Thursday, May 29, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Prepare for More Absentee Voting (5/27)

Question: I heard that more people may qualify for absentee voting this year. Why is that?

Answer: Beginning with the 2014 primary election, Minnesotans who choose to vote absentee no longer need to give a reason for voting absentee. The “no excuse” absentee voting was a change in state law passed in 2013. 

Prior to this election, voters had to declare one of the following reasons for voting absentee: absence from the precinct, illness or disability, service as an election judge in another precinct, religious discipline or observance of a religious holiday, or because of an eligible emergency declared by the governor or a quarantine declared by the federal or state government. Now, all voters can apply for an absentee ballot—no reason required.

Because of this, election administrators are encouraged to prepare for what may be a boost in absentee voting, as these ballots take more time to process than those executed on election day.

Absentee voting can be done in person at the county (and in some cities) up until the day before the election. Absentee ballots can be sent to voters by mail, but those returned by mail but must be received on or before Election Day.

Mark your calendars: 
  • Absentee voting for the primary election starts on June 27, 2014.
  • Absentee voting for the general election starts on Sept. 19, 2014.

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

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

LMC Policy Committees: Sign Up Now for Grassroots Done Right

The legislative session is behind us, and it’s time to kick back and take a break from the policy process, amiright?


In fact, now is the time for city officials and staff to start defining the legislative agenda for 2014 through the policy committee process. This is where the real grassroots action happens, and where you can make sure the day-to-day reality cities face is reflected in the League’s work at the Capitol.

(Top & bottom) The 2013 Improving Fiscal Futures Committee
uses tech to reach members from Greater MN.
To create the best policies possible, volunteers from cities (over 100 last year!) must reflect the range of diverse cities in our state. Big, small, north, south, east, and west—it takes everyone to get it right.

Jon Smith, the administrator of Frazee, would know. He’s served on the Improving Fiscal Futures Committee for about four years. (See the list of committees here)

While few city officials would call themselves “experts,” the wealth of knowledge brought by participants and the similarities between otherwise-dissimilar communities always impresses Smith.

“In a sense it’s reassuring that we’re all facing the same kinds of issues,” he said. Across all four policy committees topics can range from pool management rules to TIF districts.

While Smith faces a three-hour drive to attend the committees in person, he said that Greater Minnesota participants sometimes carpool, and the call-in option has worked well. “[League staff] do a really good job to make sure everyone gets a chance to speak.”

Grateful to cities
Heidi Omerza of Ely is an elected official who has been involved with policy committees for about six years. She got involved as an extension of her interest in the legislative process.

“The meetings are wonderful,” said Omerza. “I really enjoy the social aspect of it—meeting people from other cities and seeing what they’re doing beyond the policy committee work.”

Because she lives over four hours away, Omerza attends in-person when she can and uses call-in options when she can’t. “You don’t quite get the social interaction [calling in], but obviously it shaves nine hours off my day!”

Omerza emphasized that the great people who volunteer are responsible for making better policy.
It takes time, effort, and lots of critical thinking to get it right, and each person is important to that process.

“The policies that are really true to us and our communities take a lot of time,” affirmed Smith.

Ultimately, it’s this spirit of volunteerism that makes LMC’s policy committees a robust, productive, and inclusive process.

“I’m very grateful that cities allow their staff and elected officials to come because that’s what makes us strong,” said Omerza.

Policy committee rosters start to close the first week of June, so learn more and apply today.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Research Q of the Week: The Buzz on Mosquitoes and Bees (5/22)

Question: With as much rain as we have had, it’s hard not to think about the insects coming our way. So, what can cities do about insects?

Answer: Insects and bugs are a part of life in Minnesota. Don't you love that repetitive splat on your windshield as you drive? While cities can’t regulate where insects and bugs choose to live, there are some things a city can do, such as regulating beekeeping or abating mosquitoes.

Bees: Since 2006, beekeeping is no longer regulated by state law, except for apiary inspection services related to the transportation of bees to other states. Cities may choose to regulate beekeeping within city limits. Some cities prohibit the practice while others allow it after obtaining a permit, and some cities allow it outright.

Mosquitoes: The abatement or suppression of mosquitoes is advisable and necessary for the maintenance and improvement of the health, welfare, and prosperity of the people. Areas where mosquitoes incubate or hatch are considered public nuisances and may be abated under state law. Cities have the direct authority to participate in mosquito abatement efforts. The city may establish a mosquito abatement board to oversee abatement efforts. The city may also levy a tax or issue certificates of indebtedness to pay for the program.

If cities are finding that bees and mosquitoes are getting in their hair, they have the discretion to do something about it. Check out the Animal Regulation in Cities memo for more info.

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

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Northern Lights Award-Winning Cities Talk 'MAGC' Ingredients

There may not be a magic ingredient for top-notch communication in government, but some common elements include teamwork and creative thinking, according to city staff present at the Minnesota Association of Government Communicators (MAGC) awards held May 15.

MAGC’s Northern Lights Awards recognize the best in government communications, ranging from enticing ice arena brochures to comprehensive public comment outreach campaigns. The work of Minnesota cities was well-represented, with a number of city communication departments accepting awards. 

“It takes a team,” said RaeAnn Gardner, who accepted an Award of Merit on behalf of Elk River’s website overhaul. The project faced a tight deadline, but by working together the
project’s team was able to improve the site’s navigation and community engagement tools on time, said Gardner.

Top to bottom: St. Louis Park, Shoreview, & St. Paul staff
receive awards from MAGC's Janine Hill.
Photo credit: Yvonne Klinnert
“Being in a group is so beneficial,” said designer Lindsey Fabrizio, who worked on the logo for Golden Valley’s new volunteer campaign. Fabrizio said being able to ask others, “What do you see? What would you change?” made all the difference in perfecting the final product.

For writer Ben Sandell of Golden Valley, thinking creatively resulted in a first-person narrative about an upcoming playground installation that took home an Award of Excellence and a nomination for Best in Show. Rather than writing yet another construction project update, Sandell connected the installation to the important childhood memories that playgrounds help to create.

Thinking creatively for one St. Paul team meant not just thinking outside the box, but thinking outside entirely—shooting video in costume—in January. The project team for “Dig Me Out” was given an Award of Excellence for their depiction of a talking fire hydrant (played by video producer Nick Nelson).

Congratulations to all the winners, and a special shout-out to these LMC member cities who received awards:

Brooklyn Park
Elk River
Golden Valley
St. Louis Park
St. Paul

Learn more about MAGC and see a full list of the winners from the ceremony on the Minnesota Association of Government Communicators website. Thanks to Yvonne Klinnert for providing photos of the ceremony.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Cyber-Attack Prevention in Small Cities (5/15)

Question: We are a small city with limited staff and financial resources. Why should we be concerned about a cyber-attack on our computer system? 

Answer: Multi-billion dollar corporations are not the only entities that should be worried about cyber-security. Computer hackers, viruses, malware, or a stolen laptop can compromise a city’s record security and result in the release of sensitive data the city maintains. Got your attention? Thought so. Luckily many measures cities should take to maintain the security of their computer systems and electronically stored records are relatively inexpensive and embody good, common sense.

Here's a list of steps cities should take to protect computer systems and digitally-stored data:

•    Keep an accurate inventory of all computers, servers, and other networked devices.
•    Install a network firewall.
•    Install anti-virus software on every computer.
•    Require complex passwords— passwords that are at least 8 characters long and include both lower and upper case characters and at least one non-alpha numeric character (e.g. #, *, % etc.). For example: M!nn&s0ta.
•    Set up laptops to encrypt data on the hard drive to prevent thieves from viewing the data contained on it.
•    Design the city’s network with file location and security for specific types of documents.
•    Implement a computer use policy with provisions for network security.
•    Train employees so that they understand the city’s computer use policy, password setup, and where to store data.
•    Scrub old computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone, and copier hard drives to Department of Defense standards before disposal.

  Everyone who uses a computer is vulnerable to cyber-attack. But by taking these relatively inexpensive measures will make it more difficult for the hackers to succeed. For more information on record security, see the Handbook for Minnesota Cities, Chapter 27-Records Management.

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

Monday, May 12, 2014

Greetings From ‘Minnesota Cities’ Mag: May-June Issue Now Available

The May-June issue of Minnesota Cities magazine mailed this week to subscribers, and is available online for your digital consumption. Many of its articles intersect with ideas you can explore further by attending the 2014 Annual Conference, June 18-20.

What’s inside? Take a look at these three highlights:

Cities will change rapidly over the next decade due to demographic shifts, civility issues, sustainability, and our new digital economy. Ready to adapt and thrive? The 2014 Annual Conference agenda and theme, “Shaping the Future,” are dedicated to preparing attendees for these opportunities, as well as for handling the perennial issues cities have been facing for the past hundred years. Find out more in “Creating Vibrant 21st Century Cities."

When matter-of-fact or flashy efforts to brand your city fall flat, what could be missing is an emotional truth, according to Annual Conference keynote speaker Peter Kageyama. Kageyama explains the story of how three cities’ branding efforts have been impacted by the emotional truth of their campaigns. What can the leading producer of cowboy hats in the U.S. teach Minnesota cities about branding their community? Read on, pardner: “City Branding: Keep It Emotionally True.”

The power of connection can turn a city into a community, and Annual Conference speaker Mark Scharenbroich wants to help you achieve that. Minnesota Cities magazine asked Scharenbroich a few questions about his “Nice Bike” philosophy, creating connections, and other characteristics of great leadership. Read what he had to say in “Let's Talk: Building Connections the ‘Nice Bike’ Way.”

As always, columns such as From the Bench (summaries of recent court cases), Bits & Briefs (timely tidbits and other news), and Ideas in Action (check out collaboration in the city of Jordan) are all available to inform and engage you in issues affecting local government.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Research Q of the Day: Getting Ready to Run for Office (5/8)

Question: I want to make a positive impact on my community, and I think public service would be a good fit. What do I need to do to run for office?

Answer: First of all, congrats on your decision to run for office. While winning an election isn't easy, filing to run is a relatively simple process.

To have your name placed on the ballot, you must file an affidavit of candidacy with your election administrator at the city or county and pay the required filing fee. The fee depends on the size of your city and the form of government you have.
  •     Candidates in Statutory Cities of the 2nd Class (20,000-less than 100,000 in population): $5
  •     Candidates in Statutory Cities of the 3rd Class (10,000-less than 20,000 in population): $5
  •     Candidates in Statutory Cities of the 4th Class (less than 10,000 in population): $2
  •     Charter City Candidates: Fee varies, see the city’s charter.
The affidavit of candidacy is a fancy name for a pretty straight-forward document. The affidavit declares what office the candidate is running for, provides contact information for the candidate, and declares that the candidate is eligible to hold office. Generally, a candidate for elective office in a city must meet a few important criteria to be eligible to hold office.

Candidates must be:

  • A qualified voter in the state of Minnesota.
  • A U.S. citizen.
  • At least 21 years of age on the date he or she would take office.
  • A resident of the city for 30 days before the election.
Filing of the affidavit of candidacy must take place during the specific time outlined by state statute. For cities with a primary election, the candidate must file between May 20-June 3, 2014. For cities without a primary election, the candidate must file between July 29-Aug. 12, 2014. Candidates may file by mail but the affidavit must be received by the last day to file—none of that “it’s in the mail” guff will fly.

Candidates may have additional filing requirements depending on the city and whether or not the candidate is fundraising to support the candidacy. For more information on this, please discuss these requirements with your local election official or visit the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website.

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

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Collegiate Baseball Bats and Brewskies (4/30)

Question: I heard that beer can be sold at collegiate baseball games now, but I thought we had a local ordinance prohibiting alcohol on city fields. What’s the call?

Answer: Batter up! Thanks to a 2011 change in state law, you can have a beer or glass of wine to sip as you take in a great game—even on a city field.

Cities may issue an on-sale wine license and an on-sale malt liquor license to a person who owns a summer collegiate league baseball team, or to a person holding a concessions or management contract with the team owner. This license allows beverage sales at a ballpark or stadium located within the city during baseball games—notwithstanding any law, local ordinance, or charter provision. Minn. Stat. § 340A.404, subd. 1 (d).

So what and where are these summer collegiate baseball teams? Nine teams comprise the northern division of the Northwoods League, where top college baseball players gain experience. Many go on to play in the major leagues. There are nine more teams in the southern division, buy hey, that’s Wisconsin and Michigan.

In the Northwoods League you can take to the bleachers to watch the Alexandria Blue Anchors, Duluth Huskies, Mankato MoonDogs, Rochester Honkers, St. Cloud Rox, or the Willmar Stingers take on each other and the Thunder Bay Border Cats, the Waterloo Bucks or the Eau Claire Express.

So grab family and friends, map your route to one of the nearby cities hosting these local stadiums, and have some outstanding outdoor ballpark fun.

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