Monday, March 25, 2019

Census Planning Update: On The Road With the State Demographer

By Rachel Walker, LMC policy analysis manager
The Organizing Complete Count Committees
Handbook is just one resource available for cities.

Hey there,

My name is Rachel Walker, and I’m the policy analysis manager at the League of Minnesota Cities, where I administer our training evaluations, support our race equity initiatives, and help out with a lot of projects involving numbers. Right now, one of those number projects is the ramp-up to the 2020 Census.

This winter I had the opportunity to hit the road and travel across the state to hear about what cities need to get an accurate Census 2020 count. As part of this, I actually got to road trip with the state demographer, Susan Brower, herself!  Not only is Susan great at analyzing large amounts of data and distilling it into stories about our state population, she is a great driver!  Our journey followed one of Minnesota’s big snow events this year and there were some pretty dicey moments on the road.

Susan and her staff, along with the League, Association of Minnesota Counties, and the Minnesota Association of Townships hosted gatherings of local governments to learn about forming Complete Count Committees (CCC).  These committees will be an integral part of census preparations over the next year.  CCCs are forming all over the state and bring together local governments, businesses, community groups, churches and nonprofits for one goal: to count everyone.  We want as complete a count as possible because that count really matters. It determines how more than $16 billion of federal funding is distributed in Minnesota; it determines whether our state keeps its 8th congressional seat; and it gives government at all levels good data for doing things like economic development.

Here’s what I learned from traveling to these workshops:
  • Cities are getting creative to get the word out about the census and why it is so important.  In northern Minnesota, CCCs are considering hosting trivia nights to raise awareness and printing special beer mats for area bars.
  • In thinking about how to reach out to rural areas, one CCC is going to have materials available at the local feed store.
  • A big job for cities and others is to promote census jobs.  In Minnesota alone, we need thousands of census workers to get the count done.
  • City staff and their partners are taking challenges to getting a complete count very seriously. A major challenge is language barriers. While the census will make available materials and forms in various languages, Somali, Hmong, and Oromo are not among them.  In many communities, those three languages are spoken by significant portions of residents.
  • There’s help for cities available now. If you were unable to attend a workshop and are looking for CCC resources, please visit the state demographer’s website.
  • There will also be representatives from the state demographer’s office at the League’s Annual Conference in June this year.  If you have questions about CCCs, translation services, or census jobs, please bring them along!
Not everyone was lucky enough to have State Demographer
Susan Brower behind the wheel.
 It is always fun to get out of the League offices and see more of Minnesota.  I especially like seeing the signs for different cities as we drive along the freeway since I spend a lot of time looking at data listed by city name.

Out on the road, I also learned that I am not a big fan of pizza buffets for lunch and that getting your semi full of live cows stuck in a snowbank doesn’t look like much fun at all.

Thank you to all the cities that sent representatives to those workshops. If you have any questions about the census, please contact me at or visit the state demographer’s website.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Minnesota Cities Magazine: What If Your City Had a Cybersecurity Breach?

A cybersecurity breach is a real threat and it can happen anywhere. Do you know what to do if it happens in your city? The March-April issue of Minnesota Cities magazine features two cities that dealt with ransomware and phishing attacks, and lived to tell the tale. Yeah, it was scary. But they got through it, and now other cities can learn from their experiences in How to Respond to a Computer Security Breach.

Another scary issue facing some of our valuable city employees is mental illness. Police officers, firefighters, and other first responders are especially susceptible to mental health problems like depression, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder. But that doesn't have to mean the end of a career. When cities build a culture of support, where individuals can get the help they need, mental illnesses can be successfully treated and even prevented. See how the first responder community and the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust are addressing this issue in Protecting the Protectors.

Other highlights of the March-April issue include:
You can also check out From the Bench for summaries of recent court cases, Focus on Small Cities to read about two small-city clerks’ backup arrangement, Two-Way Street for two cities’ experiences with Community Development Block Grants, and more!

Monday, March 11, 2019

Northern MN Provides Warm Welcome During the 2019 Polar Vortex

 By Kevin Staunton, Edina city councilmember and member of LMC Board of Directors

“It’s a zip your coat up kind of day,” said Baudette City Councilmember Marla Carlson. We were finishing up our lunch with her and other officials from Baudette, Blackduck, and Little Fork at Rosalie’s Restaurant and Lounge. With temperatures hovering around -25 degrees on Jan. 29, it was Marla’s way of acknowledging that it might have been a tad bit colder than usual, but it was nothing the local residents couldn’t handle.

Some of our gracious city hosts gathering in Baudette.

You might be wondering what I (a city councilmember from Edina) was doing in Baudette during the 2019 Polar Vortex. It was the latest of the visits Luke Fischer (the League of Minnesota Cities’ deputy director) and Dan Greensweig (the LMC Insurance Trust administrator) have been making around the state to meet city officials where they live and work. As a member of the League Board of Directors, I was invited to tag along. On this trip, we covered 950 miles and visited eight cities in six counties. We met with 38 city officials from 18 cities and attended two city council meetings (and even popped across the Canadian border for an impromptu visit to Rainy River, Ontario). Oh–and survived temperatures of -38F and wind chills dipping as low as -64F.

These trips provide us with the chance to meet folks in their own communities and gain a greater understanding of what those communities are all about. On that score, this particular trip did not disappoint. Despite the cold weather, we got to take in some of the local sites (did you know, for instance, that the Laurentian Continental Divide crosses County Road 39 just south of Blackduck, that the giant walleye in Baudette is named Wally, and that Mayor Bob Marvin of Warroad has an amazing collection of classic cars on public display at The Shed?) But more importantly, we got the chance to learn more about the challenges and opportunities facing cities in north central Minnesota.

I have two big takeaways from the trip. First, the city officials we had a chance to visit with—both elected and appointed—were all amazing, dedicated folks working hard to make their cities the best they can be. Second, this part of the state has a lot going for it. With thriving major employers joining traditional agricultural and tourism businesses, there are lots of opportunities for communities to prosper. Challenges for cities, though, include providing the infrastructure to attract housing development (both the traditional infrastructure like sewer, water, and roads and 21st Century infrastructure like broadband), helping facilitate day care services, and providing ambulance services.

These are familiar challenges to those of us who serve in local government. The League of Minnesota Cities is uniquely positioned to help cities in north central Minnesota and throughout the state by providing training, research assistance, legislative advocacy, and risk management. A few days hanging out with dedicated community leaders in this area of our state is a good reminder that we can all learn from each other, and constantly work to improve the lives of our residents.

LMCIT Administrator Dan Greensweig and Wally the Walleye

The City Spot Blog periodically publishes dispatches from city officials. Do you have a submission for The City Spot? Contact for more information.