Monday, December 29, 2014

Spotted: A Good Government Legacy Lives on in Medina


Mayor Elizabeth Weir of Medina is spotted here sharing a plaque commemorating former Mayor Tom Crosby, who died in 2013. Crosby set the stage for a successful public works and police department facilities expansion when, in the depths of the Great Recession, he pursued the purchasing of an existing property to retrofit. As a real estate attorney, Crosby had a hunch that the purchase would be a good deal for the city, despite the doom and gloom of the economy.

Crosby's vision lives on through the completed project—an award-winning, cost-saving, all-around great government facility (where the showers are no longer used for storage). You can read about Medina's successful expansion in the latest "Ideas in Action," featured in Minnesota Cities magazine.

Photo credit goes to Kathryn Forss

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Don't Quit Your Day Job (12/25)

Question: I'm starting my first term in office soon, and I'm starting to worry about taking time off to attend all these meetings. Is there any information out there that will help me sort this out with my supervisor?

Answer: Hello to all of you elected officials out there in the blogosphere. Thank you for the valuable work you do for your communities. Did you know that because the work you do is so important, the Minnesota Legislature adopted a law (Minn. Stat. § 211B.10) that requires your boss to give you time off from work to attend public meetings? Here’s the scoop about the key requirements of the law:
  • A person elected to public office must be given time off from work to attend meetings required by their public office.
  • The time off may be without pay, with pay, or made up with other hours, as agreed to between the employee and employer.
  • When an employee takes time off without pay, the employer must make an effort to allow the employee to make up the time with other hours when the employee is available.
  • No retaliatory action may be taken by the employer if the employee takes time off from work to attend public meetings.
For more information about elected officials and their role see chapter 6 of the Handbook for Minnesota Cities, freshly updated with 2014 law revisions and info.

Written by Susan Naughton, research attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: snaughto@lmc.org 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. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

LMC Extreme Makeover Edition 2014 at Emma Norton

League staff, family, and friends recently converged at a local nonprofit, Emma Norton Services, to make-over a much neglected common room.

Emma Norton Services, located near the League on Robert Street in St. Paul, provides housing and support to women, children and families that are homeless and dealing with addiction and/or mental illness. Nearly 200 residents a year benefit from EMS's work.

LMC employees donated over $700 to help with the project to rejuvenate the third-floor lounge, and one staffer volunteered to purchase the lounge a new television. The "bee-autiful" summer fundraiser for ENS also resulted in a priceless photo of Executive Director Jim Miller and League President Dave Osberg wearing "bee antennae."

Out went the ceiling fan caked with dust, dark and dated paint, and mismatched couches.

In came new light fixtures, uplifting wall art, soft blankets and coordinating furniture.

Residents picked out the paint colors to kick off the project. Also volunteering her time was friend and coordinator Shirley Kramer, who put all the elements together to create a peaceful, welcoming space.

 League staff partner with neighborhood organizations several times a year to contribute to the health of the community that surrounds us. The second-floor ENS lounge got its own makeover in 2013.

The message League staff hope to deliver to residents? "You have value."

The League is honored to partner with great organizations like ENS to help build community in the Frogtown/Capitol Heights area—because great communities are what we're all about.



Before: old couches, dark paint
Before: poor light, old tube TV


After: lots of light, cozy touches
After: coordinating furniture, fresh paint





Photo credit goes to LMC staffer Jeanette Behr

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Cocktail Room License Law, Distilled

Question: We have a microdistillery in the city that sells their product under a license granted by the state. Now they’re saying they want a license from the city to have a cocktail room? What is this?

Answer: It's good news for those who deserve the occasional adult beverage following a long day of synthesizing municipal law, that's what.

Specifically, this is a new license as of the last legislative session. While the state licenses microdistilleries to provide samples of distilled spirits manufactured onsite, cities may license a state-licensed microdistillery to operate a “cocktail room.” Think of a microbrewery's taproom, except with Manhattans and martinis instead of lagers and IPAs.

The cocktail room license authorizes the on-sale of distilled liquor produced by the distiller for imbibing at the distillery or at a place adjacent to a single distillery location owned by the distiller.
  • This license is only available to those distilleries licensed as "microdistilleries."
  • No distiller is allowed more than one cocktail room license.
  • No single business is allowed to hold both a cocktail room license and a taproom license.
  • No single location can hold both licenses even if the businesses are separate.
  • The cocktail room license may be issued by a city with or without a municipal liquor store.
Combine these rules into your city's licensing repertoire, shake, and serve up a boost to your city's craft spirits industry responsibly.

Written by Edward Cadman, special counsel with the League of Minnesota Cities. Ed can't figure out how to incorporate the phrase "hot toddy for your body" into this blog post. Probably for the best. Contact: ecadman@lmc.org 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. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Happy Ugly Sweater Day—to Support St. Paul's Project Home

Seeing your boss in a tacky sweater may be an everyday occurrence for some, but an honest-to-goodness UGLY SWEATER? That's a sight to behold.

LMC staff had our own Ugly Sweater Day last Friday to raise money for a good cause.

League employees have been donating money over the past several weeks to support the work of Project Home, a joint effort among faith communities in the St. Paul area to provide homeless emergency shelters when all other sites are filled.
  • When donations hit $250, management team promised to don some ugly apparel.
  • When donations hit $350, board president Dave Osberg, city administrator of Eagan, joined in. 
And of course, staff were invited to show off their own tinsel-y, over-adorned closet treasures.
Prizes (small, public sector prizes) were given for the three top ugly sweaters worn by staff. There were some, umm, clear "winners."


LMC management showing off their finery. No executive directors were
harmed in the taking of this photo, despite those arm antlers.

LMC Board President Dave Osberg and LMC Executive Director Jim Miller
sport some "bee antennae" to kick it up a notch on that buckle and reindeer.
*More info on the antennae to come.

Uh, is that sasquatch? Attorney Dan Kurtz
takes the cake. Or coffee, in this case.

Photo credit goes to LMC staffer Danielle Cabot, whose lone 
ugly sweater is adorned with shiny, fake ice.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Research Q of the Week: The OT Enforcers and Your City (12/11)

Question: I'm working on my city's employee classifications, and I'm confused. A salaried employee can't earn overtime—right?

Answer: This is always a tricky question because of a common misunderstanding about how the words “hourly wage” and “salary” relate to the payment of overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The short answer is "maybe," and it's worth a look to understand why.

First, let’s define some words and phrases:
  • Hourly wage means that the amount paid is based upon a rate per hour. 
  • Salary means that a certain amount of money is paid regardless of the hours that are worked.
  • Overtime pay is earned when more than 40 hours are worked in a week. 
  • Exempt means that workers are not eligible for overtime pay. Non-exempt means workers earn overtime pay.
—Oh yeah, and the "FLSA" is the federal law that regulates employee pay, among other things, and the U.S. Department of Labor ("DOL") enforces the FLSA. Got that?

Now, let’s take a look at that misunderstanding about overtime pay. It is a commonly held belief that salaried workers are exempt and hourly wage workers are non-exempt. However, believe it or not, a salaried worker can be non-exempt and thus eligible for overtime pay.

So, the real question is whether or not a worker is exempt or non-exempt.

To help answer that question, the DOL has created two tests: the salary test and the duties test. An employee must pass both tests in order to be classified as an exempt employee. There isn’t enough space on this page to fully explain these tests, so for more information you should take a look at the League’s Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA): Determining Exempt vs. Non-Exempt Status information memo. 

Close enough won't cut it
Classifying your employees correctly is important because the DOL has stepped up enforcement of the law over the last several years, and the penalties for non-compliance are severe. The DOL determined that in 2013 employers failed to pay over $130 million in overtime wages. Ouch. Penalties include back pay, an equal amount of liquidated damages, attorney’s fees, and court costs.

Additionally, willful violations can result in criminal prosecution and a $10,000 fine. The typical investigation goes back two years, but records must be kept for at least three. Failure to maintain adequate records will also result in additional penalties.
If you have more questions about overtime and the FLSA I encourage you to visit the DOL website, review any of the DOL Fact Sheets, or contact the League’s Research department at (651) 281-1200 or research@lmc.org.

Written by Jake Saufley. Contact the League's Research and Information Service staff by emailing research@lmc.org, 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, December 4, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Cheat Sheet to City Administrative Roles (12/4/14)

Question: What is the difference between a city clerk, city administrator, and city manager?

Answer: Have you ever wanted a quick cheat sheet on city administrative positions? If the answer is yes, then look no further. Below is a quick primer on the differences and similarities between city clerks, city administrators, and city managers (warning: this is by no means comprehensive).





Clerk
Administrator
Manager
Type of office
Statutory (elected or appointed)
Non-statutory (usually created by ordinance or resolution)**
Statutory
Statutory form of government*
Standard Plan
Plan A
Plan B
Standard Plan
Plan A (most common)
Plan B
Duties
Numerous (minute book, ordinance book, notice of elections, notice of meetings, records custodian, and more than can fix in this little box)
Varies from city to city but generally day-to-day operations
Head of administrative branch
Relationship to other city staff
Other than for deputy clerk, no appointment or removal power of city staff
Varies from city to city
Can appoint and remove city staff without council approval (except for city attorney)
Policymaking ability
None
None
Can recommend ordinances, resolutions, and policies
Financial responsibilities
Bookkeeper (maintains financial records except those maintained by treasurer)
Varies from city to city
Chief purchasing agent for anything $20,000 and less (unless lower limit set by council)
 
*Standard Plan: council and elected clerk 
*Plan A: council with appointed clerk
*Plan B: council-manager plan of government
*Home Rule Charter: can have a clerk, administrator, and/or manager. What administrative positions they have would be determined by their charter.
An administrator can be hired in a Standard Plan, Plan A, or Home Rule Charter city, but is not required by statute in any plan.
**Administrator: can be hired in a Standard Plan, Plan A, or Home Rule Charter city, but is not required by statute in any plan.

While there is no way to exhaustively list what those in these city administrative positions do in a blog post (many earn the right to wear a cape on a weekly basis), this chart is meant to give you a few of the highlights.

To learn more about these and other city administrative positions, see the League’s Handbook Chapter on City Administrative Staff.

Written by Irene Kao, research attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: ikao@lmc.org 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, December 3, 2014

2015 Is Almost Here…But Your Community’s Newly Elected Officials Can Get Started Now

Do you have newly elected city officials in your community—or are you one yourself? If so, these new leaders should know that they can be prepared and take advantage of many League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) resources before they even take office!

For example: this month, the League is hosting two free webinars—and both are a great fit for those who are new to municipal office.

The first, to be held from 1-2 p.m. on Tuesday, December 9, is the December Budget Forecast and 2015 Legislative Outlook for Cities. One member of the team who will present this webinar, Intergovernmental Relations (IGR) Liaison Heather Corcoran, says: “One of the great things you can do now that you are elected to your city council is introduce yourself to your state legislators and communicate with them when things impact your city—to do that, it’s important to be informed about what is happening at the Capitol.”

With the state budget forecast released on December 4 and the 2015 Legislative Session beginning on January 6, this is a perfect time to get up to speed on what’s happening at the state level that impacts cities. Along with his staff, the League’s IGR Director Gary Carlson will sort through the complexities of both the budget and upcoming policy issues in advance of the webinar in order to present only the information most relevant to member cities.

Read more about this webinar and register here. 

The second December webinar (from 2-3 p.m. on Wednesday, December 17) is The Four E’s of Great Governance. Kris-Norman Major, director of the public administration programs at Hamline University School of Business, will present.

Those of you who have been elected to municipal office likely ran because you want to improve your city in some way. As Kris points out: “Being stewards of the common good is a tough job that requires making tough decisions.”

For example, how do you weigh competing interests? In what way do those competing interests and values come into play when making policy decisions? This webinar will examine some of those challenges, provide a possible framework for weighing policy options, and consider how to maintain civility while having difficult conversations—all while using the 4 E’s of great governance (economy, efficiency, effectiveness, and equity) as a prism.

 Read more about this webinar and register here.

And newly elected city officials: don’t forget to mark the calendar for your 2015 Leadership Conference! Held in Brooklyn Center on January 30-31, this two-day crash course will review legal and financial basics, as well as your roles and responsibilities as new councilmembers and mayors. (Read more and register here.)

Finally, stay tuned to this webpage—http://www.lmc.org/goodstart—now and throughout the year for the most relevant information compiled just for newly elected officials.

And last, but not least, from all of us here at LMC to you: best of luck in your new role!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Your Roadmap to the November-December Issue of Minnesota Cities Mag

The November-December issue of Minnesota Cities magazine mailed last week to subscribers, and is
available online now. Here’s a quick tour of what’s inside:

If strategic planning sounds like a “kumbaya” exercise to you—think again. Minnesota cities are using these flexible roadmaps to turn ideas into reality and to focus staff and elected officials on the priorities at hand. Get started on the road to better government with Strategic Planning—Building a Roadmap to Success. WEB EXTRA ALERT: You can view the strategic plans for the cities of Carver and Hopkins in The Results: Strategic Plan Documents.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman is wrapping up his one-year term as president of the National League of Cities. As fearless leader, it was Coleman’s role to lead on city issues at the national level, specifically, NLC’s three main priorities for 2014: passing immigration reform law, preserving the tax exemption on municipal bonds, and establishing a sales tax for Internet commerce. Coleman also added a personal touch to his term by prioritizing Minnesota values like outdoor recreation for kids. See more about Coleman’s presidential term in Mayor Coleman’s Year as NLC President.


The City of Medina had a 1970s-era pole barn posing as a public works facility and a growing population. Hmm. When something had to give in 2007, the city began down a winding road to find a project that fit the budget and garnered community buy-in. It took five years, but the city struck upon a retrofit opportunity that allowed for an honest-to-goodness public works facility as well as an expansion of City Hall and the Police Department. Oh yeah. Find out what happened to the pole barn in Ideas in Action: Medina’s Space Expansion Success.

As always, columns such as From the Bench (summaries of recent court cases that may affect Minnesota cities), Two-Way Street (staff from Red Wing and New Ulm discuss youth curfews), and Bits & Briefs (quick-hit news and info from the municipal world and beyond) are ready for your reading enjoyment.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Can You Spot the Issues? A Look at Data Security

Greg Van Wormer speaks about data security.
A lot of media attention is focused on big data security breaches where thousands, or even millions, of credit card numbers become compromised. With a focus on credit card security, it can be easy to forget that there are other types of data that can be vulnerable to potential security breaches.

To help clarify what cities need to protect, and how breaches can happen in cities of any size. Greg Van Wormer, LMC’s Assistant Technology Services Director, recently presented some scenarios demonstrating potential data security issues.

Read through the scenarios below and see if you can spot how the Data Practices Act is being violated.

Scenario #1:

A night custodian is on his/her rounds when they notice that the city clerk’s computer has been left on. This clerk also manages human resources, and displayed on the computer screen is a letter of reprimand. The custodian reads the letter, learning who is being reprimanded and what they are being reprimanded for.

What security risks are in this scenario? There are multiple issues. The fact that the clerk’s computer is on and not password protected violates the Data Practices Act. The night custodian also violates the act by reading the letter because he or she is accessing data they don’t have permission to access. A further consequence is that the subject of the letter of reprimand could sue the city. To avoid these issues, make sure all computers are password-protected and automatically log-off if they  haven’t been used in a designated amount of time.

Scenario #2:

A city manager is sending out an email to residents who signed-up to be notified when there is a snow emergency. The email list is relatively small, and the city manager sends the email through their city email account. The city manager copies all the emails into the email and hits send.

How did this violate the Data Practices Act? When the city manager sends the email, the email addresses are visible to all the recipients. This unintended disclosure violates the act by sharing information that is not for the public. A solution to this problem is to use a third-party email service that will send it to your list without showing other recipients’ emails.

Want to know more about how to protect your city’s data? Here are some resources you can explore:

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Research Q of the Week: TNT, Not Quite Dynamite (11/20)

Question: "TNT" a.k.a. Truth in Taxation? What’s up with that?

Answer: It’s a term that no longer shows up in the law, but you may still hear it bandied about.

And no, this is not about an AC/DC song. We're talking about city budgets here.

While “TNT” laws used to require expensive published notices and numerous public meetings, the intent of the law was to allow the public to speak to elected officials about city budgets at a public meeting—before those budgets were adopted. It only applied to larger cities, and a similar requirement still exists in current law. But the term “truth-in-taxation” used to refer to the multiple hearings was taken out of the law in 2009.

Let’s call these "public participation meetings" instead. Now, in cities with more than 500 residents, the public must be given a chance to speak to the council about city budgets at a public meeting, held at or after 6 p.m., when the city budget and levy is being discussed.  Also according to this law, this public participation meeting must occur sometime from Nov. 25 to Dec. 29 of 2014. And, it must take place before the budget and final tax levy is adopted. So as you plan your budget and levy discussions in the coming months, include a time for the public to speak, too.

For more information on these public participation meetings—oddly, I admit—still referred to as Truth in Taxation, see page 7 of the 2014 Budget Guide for Cities and instructions from the Dept. of Revenue.

I can’t resist reminding you of one more drop-dead date: all cities and special taxing districts must certify the final property tax levy to the county auditor by Dec. 29, 2014. If this deadline is missed, the final levy for 2014 will stay the same as it was in 2013. For more on that, see Chapter 22 of the Handbook for Minnesota Cities and the same Dept. of Revenue instructions, linked above.

Written by Jeanette Behr, research manager with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: jbehr@lmc.org 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. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Spotted: Keeping it 'Fresh and Local' at the 2014 Metro Regional Meeting

City staff, elected officials, and business partners came to the table in Minneapolis last week for the fresh and local Metro Regional Meeting in Minneapolis. In addition to presentations and discussion of computer & network security and civility, state demographer Susan Brower shared a few trends and opportunities on the horizon related to aging and diversity. Metro Cities also held their annal policy approval meeting.

To wrap up the evening, members of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (having an event in the same place!) joined attendees for a reception and meeting of the minds inclusive of all corners of the state.

Andy Berg (Abdo, Eick & Meyers), Silv Carlson (Woodland),
and Scott Zerby (Shorewood)

George Tourville (Inver Grove Heights)

Heidi Omerza (Ely)

John Young Jr. (Hawley) and Ron Johnson (Bemidji)

Mark Sather and Jo Emerson (White Bear Lake)


Photo credit goes to LMC staffers Danielle Cabot and Jenna Kramer

Friday, November 14, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Triggering a City Election Recount (11/14)

Question: So, what triggers a recount in a city election? Is it automatic if the numbers are close?

Answer: Got a close call? After election results are finalized, some cities will be asked to have a recount on close races. Recounts may be requested by a candidate or from a court order—but there are no automatic recounts for city offices in Minnesota.

A losing candidate for a city office may request a recount, at the expense of the city, if:
  • The total number of votes is more than 50,000 and the difference between the votes cast for that candidate and for the winning candidate is less than one-quarter of one percent of the total votes counted for that office. 
  • The total number of votes is between 400 and 50,000 and the difference between the votes cast for that candidate and for the winning candidate is less than one-half of one percent of the total votes counted for that office.
  • The total number of votes is less than 400 and the difference between the votes cast for losing candidate and for the winning candidate is less than 10 votes.
In the case where two or more seats are being filled from among all of the candidates for the office, the elected candidate with the fewest votes is the candidate used to determine if the difference between the winning candidate and losing candidate is close enough to have a recount.

If a candidate requests a recount but is not within the margins mentioned above, the recount would be at that candidate’s expense unless the final result is changed more than the margin of error for the vote counting machine or the requesting candidate is declared the winner.

More information on this process is available here: Secretary of State’s 2014 Recount Guide 
And because you may need a few, here you go: a selection of rubber finger tips

Written by Amber Eisenschenk, staff attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: aeisenschenk@lmc.org 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, November 7, 2014

Gathering at the Community Table: A Round-Up of the 2014 Regional Meetings

Lakeville City Clerk Kelly Rasche
was at the table this year!
Coffee and conversation are Minnesota traditions—and city officials in our state are just like the rest of us…happy to indulge in both whenever (and wherever) possible!

Municipal leaders had the chance to do just that when the League of Minnesota Cities staff held a series of statewide Regional Meetings this October. Held every fall in different Greater Minnesota Cities (east, west, north, and south), this year we had a chance to visit with more than 300 city officials in eight locations.

The agenda was heavy on two-way dialogue, as well as the usual options for cream, sugar, or artificial sweetener, of course! Along with mayors, councilmembers and city staff gathered around tables to ponder two timely topics: effective strategies for authentic citizen engagement (or, simply put, how to get residents involved in city government), and maintaining work-life balance.

Discussion highlights included tips on getting citizens to attend city meetings, effective sharing of information, taking the city's message to residents at other community group meetings, and managing mobile phones, among others.

The issue of civility was also addressed—in cinematic fashion, no less. Attendees were treated to a newly-produced LMC video that featured the mayor, council, and staff of the fictional city "Mosquito Heights."
Meeting attendees prepare to watch the
latest Mosquito Heights production.

The latest Heightian adventure showed our characters struggling through the issue of building a new public safety center in a hostile environment marked by personality conflicts, role confusion, and angry citizens. Following the video, meeting attendees convened into roundtable groups to reflect on the potential causes and costs of incivility in their own communities, along with possible remedies.

Each gathering also featured a learning session on technology and data security, along with an update on League legislative activities. And at the conclusion of the meetings in each location, city officials had an opportunity to meet and greet local candidates for the state legislature.

On the whole, not bad for a day's work—all in the name of tradition!

P.S. - There is still one meeting left for this year. The Metro Regional Meeting will take place on Thursday, Nov. 12 in Minneapolis...get details and see the agenda online!