Thursday, January 30, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Requests for City Email Addresses (1/30)

Question: Are city employees’ work email addresses public information?

Answer: Someone asks you for a list of your city employees’ work email addresses. Questions begin to run through your head. Can you ask why the person wants the email addresses? Are the email addresses public information? Do you have to check with your employees first? Did you remember to close the garage door this morning?

The answers to most of your questions can be found in the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act and in a data-practices advisory opinion provided by the commissioner of the Department of Administration. (You’re on your own regarding the garage door.)

So here’s the scoop. No, you can’t ask why the person wants the email addresses. If the information is public data, you have to provide it regardless of why the person wants it. And yes, the email addresses are public information. The Data Practices Act provides a list of specific information about public employees that is public data including a public employee’s “work location.” The commissioner has advised (IPAD 97-049) that “in the electronic age, a public employee’s e-mail address is also part of the employee’s work location.” The commissioner noted that “an employee’s e-mail simply provides another means, in a different medium, for the public to communicate with its government.” Finally, no, you don’t have to check with your employees before releasing their work email addresses, but it’s probably a good practice to make sure that city employees know what information about them is public data.

For more information, see the LMC information memo, Public Personnel Data.

This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Are Your Religious Zoning Practices 'Retro'?

The Planning and Zoning Pyramid of Discretion
While “Re-loop-a” or “R-Loop-a” may sound like a new toy for kids, or perhaps a passing dance-aerobics fad, the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) is an important factor that should be considered in every Minnesota city’s zoning laws.

“It has got to be up there with one of the stranger titles for federal legislation,” says land use and loss control attorney Jed Burkett.

RLUIPA is important to cities because it constrains cities’ ability to zone religious institutions in certain ways. (We’ll get to the part about “institutionalized persons” later.)

Cities most often find themselves on the wrong side of RLUIPA in two ways:

•    By putting “substantial burden” upon the religious exercise of a person or institution—i.e. creating excessive hoop-jumping targeting religious institutions.

•    By violating the equal terms provision—cities have to treat religious institutions on the same terms as other places of assembly such as the Kiwanis Club, bowling alleys and union halls.

A review of your city’s zoning laws in relation to RLUIPA may be particularly timely, said Burkett.  Zoning laws drafted mid-century may serve the classic model of a church in a residential zone just fine. But the emergence of “mega-churches” with parking and traffic issues similar to large commercial buildings as well as small storefront-style places of worship that establish themselves outside of residential zones may strain those retro ideas of where people worship.

Is it time for your city to review compliance with RLUIPA? The information memo “Zoning for Religion” can get you started. This topic and other zoning issues impacted by complex federal law are also the focal point of land use sessions at this year’s spring Safety & Loss Control workshops. League staffers are also happy to answer questions any member city may have.

About the rest of RLUIPA’s name: “It’s not obvious why land use and institutionalized persons—prisoners—would be the subject of the same statute,” said Burkett. “There’s a very long backstory involving constitutional law and struggles between the Supreme Court and Congress that led to Congress wanting to do something about prisoner’s abilities to exercise religious rights. I think that was just a happy coincidence for folks who wanted to restrict city zoning abilities, so they tacked these two issues together.” So there you have it.

Contact: (651) 281-1247 or (800) 925-1122.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Cities of the Future as Imagined by Students of Today

A top-5 team presents at the Future City Competition 2014.
Students, mentors and parents pack into Tate Auditorium.
LMC staff judged the Building Quality Communities award.
Kids these days ... getting into engineering, transportation systems, city services ... wait, what?

As judges of the Future City Competition at the University of Minnesota campus saw for themselves on Jan. 18, that's exactly what hundreds of 6th- through 8th-grade students have been up to.

League of Minnesota Cities staff members were invited to judge and present the League-sponsored Building Quality Communities special award that day, and in the process got the chance to witness these talented students in action.

Twenty-one other organizations also sponsored, judged and presented special awards.

To prepare for this day, more than 50 teams of students from around the state, Grand Marais to Rochester, spent months developing model cities, incorporating services like transportation, zoning, recreation, power sources, and all the other details that go into making a thriving community. To advance in the competition, all teams wrote essays and built dioramas representing their fictional city of the future or a segment of it.

Next, they developed presentations to share their city's design and the logistics behind it, before putting it all on the line for a panel of judges.

That's where the similarities in approach stopped, and team creativity seized the day.

Students presented cities of all sizes, located in places as diverse as the desert, the moon, and even future-era Paris.

Among all the creative, practical, and adventurous designs, League judges sought examples of city services providing excellent quality of life.

We found them. Student teams demonstrated they knew the importance of safety, transportation, recreation, and economic development in creating livable, attractive communities.

Teams also demonstrated a keen grasp of the importance of clean water and air to residents—no surprise in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

When judging was complete, the Building Quality Communities award was given to "Wild City," a project of Woodbury Middle School. The builders of Wild City envisioned city services that were truly integrated into the geography of their community, and presented accessible city services along with a responsive city hall. 

While not every student who participated in Future City will ultimately grow up to be involved in engineering or local government, the League was pleased to be a part of such a far-reaching program that educates the community leaders of the future. Competitors developed a better understanding of what makes cities tick, and are better prepared to be the city problem-solvers of the cities of the future.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Precinct Caucuses and Polar Vortexes (1/23)

Question: Caucus dates are sneaking up quickly. How should Minnesota cities with or without primaries prepare?

Answer: Do you have an election in your city in 2014? These dates tend to sneak up quickly. Just a few bullet points on these upcoming 2014 city elections while the snow still flies:

Still to come in January:
  • By Friday, Jan. 24 (tomorrow to be exact) your county auditor must provide information about the place, date and time of the precinct caucuses upon request—at least 10 days before the date of the caucuses. You will need to know this information because your city council, boards and commissions cannot meet after 6 p.m. on the night of a precinct caucus. See the bullet below about Feb. 4
  • For all cities outside the metropolitan area: No later than Friday, Jan. 31, cities must certify municipal election hours to the county auditor. Minimum voting hours must be 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.  (Just so you know, the metropolitan area means the counties of Anoka, Carver, Chisago, Dakota, Hennepin, Isanti, Ramsey, Scott, Sherburne, Washington, and Wright.)
Looking ahead to February:
  • Avoid Tuesday, Feb. 4 as a date for any city meeting after 6 p.m. The law reserves this date— February 4—for precinct caucuses for the major political parties. (The chairs of the two largest major political parties may agree in writing to change the date of the precinct caucuses.) You’ll want to know the date of the precinct caucuses in your city so you do not set a meeting for that day after 6 p.m. Reminder: check with your county auditor to find out when the precinct caucuses will be held in your city.
  • Not to jinx them, but if we get that polar vortex back, a major political party may request that the secretary of state postpone caucuses. Or, the secretary of state’s office may consult with all major political parties and—on the advice of the National Weather Service and the Department of Transportation— declare precinct caucuses to be postponed for a week in counties where weather makes travel especially dangerous. If this happens, the secretary of state must submit a notice of the postponement to news media covering the affected counties by 6 p.m. on the scheduled day of the caucus. A postponed caucus may also be postponed under this law. 
Let’s hope no one has to postpone a postponed caucus due to more frigid weather!

This response is intended to convey general information and should not be taken as legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal guidance. Consult your city attorney for advice regarding specific situations.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Trivia: How Many Newly Elected Minnesota City Officials Are There?

Q: How many newly elected Minnesota city officials are there in 2014?
A: We're happy to welcome the 173 newly elected officials who took office this month.

For city council members and mayors just getting their feet wet, these winter months can feel more like a polar plunge into days filled with meetings, new faces, and new information. 

Now that you’ve surveyed your surroundings, inspected a few agendas, and had a chance to start asking questions, it may be time to check back on your basic governance knowledge.

At any point in your term of service to your community, the League’s collection of resources for newly elected officials is available to provide some peace of mind:

Find out the answers to questions including:
  • What information should be in the clerk's minutes?
  • Should a social gathering that includes council members be considered a meeting?
  • Should a council member advise a city department head about a performance issue on staff?
Check back throughout the year—or in years to come—for new content designed to give you a broad understanding of city service and how the League can help.

Also on deck, the Newly Elected Officials and Experienced Officials leadership conferences are just around the corner, and registration is open now. Mingle with other city officials, League staff, and guest speakers to help firmly plant your feet and prepare for the many questions (and answers!) that lay ahead.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Future Minnesota Mayors Have Big Plans For Their Cities...

Promoting volunteerism, organizing a community meet-and-greet with police and firefighters, and simply getting people to talk with each other are just a few of the hundreds of ideas submitted by elementary school students who penned creative essays for the first-ever "Mayor for a Day" contest, sponsored  by the League of Minnesota Cities.

Students who picked-up essay entry forms at the League's State Fair booth or printed them from the League's web site were challenged with the task of answering the question, "If you were mayor for a day, what would you do to make (city) services even better that they already are for all the people in your city?"

From more than 300 students representing all areas of the state, two top writers were chosen in each of two age categories, 7-9 years old and 10-12 years old. Those students are (drumroll, please...):

7-9 years
  • Ellaina Esther Bergstrom, Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart Elementary School, Buffalo Lake
  • Haley Whipps, Jordan Elementary School, Jordan
10-12 years
  • Madeline Kovacich, Valley Crossing Community School, Woodbury
  • Victoria Roy, Hastings Middle School, Hastings

Five honorable mentions were also chosen for each age category. In the 7-9 year old category they are Karly Breegemann, Jordan; Quinn Hendel, Mendota Heights; Lila Rotherberger, East Grand Forks; Charlie Owen Sackett, Rochester; and Christopher Viktora-Croke, Hastings. Honorable mentions for the 10-12 year old category are Phillip Benson, Buffalo Lake; Dylan Diepold, Stewart; Krista Esch, Medford; Kayla Iwanski, Hibbing; and Maddie Mick, Farmington.

The four top winners each received a recognition certificate and a $100 check from the League. And, at least one present-day mayor planned a special recognition for the future mayoral candidate in his city (others likely to follow).

The "Mayor for a Day" contest was launched as part of the League's centennial anniversary celebration in 2013, but will be held again this year due to popular demand. Visit the League's "Cities Matter" booth at the 2014 State Fair this summer for more info.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Summary Budget Reporting—No Wait, Come Back! (1/16)

Our popular Facebook feature, "Research Question of the Day," will now make a regular weekly appearance on the City Spot! Check back to find more in-depth answers to timely city questions.

 Question: I work for a small city. Do we have to file summary budget information with the state?

Answer: Yes! We know that summary budget reporting time may make you want to run but hang on, this is the law.

 Summary budget information you provide shows that your city plans to use, and is using, public funds appropriately in 2014. After all, it’s the number one job of city councils and staff to account for and spend tax dollars for services that residents value such as safe neighborhoods, well maintained streets, and vibrant libraries, right?

At the end of this monthJan. 31 to be exactcities must file information about their 2014 budgets with the Office of the State Auditor (OSA). And yes, this Minnesota statute applies to all cities: small, large, charter and statutory.  Where to start? The OSA provides password protected on line access to the forms to use for this report. Remember that your city must include information on how city investments fared in 2013, specifically any net unrealized gains or losses from investments.

Last year, quite a few cities did not file the required information on time. If you have any questions or need help, contact the LMC Research Department ( or the OSA (651) 296-2551.

We’re here to help cities report this summary budget information on time in 2014!

This response is intended to convey general information and should not be taken as legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal guidance. Consult your city attorney for advice regarding specific situations.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

It's Not You, It's Me!

We’ve all been there. Whether it’s at work, in our personal lives, or at city hall—most of us have been asked to work collaboratively with those who are labeled “difficult people.”

So what do you do? What’s the best approach? Are there ways you can turn bad experiences into productive ones? Dr. Neil Katz says yes!

Dr. Neil Katz
An innovator in conflict resolution for more than 40 years, Dr. Katz currently serves as professor and chairperson of the graduate department of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at Nova Southeastern University and consults with organizations on these issues.

He will be the keynote speaker at the League’s 2014 Leadership Conference for Experienced Officials and was kind enough to answer a few questions on how best to manage differences:

Dr. Katz, you’ve worked with a range of public, private, and nonprofit clients on conflict management training. Are there particular challenges that are unique to the public arena? 
Yes! Public officials have a special challenge in their need to manage contentious situations because of: their many stakeholders, the passion and degree by which their constituents want to express themselves and influence policy, and finally—their exposure and accessibility.

Your upcoming workshop at the League’s Experienced Officials Leadership Conference will focus on what participants can do personally to manage difficult people and dysfunctional behaviors. What approaches do you find to be most effective in helping public officials deal with challenging personalities?
Approaches that have a good chance of success include a combination of staying resourceful oneself, channeling the high emotional energy of self and others, excellent rapport skills (especially reflective listening and pacing/matching), assertion, and interest-based problem solving/negotiation.

What is the single most important thing that elected officials should keep in mind when confronted by a difficult person?
The most important message is not one we like to hear: the only person in any situation we have control over is ourselves—our best ammunition is a well-developed conflict management skill set!

If you’d like to learn more, please join us at the 2014 Leadership Conference for Experienced Officials on Jan. 31-Feb. 1 in Brooklyn Center.  Exploring your own emotional reactions and communication style—and understanding how shifting your behavior can influence others in a positive way—is a great way to start the new year!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Time to Have ‘The Talk’ About Adult Entertainment Businesses

There’s nothing like a good council discussion about “adult entertainment businesses” to make your average Minnesotan blush. That’s right, we’re talking about strip clubs or nude dancing, adult movie theaters, storefronts selling pornography, and their various incarnations.

But the time to talk about ordinances that will help your city manage the impact an adult business could have on your community is before one even moves in, according to LMC staff attorney James Mongѐ.

“Once it’s open, you’re going to have trouble regulating it because it’s already there,” said Mongѐ.

Are your ordinances ready for an adult entertainment business?
It’s a complex task—protecting First Amendment rights while putting safeguards in place to deter negative side effects on the community.

There is no one-size-fits all solution or sample ordinance that will work for all Minnesota cities.

“It can be complicated to regulate them, because obviously books and movie theaters are protected by the First Amendment. Also the United States Supreme Court has ruled that nude dancing involves some expressive conduct that is entitled to protection,” says Monge. “As a result, city ordinances that regulate adult businesses need to be content-neutral.”

On the other hand, research has shown that these types of businesses can spur increases in blight and neighboring vacancies, crime—especially prostitution, sexual transmitted diseases, and a decrease in property values.

“Every city needs to be thinking about how to minimize the negative secondary effects of these businesses,” said Mongѐ.

Cities like Rochester have prepared themselves with content neutral ordinances that protect First Amendment rights while addressing these secondary effects. Zoning, rules that regulate proximity to other businesses or institutions like schools, and licensing processes are all legal when crafted properly, according to the United States Supreme Court, and consistent with the “significant government interest” of preventing those secondary negative effects.

If your city hasn’t put in place ordinances to manage the arrival of an adult entertainment business, or you think it may be time to review the rules already on the books, a new information memo is now available to guide you through the process. View the PDF here:

Friday, January 10, 2014

Research Q of the Week: First Meeting of the Year (1/10)

Question: What are city councils required to do at their first meeting of the year?

Answer: Happy new year! A city’s annual meeting or first meeting of the year is a time for new beginnings just like most of us plan for in the New Year. If your city has newly elected councilmembers, their term of office begins on the first Monday in January, and they should take their oath of office by this date.

Regardless of whether you have new faces on the council, there is still some important business to attend to. Here’s a to-do list for the first meeting of the year:

• Pick an official newspaper where you will publish important city info and notices.
• Appoint an acting mayor from among the councilmembers. The acting mayor will perform the duties of the mayor if there is a vacancy in the mayor’s position or during the mayor’s disability or absence.
• Select an official depository for city funds. (This must be done within 30 days of the start of the city’s fiscal year).
• Charter cities should also consult their city charters to see if they have additional requirements for their first meeting of the year.

But wait, there’s more! In addition, although not required by statute, many city councils will also do the following at the first meeting of the year:

• Review different council appointments to city boards and commissions.
• Approve other annual contracts with service providers such as the city attorney, engineer or auditor.

For more optional things to review at the first meeting of the year, see page 4 of the League’s memo on Meetings of City Councils.

Bonus tip: With the new year and new budget cycle, the first meeting of the year might also be a good time for the council and city staff to start discussing their vision for the city and long-term city plans to ensure a great start!

This response is intended to convey general information and should not be taken as legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal guidance. Consult your city attorney for advice regarding specific situations. 

New Year, New Blog!

It’s the new year, and we’ve resolved to make some changes around here.

Welcome to the League of Minnesota Cities’ new blog, The City Spot.

In 2013, we used this space to celebrate the League’s 100th year and while we’ve loved looking back and exploring our history, it’s a new year and we’re focused on the future.

This is the spot where we’ll explore municipal issues in the news, provide tips and tricks to help you do your job, tell our cities’ success stories, delve deeper into articles from Minnesota Cities magazine and the Cities Bulletin newsletter, and much more.

It’s an experiment, so let us know what you think and what you’d like to see here. A new year, a new blog—what a great start!