Thursday, October 23, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Bicyclists on Motorways (10/23)

Question: A bicycle pulled up behind my car yesterday and it got me wondering—what are the rules for bicycles on roads?

Answer: We have had such a beautiful fall season that there have been many people on bicycles enjoying the crisp, fall air. While a bicycle in traffic probably isn’t there solely to soak in the sights, it also isn’t there to get in the way of cars either. Let's go through some basics of bikes on roadways that just might surprise you: 

Bicyclists on the Roadway
Bicycles are allowed to operate on roadways right alongside other vehicles. They are regulated by Minnesota Statutes 169.222, which grants them all the rights and duties applicable to automobile drivers. This means yielding to pedestrians, obeying traffic signals, and moving in the same direction as traffic.

Additionally, bicyclists have a right to use the full traffic lane—yes, really. Cars cannot pass a bicycle unless there is at least a three-foot buffer between the car and the bike, which is more than an arm’s length for most people. Not enough room? Then a driver may not pass.

Bicyclists on Sidewalks
It is sometimes suggested that bikes should be on the sidewalks; however, this is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, state law prohibits the use of bicycles on sidewalks within business districts. That law does grant cities the power to pass a local ordinance to allow bikes on sidewalks, but cities cannot prohibit bicycles from city streets, regardless of the district. Second, it can actually be more dangerous to ride on sidewalks because cars often fail to look for fast-moving cyclists when approaching intersections and using driveways.

Visibility and Signals
In terms of visibility, bicycles are required to have a front light and rear deflector when operating at night. I was surprised to learn that a tail light is actually not required. It is also interesting to know that bicyclists need to use hand signals to indicate their turns, however, if both hands are required to maintain control of the bike then hand signals are not necessary.

Because our roads are shared spaces it is important to understand how to travel in harmony. I know that I learned some things while researching the question, so if you ride a bicycle, know someone that does, or drive in an area that has a lot of bicycle traffic, please share this information and someone else can learn from it too!
  
Written by Jake Saufley, law clerk with the League of Minnesota Cities (and an avid cyclist). Contact: jsaufley@lmc.org or (651) 281-1226. 

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Building Inspection Law Shows LMC Policy Process in Action

The League’s policy committee process can take challenges facing cities and create policy solutions to tackle them—but it doesn’t work without you. The 2015 Draft City Policies are now available for review and comment by all Minnesota city officials through Oct. 24. Not sure how the policy committee process can make an impact on your city? Read on for just one example of the policy process in action:

Building inspectors sidelined
Many Minnesota cities need to have a licensed building inspector to enforce state building code—ideally this is a position paid for by fees resulting from their work. But in recent years these cities have found that when a state project such as a school is being built, that their city inspectors have been rejected in favor of Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) inspectors, who then earn the fees from these local and regional projects.

When city officials began inquiring about what qualifications their inspectors would need to complete these larger inspection jobs, they found little in the way of consistent standards or a process for obtaining what is called a “delegation agreement” with the state to allow local inspectors to inspect state projects.

Seasoned city building inspectors were particularly miffed at missing out on projects that were being built just a few blocks away from their City Hall. 

Rob Wolfington has been the city manager in Benson for 19 years. Benson’s building inspector, Mike Jacobson, splits his time between the cities of Benson, Pennock, and Grove City. Without a delegation agreement, Jacobson was passed over for several major local projects in recent years.

“Out here in western Minnesota the only real building that’s been going on in the past three years have been schools and hospitals. And the state was taking all the permit fees and then doing the inspections,” said Jacobson.

Giving cities a voice
Wolfington, who served on the Improving Service Delivery Policy Committee in 2013, brought the problem to the attention of LMC lobbyist Patrick Hynes.

Over the following weeks, other city officials were encouraged to share their experiences with the building inspection process for state facilities. It turns out the city of Benson was not alone, and a position on the issue was added to the 2014 City Policies.

Hynes was able to work with the Association of Minnesota Building Officials, state officials, local inspectors, and legislators to get everyone on the same page, and to begin work on legislation that would start to address the discrepancy.

“Patrick—frankly he’s the one that gets the credit,” said Wofington. “He grabbed onto it like a bulldog and shook it.”

The law passed in the 2013-2014 legislative session as a result of this process allows for three types of delegation authority, and clearly spells out what qualifications are needed for these projects. It’s a step in the right direction, say city officials, and couldn’t have happened if any city were to go it alone.

“The policy committee process gives you voice,” said Wolfington. “It’s a measurable goal if it makes it into the League’s policy book.”

See what policies are being proposed for the future of Minnesota cities at www.lmc.org/draftpolicies. Submit your comments on the 2015 Draft City Policies to policycomments@lmc.org,

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Spotted: Fulda City Staff 'At the Table' in Granite Falls


Clerk-treasurer Julie Burchill and deputy clerk Vicki Deuschle of Fulda attended Monday's Regional Meeting in Granite Falls to learn about data security, legislative issues, civility, and more. Thanks for joining us and other city officials at the table, ladies.

If you're attending one of our "fresh and local" Regional Meetings, be sure to get a photo with one of our prop signs and show that you're at the table, too!

Photo credit goes to LMC staffer Lena Gould

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Standing Ovation—LMC Election Champion Earns NASS Medallion Award

(L-R) Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, retired LMC lobbyist
Ann Higgins, and Deputy Secretary of State Beth Fraser
photo: Jeff Korte
Even in retirement, former League of Minnesota Cities employee Ann Higgins continues to draw applause for her years of service as a government relations professional.

Higgins, who worked at the League for 32 years first as a staff associate and then as a lobbyist, most recently chalked up receipt of a Medallion Award from the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) for her work as a strong advocate for city election officials.

The Medallion Award is presented by secretaries of state to recognize outstanding service in the areas of elections, civic education, service to state government, or philanthropy within the states. It was given to Higgins by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and Deputy Secretary of State Beth Fraser at the Oct. 16 League meeting of the board of directors.

Ritchie credited Ann for being a driving force behind election issues that are integral to democracy and a point of pride for Minnesotans.

“Ann was there to provide the heat and the clarity to those issues,” he said.

Ritchie said Ann always wanted to bring different interests to the table to create policy solutions together, even when strong differences of opinion existed.

“Ann Higgins put a lot of thought into how to make sure we didn’t make it townships vs. counties, cities vs. the Secretary of State’s office, this party or that,” said Richie. “[She] said that the only way we’re going to be leaders and do the things we need to do is by doing it together.”

Before her retirement from the League in 2013, Higgins also received recognition for outstanding achievement by Minnesota Women in City Government, and by the Minnesota Association of Community Telecommunications Administrators for her work on telecommunications and cable issues.

Congratulations to Ann from all of her friends and former colleagues at the League, and from all of the city officials she successfully represented at the State Capitol for more than three decades.

Research Q of the Week: City & Union Relations (10/16)

Question: Where can I go to get information about actual collective bargaining agreements and union grievances that other cities have dealt with?

Answer: The League has a great resource for you when these labor disputes arise. Since December 2012, the League has provided an “Arbitration Award Summaries” database.  Currently, there are over 150 arbitration decisions in this database.

For those of you who are new to the labor relations world, there are two types of arbitrations: interest arbitrations and grievance arbitrations. Interest arbitrations are used when the city and union are unable to agree on all the terms of a collective bargaining agreement (also called a labor contract). Grievance arbitrations are used when the union alleges violations of a collective bargaining agreement. In both situations, arbitrators act as judges and decide the outcome.

League staff summarize these arbitration decisions and enter the summaries into a searchable database, which can be found here: http://www.lmc.org/arbitration.

How can you use the League’s database? Your city might want to know what the trends are in general wage increases or benefits when bargaining over a new collective bargaining agreement. Go to the database and search by arbitration decision type to only show the interest arbitration decisions.

Or let’s say that the city is about to go to arbitration and has received an arbitrator list. You can search by individual arbitrators to see recent arbitration decisions made by that person. Adding another wrinkle, let’s say that this is an interest arbitration (where there are still terms of the collective bargaining agreement that need to be ironed out)—you can limit your search in the League’s database to interest arbitration decisions by individual arbitrators.  Pretty cool, right?

The League also provides monthly updates on arbitration decisions on three different member forums, including the League’s HR/Personnel member forum. 

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. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

One Piece at a Time: Bite-Sized Federal Health Care Reform Webcasts Now Available

Let’s face it: federal health care reform is pretty complex. We know it’s tempting to avoid the topic altogether and just keep your fingers crossed, but now we’ve got an easier way to understand this complicated topic.

As the League’s Human Resources Director Laura Kushner puts it: “The Affordable Care Act (ACA) in its entirety is a lot to absorb—but if you take it one piece at a time, it’s easier to understand and is less overwhelming.”

So what if you could just sit down with the experts and have them explain exactly what the implications are for Minnesota cities—and what you need to be doing right now?
With that goal in mind, the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) recently rolled out a new tool to help cities navigate this legislation. Partnering with Gallagher Benefit Services and Madden Galanter Hansen, LLP, LMC created a series of videos and podcasts—referred to as webcasts—on important topics cities need to understand about the Affordable Care Act.

There are currently a half-dozen webcasts posted on our website that range from ten minutes to 24 minutes. “We wanted to provide relatively small and easy-to-absorb ‘chunks’ of information about health care reform,” says Laura.

Each of these webcasts takes a close look into a different topic, including information on employer shared responsibility, measurement and stability periods, stand-alone HRAs and stipend agreements, and smaller employer requirements.

Not sure where to start? Laura suggests cities start with the episode about the Cadillac plans tax and the one on labor negotiations issues.

Even though it is not applicable until 2018, the Cadillac tax may impact more cities than one might think—which means you should start planning ahead.

The Cadillac plan  is determined based on the cost of the health insurance coverage provided to your city’s employees. The tax comes in when this coverage costs more than the specific amounts set forth in the ACA (single coverage exceeding $10,200 annually, or family coverage exceeding $27,500 annually).

And it is a hefty tax—40 percent on the value of coverage that exceeds those Cadillac plan thresholds. So this is where the labor negotiations webcast ties in. Cities that might be subject to this tax should start negotiating with unions now in order to avoid said tax. Why?

“Many labor contracts in Minnesota are ‘locked into’ providing a certain level of benefits to employees at a certain level of cost to the city,” explains Laura. “That can be nice for everyone because it provides stability for both the city and the employees. However, the problem is that there may not be any ‘wiggle room’ for the city as health care reform requirements begin to kick in.”

In other words, the city may be forced to continue to provide a level of benefits that results in the 40 percent Cadillac tax and have few options to negotiate this situation with the union.

Keep in mind that as health care reform is being implemented, new regulations are coming out continuously. “Cities that do not pay attention to these regulations may face stiff penalties or extra taxes that could substantially impact both current and future city budgets,” says Laura.

So Minnesota cities, please: pay attention now so you don’t pay the price later! We at the League are here to help.

Should you have questions about federal health care reform, feel free to contact LMC’s human resources and benefits department at (800) 925-1122.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Spotted: 2014 Police Loss Control Workshops

LMC's fall police workshops are in full swing! Over the past two weeks, LMC's Public Safety Project Coordinator Rob Boe spotted Randy Means and Jason Hiveley in their workshops.

 Randy Means presents Police Leadership in the New Normal—Part II in Fergus Falls.


 Jason Hiveley presents Why Police Reports are a Big Deal in Lakeville.
 

Fall Safety and Loss Control Workshops wrap-up Oct. 13 with Jason Hiveley presenting in Olivia.


Photos taken by Rob Boe.