Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Spotted: Let's Get Together at the Metro Meeting in Minneapolis

The 2015 Regional Meetings came to an end last week with the Metro Meeting in Minneapolis. Over 100 city officials got together to discuss hot topics and get updated on key issues impacting cities throughout the state. Big thanks to our co-host-with-the most, Metro Cities, and all the attendees!

See some highlights from the 2015 Metro Meeting below:

Metro city leaders, including Mayor Kathi Hempken of New Hope, were
able to connect about city issues at the Metro Regional Meeting last week.

City Councilmember Bonnie Brever of St. Anthony Village was ready to
learn more about transportation issues facing Minnesota cities.

MnDOT Metro District Program Delivery Director Tom O'Keefe, MnDOT Commissioner Charles Zelle,
and Met Council Chair Adam Duininck hosted a panel on the future of transportation funding
and fielded questions from city officials.

The League's new executive director, Dave Unmacht, attended each of the
Regional Meetings in 2015 to meet members and introduce his vision for LMC.

What were some of your highlights from the 2015 Metro Meeting? Let us know in the comments!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Competitive Bidding Basics (11/19/15)

Question: The competitive bidding law is confusing. When do we need to get bids and when do we don't?

Wouldn't it be great if we could just have speed-talkin' auctioneers handle the details? Perhaps in a bolo tie? No? Well anyway, the key is knowing when competitive bidding is required according to state law and when competitive bidding doesn’t need to be used. Two things trigger competitive bidding:

Type of contract + Estimated price

Type of contract
The competitive bidding law applies only in two situations:
• Contracts for the sale, purchase, or rental of supplies, materials, or equipment or
• Contracts for the construction, alteration, repair, or maintenance of real or personal property
Cities are not required to follow the competitive bidding process when contracting for professional services, such as for engineers, lawyers, architects, and accountants.

Estimated price
The estimated price of the contract also determines if the competitive bidding process is required:
  • Contracts over $100,000: The city must use the competitive bidding process.
  • Contracts between $25,000 and $100,000: Competitive bidding is allowed but not required. The city can either:
    • Use the competitive bidding process or 
    • Contract by direct negotiation (requiring at least two quotes)
  • Contracts $25,000 or less: The city has discretion to:
    • Contract by direct negotiation (requiring at least two quotes) or
    • Buy or sell the item on the “open market” (ex. Ebay)
For example, if the city is building a new fire hall, which would cost more than $100,000, then competitive bidding is required.

If, on the other hand, the city was buying a fire truck that was $50,000, then the city would not have to use the competitive bidding process. But if the city did, then it has to follow the requirements of the competitive bidding process, even though it wasn’t originally required to do so.

Competitive bidding can be complicated, even at regular speed, so check the League’s Competitive Bidding Memo for more information.

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.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Changing Council Pay (11/12/15)

Question: How do we change city council pay? 

Answer: How to change city council pay is a common question we get. State law provides the authority for altering councilmember pay in statutory cities. An attorney general opinion indicates that charter cities may either use the state statute or a charter provision to change councilmember pay.

Increasing pay
A city council may increase the pay to its members by passing an ordinance. However, following the passage and publication of the ordinance, the pay increase does not take effect until after the “next succeeding municipal election.” A council can pass an ordinance raising pay at any time, but councilmembers will not see their pay increased until after the next election has occurred. The ordinance should indicate the date when, after the next election, the increase will take effect.

Lowering pay

If a city council wishes to lower the pay for its members, the council must pass an ordinance to do so. However, unlike a pay increase, a pay decrease can be effective immediately. An ordinance for an immediate reduction in councilmember pay is in effect for twelve months, unless a council specifics otherwise in the ordinance. After twelve months, council pay will revert to the original amount, unless the ordinance specifies something different.

How to pay councilmembers

State law does not indicate how councilmembers get paid or for which services. Some cities pay members for each meeting, other cities pay a set amount annually, and still other cities do something different. While cities have flexibility in determining how to pay councilmembers, how a city pays councilmembers should be explicitly described by the salary ordinance.

Though cities have flexibility in paying councilmembers, cities may not include a provision for vacation or sick leave in their councilmember compensation. At the same time, the statute says the elected official’s salary cannot be diminished due to absence from official duties because of vacation or sickness.

Written by Quinn O’Reilly, staff attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: qoreilly@lmc.org 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.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Read the Nov-Dec 2015 Issue of Minnesota Cities Magazine Online!

The November-December 2015 issue of Minnesota Cities magazine is now available online and will be
arriving in mailboxes this week. Here are a few of the highlights:

Read a cautionary tale on small city financial reporting and take heart in the many resources and advocates available to help. Get to a better bottom line with "Staying on Top of Financial Reporting."

Are you hearing crickets at your regular city council meetings? You're not alone. See how several Minnesota mayors are breaking out of city hall to find out what residents really think in "Mayors Connect with Residents."

By now you've heard that LMC's new executive Director David Unmacht has hit the ground running. Maybe you even met him at one of this fall's Greater Minnesota Regional Meetings! Well it turns out Dave has examined his footwear in preparation for the journey ahead of him. Read Unmacht's new column "St. Paul to City Hall: A New Pair of Shoes" to see just what we mean.

Also not to be missed, check out a plain-language Q&A on the new public pension accounting standards in "Let's Talk: GASB 68 Public Pension Accounting Rules," a peek at how the City of Alexandria executed a daunting street reconstruction project in "Ideas in Action: Alexandria’s Public Involvement Key to Street Project Success," and a look at best practices surrounding residency requirements in "Letter of the Law."

Friday, November 6, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Holiday Decorations in Minnesota Cities (11/6/15)

Question: Can a city spend money on holiday decorations?

Answer: Statutory cities may spend money on decorations, signs, plaques, and attached accessories for public streets, buildings, and parks. Where a city decides to display decorations and how much money is available to use on decorations is a decision for the city council and their designated staff. 

Secular vs. religious meaning
With the store aisles already filled with decorations (love it or hate it), you might also be wondering if there are limits on what a city can display.

Cities should be careful that decorations, such as those for the Christmas holidays, are not primarily religious in nature. A common approach many cities have chosen to take is a more “winter wonderland” theme with snowflakes and white lights versus recognizing any particular religious holiday.

Another easy way to think about it is decorations with a primarily secular meaning (e.g. Christmas trees, Santa Claus decorations, reindeer, wreaths) will generally be found constitutional while those with a primarily religious meaning (e.g. nativity scenes, menorahs, crosses) will have a greater chance of being challenged based on case law and past interpretations of the Establishment Clause.

Cities should also carefully consider the prominence of the locations it selects for decorations as the city should not be contributing to the advancement of religion.

Religious events on public property
Another common concern with holiday decorations is how a city should treat a special holiday event in a city park by a religious institution. When a religious organization requests to host a  special event like a live nativity, the city should consider the request under the same standards it would for a request of the same nature coming from a non-religious organization.

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. 

Spotted: Let's Get Together in Montevideo, Springfield, and Austin

The 2015 Greater Minnesota Regional Meetings wrapped up last week with visits to Montevideo, Springfield, and Austin. Thanks to all the attendees and to the seven host cities in Greater Minnesota!

The agenda at each meeting focused on providing city officials with a diverse range of information that they could use to improve their communitiesfrom effective communication to tips on keeping city hall safe, and more. 

What were some of your highlights from the Regional Meeting agenda? Let us know in the comments!

City officials got together to break bread, share ideas, and gain tools at this year's
Regional Meetings, annual gatherings that travel throughout the state each fall.

LMC intergovernmental relations staff (IGR Assistant Director Anne Finn is
shown here in Montevideo) gave the annual legislative update.

MnDOT representatives gave city officials an update on the current state of transportation funding.
Officials explained the gridlock that halted funding during the 2015 session, and took questions
and recommendations from the audience on the topic of future transportation funding

Let's get prepared! This year's Regional Meeting agenda includes a review of city hall safety tips.

Didn't make it to a Regional Meeting this year? There's still time to register for the 2015 Metro Meeting in Minneapolis!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Holiday Liquor Sales (10/29/15)

Question: What are the holidays when liquor off-sale isn't allowed in MN? I can never remember.

Answer: Holiday season is a brewin' and so is common confusion about when liquor stores are closed or not closed based on state law.

There are actually only a couple cases when liquor cannot be sold off-sale on a holiday. So if grandma's fruitcake is missing it's secret ingredient, remember these two simple "closed for business" rules before making a liquor run:
  • A liquor licensee may not sell off-sale on Thanksgiving Day.
  • A liquor licensee may not sell off-sale from 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve, through Christmas Day. 
That's it. Simple to remember!

Apart from these holidays, no off-sale licensee may sell liquor on Sunday of course, whether it’s a holiday or not. (There are some exceptions to the general Sunday off-sale ban such as brewpub sales of growlers and farm winery sales.)

Also, cities can be more restrictive on hours of off-sale than state law, but in any case no off-sale liquor may be sold before 8 a.m. or after 10 p.m. on days other than Sunday.

If you have other questions related to liquor licenses, the League memo Liquor Licensing and Regulation is a great place to start.

Written by Edward Cadman, special counsel with the League of Minnesota Cities. 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.