbub? Here are the ABCs you can follow to make the most out of this year’s abbreviated session:

A—Acquaint yourself with our IGR team.
The Capitol building is closed for renovation during the
2016 session.

Visit our intergovernmental relations (IGR) team staff page to put some faces to names and learn who works on your city's biggest policy issues. Give them a call or send an email to make that connection before the big rush. You can follow IGR staffers via Twitter for reports on committee discussions and more—Twitter handles are included in their contact info. Use the hashtag #LMCLeg to hone in on legislative updates from all of our staff, and add your own thoughts to the discussion. And of course, follow the League's Twitter account @MinnesotaCities for a variety of city news as well as
Senate DFLers have moved into their offices at the new
Minnesota Senate Building.
legislative highlights.

B—Begin with good background.
Need a refresher on where the Legislature left off last year, and what issues they have to finish working on? This article from a recent issue of Minnesota Cities magazine will give you a nice synopsis: "Taking Care of Unfinished Business."

The State Office Building is not under construction. The offices
of representatives and (temporary) Republican senators are here.
C—Confirm you're subscribed to the Cities Bulletin and Capitol Updates.
Can't keep your eyes on committee schedules and Capitol chatter 24-7? You don't have to! Sign up for Cities Bulletin and Capitol Updates and we'll bring you the information you want, when you want it. Subscribe to the Cities Bulletin to get the most important city news and information in a weekly e-newsletter. Subscribe to Capitol Updates to receive mid-week updates (up to once per day) on
bills and committee votes impacting city issues during the session.

League staff are here to help you tell your city's story and
advocate effectively—from city hall or here in St. Paul.
D—Dust off the crystal ball.
Join us for a free web broadcast that will preview key city issues. On March 3, the League is hosting a free webinar that will serve as a preview to the 2016 legislative session. Tune in to hear directly from our IGR staff about which key issues will be most important for cities this year and what you can expect. Register for the legislative preview webinar on March 3

E—Energize your advocacy.
Whether here in St. Paul or back home in your city, you can make a difference by connecting with your legislators about city issues. Not sure where to park if you come to St. Paul during the session? Confused about where hearings will be held while the Capitol is closed? Find detailed answers to these questions—including a video on how to find your way—at Wondering how best to tell your city’s story and lobby for the issues most important to your community? Get helpful tips from our free advocacy guide.

We here at the League are ready for the 2016 legislative session, but we can't do it without you! Let’s work together to create good outcomes for cities like yours across the state.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Spotted: Mosquito Heights Actors Studio

Take a peek inside the "actors studio" at LMC! From left to right, Staff Attorney III Ed Cadman, LMCIT Operations Manager Laura Honeck, Legislative Liaison Heather Corcoran, and Executive Director Dave Unmacht are comparing notes on method in preparation for the next Mosquito Heights caper.

You can see what these character's are up to by registering for a Spring Loss Control Workshop—that's right, we're taking this show on the road!

Photo credit goes to LMC staffer Joyce Hottinger

Friday, February 5, 2016

Welcome to Local Government! 5 Ways to Be a Successful Elected Official

By Dave Bartholomay

[Dave Bartholomay has been mayor of Circle Pines for 10 years, and served a four-year term as a council member prior to that. Do you have a city story to tell? Submit your idea to]

Each January brings a new crop of mayors and city council members into government service. I myself was recently sworn in again as mayor of Circle Pines and have had a chance to reflect on my past 14 years as an elected official. Here are five things that my experience has taught me about how to be successful as an elected official:

1.)    First, appreciate that being an elected official is a tremendous opportunity to serve your friends and neighbors while always working to improve your community. Live by the Rotary Club slogan: “Service before Self.”  This is less about your grand ideas and big promises, and more about finding ways to work well with others to improve your community, in often small and steady ways. Remember that compromise is not a four-letter word.

2.)    Here's a big surprise: being an elected official is really not all about you and it is certainly not about you being the loudest or being the biggest bully. Rather, it is about focusing on how you can best serve everyone in your community, not just those who supported your candidacy. Local government has a lot of moving pieces and you will find yourself always learning in this job. Good ideas can come from all sorts of places, including your 'opponents'.

3.)    Always work hard to be transparent and open, honest, and authentic.  The public wants to understand what is happening in their community, as well as what you are doing with their money and with the power and responsibility that they bestowed on you.

4.)    Be optimistic and ask good questions to bring issues out into the light of day. Residents watch council meetings hoping to learn from your discussions; don't embarrass your community through outrageous words and behavior. Focus on being civil in your discussions and be measured in your public comments. Be cautious about what you say and how you say it, leaving the door open for more dialogue in the future.

5.)    Work with and trust the city staff. I strongly believe all communication from an elected official to city staff should go through the city administrator, who is usually the only person directly hired and supervised by the city council. Don’t forget that elected officials are supposed to stay up at the ‘policy’ level and not micromanage at the ‘operations’ level.

Being an elected or appointed official is really quite an honor. Your job is to get out and about, gathering ideas and being a positive force as you try to improve your community. Treat your position with dignity and respect, and I've found that you will be appreciated for your hard work (even by those who didn't vote for you!).

A version of this post was originally printed in the Quad Community Press on Dec. 1, 2015.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What Makes 'Crystal Waters' Sparkle? Future City Competition 2016

From mating meal worms to llama-themed installation art, hundreds of students who gathered recently at Dunwoody Institute in Minneapolis for the Minnesota Regional Future City Competition sure had some creative ideas for making the cities of the future great.

Teams of middle-school students from all over the state work throughout the fall semester to develop city dioramas and presentations in preparation for the annual competition.

League staff were present once again to judge the "Building Quality Communities" special award. This award is given to the team that best demonstrates how a city government can improve the quality of life for its citizens. This may include the ways that city leaders include others in making decisions or the policies and services that make citizens' daily lives easier and more meaningful.

All-in-all, a total of 15 special awards and three general awards were presented at the event.

Our pick

The "Crystal Waters" team from Valley Middle School
of STEM in Apple Valley took home the "Building Quality
Communities" award at the 2016 Future City
Regional Competition.
It was a difficult choice this year, but the recipient of the Building Quality Communities award is "Crystal Waters," the vision of a student team from Valley Middle School of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District.

Students integrate things like zoning, public safety services,
and green space into their designs.

What made Crystal Waters sparkle? Students emphasized that their city hall was intended to host community meetings and include residents in the transparent process of government. They recognized that the city makes important financial decisions that determine which innovative projects to invest in. Crystal Waters also provides access to basic health information through "digital first aid kit" stations located throughout the city. Nice job, students!

How they do it
Early in the school year, students learn about planning a city and flex their knowledge using Sim City to design their own model city. Then they write an essay describing the systems, amenities, and solutions their design incorporates.

Alternative forms of energy, including wind and solar,
make an appearance in Crystal Waters, too.
Important questions student may ask themselves during this process include:

  • Where is my city located? Space? The ruins of a modern-day metropolis? A volcano-turned island? The sky is (literally) the limit.
  • What kind of transportation do citizens have access to? Solar cars? Monorails? Gondolas in the mountain air?
  • How does my city manage waste? Where do I locate the recycling plant? What can my city reuse?
The League congratulates all 2016 general award and special award winners from the region. We're already looking forward to what we'll learn from students next year!

See recaps of past Future City Regional Finals and the Building Quality Communities Award winners:

Future City 2015 and the Building Quality Communities Award

Cities of the Future as Imagined by Students of Today (2014)