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