Friday, December 30, 2016

Happy New Year, Best Wishes, and Welcomes

A message from Executive Director David Unmacht:
As we turn the corner on 2016 and begin a new year, we are granted an annual opportunity to reflect on the year closing behind us and eagerly anticipate what the next 365 days has in store for us. It’s not a stretch or a risk to suggest that—at least politically—the year 2016 was like no other in our memory. The presidential election is over, the electoral college has completed its work, and now we await the new administration. On a federal level, it’s impractical to predict specifically what changes are ahead, but we can reasonably expect that the course of business will change in Washington D.C.

On a smaller, but just as important scale, in our city halls across the great state of Minnesota, we have many returning colleagues as well as new faces to get to know beginning on Jan. 1. We congratulate and welcome back the many friends and colleagues who contribute countless hours of time and energy to make their city government work day in and day out. We also want to thank the public servants who retired or lost their election for their work in support of city government and the League of Minnesota Cities. We wish you all the best.

Finally, and just as importantly, we look forward to working with the many newly elected officials who bring different sets of experiences, expectations, and interests to city government—and ultimately, the work of the League. We are excited to meet and personally welcome you to the business of local government. We take great pride in our relationships with city officials across the state and are committed to helping you make a difference in your city. Many of you are already scheduled to attend one of our Newly Elected Officials Conferences in Mankato, Bloomington, and Brainerd in January. 
On behalf of the Board of Directors and staff, we wish each and every one of you a safe and prosperous new year!   

Monday, December 19, 2016

Spotted: A Minnesota Mayor Getting Musical

On a sunny autumn day, Hastings Mayor Paul Hicks couldn’t resist stopping in one of the city’s new park areas featuring actual musical instruments. The park is part of the city’s new Riverfront Renaissance development, which won a City of Excellence Award from the League of Minnesota Cities this year.

In addition to the musical park, the project included new trails and walkways near the Mississippi River, a new amphitheater, and more in Veterans Memorial Levee Park. Residents and visitors enjoyed several concerts and other events in the park last summer and fall.

Check out Minnesota Cities magazine to see more about how Hastings hit a development high note.

Photo credit goes to Michael Braun

Friday, December 16, 2016

The City Spot Café: Sanctuary Cities

What you need to know right now about sanctuary cities, served up by the LMC Research and Information Service team. 

 Definition: There is no legal definition for the term “sanctuary city.” Generally, the phrase is used to refer to cities that have adopted a policy of limited cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Many cities call their ordinance or policy a “separation” ordinance—indicating a separation between the role of local law enforcement and the role of federal law enforcement regarding immigration.

Plain-language explanation: Because neither “sanctuary city” nor “separation ordinance” are terms defined in law, there is no clear agreement on what makes a city a “sanctuary city.” Some cities have self-identified as sanctuary cities, but the specifics of any policy varies widely. Some cities have justified adoption of these policies because there is a belief that if people are afraid to call the police because of their immigration status, it makes cities less safe and crimes go unreported. Critics of such policies argue that the lack of communication between cities and federal immigration agents about a person’s immigration status makes cities less safe. There have been several proposals to strip “sanctuary cities” of federal funding, but no legislation has actually been passed by Congress.

In the news: Discussion of local governments adopting policies related to immigration has intensified recently. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have found themselves in the news for ordinances each city adopted several years ago. Northfield recently adopted a personnel policy related to immigration status. In addition, the Department of Justice has recently announced it will require Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) recipients to comply with a law (8 U.S.C. § 1373) that prohibits any local government or official from enacting restrictions on sending information to, or receiving information from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service regarding the citizenship or immigration status of any individual. This new requirement could affect some cities based on their specific policies, but at this time, it is not clear what policies would be deemed noncompliant.  Guidance has been released by the Department of Justice about the compliance requirement.

League position: The League is closely monitoring immigration issues and how they may impact cities. If your city is considering changing city policies or ordinances as they may relate to immigration matters, please contact the League for more information. The National League of Cities has been monitoring the issue on the federal level as well, especially regarding any potential discontinuation of federal funding for cities. More information from the National League of Cities can be found in their Nov. 19, 2016, Advocacy Update.

This information has been compiled by Quinn O'Reilly, staff attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1271.

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Q&A on Cities and Race Equity

We recently had a chance to ask some questions of Julie Nelson, one of the facilitators for the League's 2017 Leadership Conference for Experienced Officials. Happening Jan. 27-28 in Bloomington, the conference will focus on how city leaders can promote race equity in their communities.

Julie is senior vice president at the Center for Social Inclusion.

What is the Center for Social Inclusion and the Government Alliance on Race and Equity?
The Center for Social Inclusion (CSI) is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to catalyze communities, government, and other institutions to dismantle structural racial inequity and create equitable outcomes for all. The Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) is a joint project of CSI and the Haas Institute for a Fair & Inclusive Society. GARE is a national network of government working to achieve racial equity and advance opportunities for all. Currently, there are 21 member jurisdictions, five cohorts of jurisdictions, and over 100 jurisdictions where we have done work.

Explain the concept of racial equity. What is the goal? 
We define racial equity as both an outcome and a process. As an outcome, we achieve racial equity when 1) race no longer is a determinant of socioeconomic life outcomes, and 2) in addressing racial inequity directly, we improve outcomes for everyone—including white people. As a process, racial equity means that people who are most impacted by structural racial inequity are determining the policy and practice changes that will impact their lives.

Many people may think issues of racial inequity are mostly about economics and education. Your focus is on the role of cities, counties, and other local governments. How have these governments contributed to racial inequity in the past, and what can they do to now promote more equity in their communities today?
Government policy—both past and present, from local to national—has created structural racial inequity. For example, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) explicitly refused to back loans to black people or even other people who lived near black people. FHA manuals also explicitly advised homeowners and brokers alike to avoid letting people of color into the neighborhood. Policies like the Federal Highway Act in the 1950's created highways that cut right through neighborhoods of color. Fast forward to present day: our transportation investments consistently leave low-income communities and communities of color underserviced. Even decisions around wages, healthcare, and education are made at the expense of communities of color.

Julie Nelson
What is a very specific example of a city service that might have inequitable impacts on communities of color—and how it can be changed?
Let’s consider transportation investments. More often than not, roads and highways are prioritized over public transit. We know that people of color are more likely to use public transit and have public transit jobs. We also know that we all benefit from more public transit—cleaner air, less traffic, and so on. Yet, across the country, we see public transit budgets shrinking.

Why isn't just "treating everyone the same" sufficient?
Treating everyone the same assumes that everyone is starting from the same place socially, politically, and economically. We know from both history and the present-day reality of racially discriminatory policies and practices—whether intentional or not—that we are just not starting from the same place. If we focus investments on those most impacted by discrimination, there’s a net improvement for all people.

What role can local elected officials play in advancing racial equity?
Local elected officials can be champions for racial equity by ensuring that all departments 1) integrate racial equity strategies into their daily work and planning, and 2) meaningfully engage with the communities most impacted by structural racial inequity through the policy and practice changes that will impact their lives.

What are some of the key takeaways those who attend your LMC workshop in January will learn?
There are a number of things people will learn from our work: understanding how structural racial inequity has shaped our country, communicating about race in ways that help us undo this structural racial inequity. understanding how to implement a multi-pronged strategy to begin to undo structural racial inequity—and so much more.

Both Julie and the LMC staff hope to see you in January! Learn more about this conference and register here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Mosquito Heights—Regional Meeting Throwback Video

Attendees at the 2016 Metro Regional Meeting got nostalgic Nov. 30 by watching a clip of a classic Mosquito Heights episode, "Tuesday Night Council Meeting," circa year 2000. 

In the video, Mosquito Heights Mayor Buzz Olson—along with well-meaning council, struggling staff, angry residents, and an antagonistic industry representative—hash out what to do with a controversial conditional use permit application for a cell tower. Yup, it may be 16 years old but some things never change! 

With the help of Monday night football-style commentators, viewers get a humorous perspective on a messy local government situation put right by thoughtful leadership and best practices. You can watch the episode in its entirety below. Now, where's the popcorn guy?

Learn more about the fictional city of Mosquito Heights: The Life and Times of Buzz Olson, Fictional Mayor of Mosquito Heights

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The City Spot Café: Tied Elections and Coin Flips

What you need to know right now about tied city elections, served up by the LMC Research and Information Service team.

Definition: When an election results in a tie, state law requires the canvassing board to declare the winner of the tie “by lot.”

Plain-language explanation: “By lot” means determining the winner of a tie by any game of chance in which both candidates have an equal chance of winning—like flipping a coin or drawing straws. Some cities decided the winner on one toss; whereas, some require a showing of best out of five. Sometimes an additional game of chance is used to pick what type of coin to use, with an election official pulling a quarter or a silver dollar out of hat.

Although seemingly one of the weirder traditions of American democracy, deciding “by lot” is a commonly accepted practice across the country. The roots of election by lottery stretch back to ancient Athens and, at very least, present a better choice than having a duel between the candidates.

In the news: The 2016 elections had no shortage of tied elections. By far, the coin toss represented the most popular method of breaking a tie, with heads-or-tails determining elections in a number of communities, including (but likely not limited to) Thief River Falls, Menahga, Breezy Point and Lake Lillian. Beaver Bay took a more unique approach this year and drew cards, with the highest card winning. Some communities get more creative and, in one past election, the winner won a tie election by drawing a designated game piece out of a bag.

Pros: Most cannot dispute that deciding a winner “by lots” gives both sides an equal chance (thus making it fair) and represents an efficient and fast decision-making process. Other alternatives may involve bias (like allowing an election official to make the decision) or cause great expense (like organizing a special election).

Cons: When an outcome of a blind chance game has great import, like an election, some believe that the mere use of randomness is undemocratic, since it means an elected official won for no reason other than mere chance. Many have trouble rationalizing that the months of campaigning could come down to blind chance.

League position: The League recognizes that state law dictates the process for breaking ties “by lot.” Any different approach to breaking ties would need to come from the Legislature.

Resource: Want additional information on elections, election administrations, and breaking ties? The Handbook for Minnesota Cities' chapter on election procedures (chapter 5) has a lot of useful information, as does the city clerk election guide from the Minnesota Secretary of State. For information on special elections, see the League’s Special Election Memo.

This information has been compiled by, Pamela Whitmore, staff attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: Email Pam at or call her at 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 7, 2016

Another Metro Regional Meeting is in the Books!

A huge *thank you* to everyone who attended the 2016 Metro Regional Meeting! City officials from communities across the Twin Cities area gathered in Brooklyn Center on Nov. 30 to connect through conversation.

Our speakers that day presented meaningful and timely municipal topics—from exploring which strategies are most effective for dealing with difficult personalities to learning how to engage residents and create more vibrant cities, to hearing an election-year update from both Secretary of State Steve Simon and MinnPost political journalist Peter Callaghan.

Metro Cities Executive Director Patricia Nauman welcomes city officials to the
Metro Area Management Association (MAMA) luncheon that kicked off the afternoon.

LMC Executive Director David Unmacht says a few words to greet the metro-area municipal officials.

Oak Park Heights Mayor Mary McComber (left) was one of more
than 100 Twin Cities metro-area officials who attended this year's meeting.

Secretary of State Steve Simon discusses the results of the 2016 election.

We're so happy to have spent a rewarding afternoon with you this fall—we hope you got as much out of it as we did. Hope to see you soon at another LMC event!

Photo credit: James Robins of Robins Consulting and the Minnesota Association of Small Cities

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Veterans Day Message From LMC's Executive Director

A Veterans Day message from Executive Director Dave Unmacht:
My father was a staff sergeant in the Korean War.  He was in college for two years, then served two years in the Army before returning to finish his bachelor’s degree.  Like many men of his generation he did not talk much about his time in Korea, even though he was very proud of his service. 
The same is true for many men and women who serve our country and who on this Veterans Day deserve our special thanks and recognition.  Beyond their military service, many of these same men and women have continued to contribute to public service through involvement in city government as elected officials or staff.
All of us at the League are profoundly thankful for the rights and privileges that our veterans fought for and worked to protect.  It is with honor and respect on behalf of the Board of Directors and staff that I want to express our gratitude to all former and current members of our military for your dedication and commitment to this country. I am extraordinarily proud of my dad for his service and of all veterans who deserve special recognition on this day and every day.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Thank You, Local Election Officials

Local election officials and staff: as you work to complete the many administrative tasks required after election day that no one ever sees, we want to extend some words of encouragement to everyone in our member cities who needs an extra cup o' joe today. You rock.

And special thanks go to you for all of your work administering absentee balloting for early-bird voters this year, who participated to the tune of well over 600,000 votes cast in Minnesota prior to election day. Wowza.

You are doing a great job serving the voters of Minnesota. We know it takes a lot of time, energy, and resources; and we here at the League know you deserve a slow clap and a hearty THANK YOU!

P.S. If you thought your colleagues across the state seemed extra busy this year, you'd be right. Take LMC's homepage poll through Nov. 20 to see just how many city seats there were on the ballot this year.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Do Your City’s Codes Need Some TLC?

This old code book lives in the archives of the
League of Minnesota Cities' Research Library.
Chances are, your city’s codes aren’t as dusty and worn as the example pictured here…but maybe it’s still been a while since your ordinances have been given due attention.

From leash laws to zoning, codes really are the backbone of your municipality—forming the structure by which your city and your residents coexist. These ordinances help your citizens and businesses understand which regulations apply to them. In conjunction with state and federal laws, city codes help your community run smoothly.

Whether your local laws need a complete overhaul or just some minor updating, the League of Minnesota Cities has a program dedicated specifically for this purpose.

Our Codification Services will index your city’s codes into a format that is simple to both search and update. We partner with American Legal Publishing (ALP)—one of the nation’s largest producers of municipal codes—to provide this assistance. Attorneys in this program will review your city’s ordinances and make sure they are up to date and in compliance.

No matter how small or large your community, we have options for you:

  • The Livable City Code of Ordinances is best suited for Minnesota cities with populations below 500. The Livable City Code includes only the provisions that every small city needs and is intended to be adopted without change (versus the Minnesota Basic Code—more info below—which can be modified).

  • The Minnesota Basic Code (MBC) is generally designed for cities with populations below 2,000—but it may also may also be appropriate for larger cities that would like to have a comprehensive set of model ordinances. The MBC can be tailored to meet local needs, though extensive revisions are not recommended since much of the language has been tested in courts.

  • Customized codes allow you to create a code specifically for your municipality—or we can simply update your existing codes—whatever your city’s size. Periodic legal and editorial reviews ensure provisions are always current, lawful, and enforceable.

Whichever option your city chooses, the information will be supplied to your city in easy-to-use formats (a printed binder and CD-ROM are free, or you can host it online for an annual fee).

So if you’re ready to polish up your city’s code—or if you’ve just got questions about our Codification Services—please contact LMC Staff Attorney Amber Eisenschenk at (651) 281-1227,
(800) 925-1122, or

You can also find more information on this program at

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Spotted: Local Leaders (Broad)band Together

Need an example of small but mighty? Check out Minnesota Cities magazine to see how 10 small cities and 14 townships in southern Minnesota banded together to establish high-speed, fiber-based internet.

Seen here at the RS Fiber Cooperative office in Gaylord, Mayor Don Boeder of Gaylord, RS Fiber financial advisor Philip Keithahn, Mark Erickson of Winthrop, and Todd Schaefer of Hiawatha Broadband Communications are just a few of the stakeholders who have been a part of the long and sometimes discouraging process.

From figuring out the cooperative's financial structure to scheduling public meetings, committed local leaders and their partners made the difference in manifesting this powerful economic development infrastructure for residents and businesses.

Photo credit goes to Michael Braun

Friday, October 28, 2016

It's a Wrap! 2016 Greater Minnesota Regional Meetings

Thank you to everyone who attended the Regional Meetings we held across Minnesota this October! We wrapped up our annual gatherings this week with great conversations in Slayton, North Mankato, and Chatfield. Here are some scenes from these final locations:

The day in Slayton kicked off with a communications workshop
presented by LMC Assistant Communications Director Don Reeder.

League of Minnesota Cities President and Northfield
City Councilmember Rhonda Pownell addresses
city officials at the meeting in Slayton.

Attendees toured the new Taylor Corporation technology center and innovation lab to begin the day in North Mankato.

City officials at the North Mankato meeting held small-group discussions on
the most effective ways to handle challenging situations and difficult people.

Our final Greater Minnesota meeting was held at the beautiful Chatfield Center for the Arts.

Lake City Councilmember Andru Peters - pictured here at the Chatfield location - was
one of hundreds of city officials who participated in the 2016 Regional Meetings.

We're so pleased to have spent productive time with you all this fall! Metro city officials: you're up next. We'll see you in Brooklyn Center on Nov. 30:

Photo credit: LMC staff

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Spotted: Kicking Off the 2016 Regional Meetings!

A beautiful day welcomed the Hibbing Regional Meeting
attendees during their morning tour of the Hull Rust Mine.

City officials also toured the Range Regional Airport
to see the renovations that were recently completed there.

En route to the meeting, LMC Intergovernmental Relations (IGR) Representative
Ann Lindstrom found the street named for Minnesota's own Bob Dylan.

Officials got practical tips and connected through conversation in Hibbing today.
Pictured above are city officials from Minnesota's newest city, Rice Lake, as well
as a councilmember from Ely and LMC second vice president Heidi Omerza.

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon discussed election trends
and issues with city officials this afternoon.

Thank you to all the city officials who attended our first meeting in Hibbing! This is just the beginning...LMC staff will be on the road for six more meetings this October in Greater Minnesota and at a Metro Meeting in November.
 Photo credit: LMC staff

Friday, September 30, 2016

Spotted: 'New Kids’ on the Board

New members of the League of Minnesota Cities Board of Directors for 2016-2017, from left to right: Mayor Gary Willhite, Crookston; City Manager Mark Casey, St. Anthony Village; Councilmember Anne Mavity, St. Louis Park; Councilmember Kevin Staunton, Edina; Mayor Robert Broeder, Le Sueur; Clerk-Treasurer Tina Rennemo, Baudette; City Administrator Brent Mareck, Carver; Mayor Dave Smiglewski, Granite Falls.

Eight new faces on LMC’s Board of Directors hit the ground running recently in Red Wing, where they joined returning board members for an annual retreat.

A big thanks to these newbies (with more than 125 years of experience in local government among them!) and the entire board for taking time from their packed schedules and hunkering down for a couple of days to focus on the big picture. They brought their passion, smarts, and experience to the table to help shape League priorities that will benefit all members across the state.

Photo credit: LMC Staff

Monday, September 19, 2016

Highlights of the September-October 2016 Issue of Minnesota Cities Magazine—Now Online!

And just like that, Minnesota, it's a new season! How'd we know? The Sept.-Oct. issue of Minnesota Cities magazine is now available, of course. Inside you'll find the 2016 property tax reporta plain-language analysis of what current property tax rates mean for Minnesota cities across the state.

Looking to be inspired after crunching the numbers?

Here's some more highlights:

See how the 2016 C.C. Ludwig and James F. Miller Leadership award winners—Oak Park Heights Mayor Mary McComber and Shoreview City Manager Terry Schwerm, respectively—started their careers (surprise: one of them was a reluctant joiner of the local gov world) and built legacies that will last in  "League Celebrates Oustanding City Leaders."

At a recent Mosquito Heights City Council meeting, councilmember Elvira Gulch carefully presented all her facts and arguments explaining her position on a city issuebut barely got a mention in a reporter's recap of the discussion. What gives? In the new Message Matters column, you will find tools and ideas to help craft memorable messages and connect with your audience about city issues. Check out "Message MattersYou Hold the Keys to Memorable Messaging."

Are you facing down a transportation mega-project of unfundable, unmangeable size? See how the city of Anoka got to the heart of the biggest transportation problem in their city and found right-sized solutions that can deliver for half the pricetag in "Right-Sizing Transportation Projects for Success."

We're not done yet! Hear what executive director Dave Unmacht has to say on achieving racial equity in his latest St. Paul to City Hall dispatch; catch up on the latest court decisions that could affect your city's operations in From the Bench; and check in with two city staffers on the topic of juggling vacation time in a small city in Two-Way Street.