Thursday, November 20, 2014

Research Q of the Week: TNT, Not Quite Dynamite (11/20)

Question: "TNT" a.k.a. Truth in Taxation? What’s up with that?

Answer: It’s a term that no longer shows up in the law, but you may still hear it bandied about.

And no, this is not about an AC/DC song. We're talking about city budgets here.

While “TNT” laws used to require expensive published notices and numerous public meetings, the intent of the law was to allow the public to speak to elected officials about city budgets at a public meeting—before those budgets were adopted. It only applied to larger cities, and a similar requirement still exists in current law. But the term “truth-in-taxation” used to refer to the multiple hearings was taken out of the law in 2009.

Let’s call these "public participation meetings" instead. Now, in cities with more than 500 residents, the public must be given a chance to speak to the council about city budgets at a public meeting, held at or after 6 p.m., when the city budget and levy is being discussed.  Also according to this law, this public participation meeting must occur sometime from Nov. 25 to Dec. 29 of 2014. And, it must take place before the budget and final tax levy is adopted. So as you plan your budget and levy discussions in the coming months, include a time for the public to speak, too.

For more information on these public participation meetings—oddly, I admit—still referred to as Truth in Taxation, see page 7 of the 2014 Budget Guide for Cities and instructions from the Dept. of Revenue.

I can’t resist reminding you of one more drop-dead date: all cities and special taxing districts must certify the final property tax levy to the county auditor by Dec. 29, 2014. If this deadline is missed, the final levy for 2014 will stay the same as it was in 2013. For more on that, see Chapter 22 of the Handbook for Minnesota Cities and the same Dept. of Revenue instructions, linked above.

Written by Jeanette Behr, research manager with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: jbehr@lmc.org or (651) 281-1228.

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Spotted: Keeping it 'Fresh and Local' at the 2014 Metro Regional Meeting

City staff, elected officials, and business partners came to the table in Minneapolis last week for the fresh and local Metro Regional Meeting in Minneapolis. In addition to presentations and discussion of computer & network security and civility, state demographer Susan Brower shared a few trends and opportunities on the horizon related to aging and diversity. Metro Cities also held their annal policy approval meeting.

To wrap up the evening, members of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (having an event in the same place!) joined attendees for a reception and meeting of the minds inclusive of all corners of the state.

Andy Berg (Abdo, Eick & Meyers), Silv Carlson (Woodland),
and Scott Zerby (Shorewood)

George Tourville (Inver Grove Heights)

Heidi Omerza (Ely)

John Young Jr. (Hawley) and Ron Johnson (Bemidji)

Mark Sather and Jo Emerson (White Bear Lake)


Photo credit goes to LMC staffers Danielle Cabot and Jenna Kramer

Friday, November 14, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Triggering a City Election Recount (11/14)

Question: So, what triggers a recount in a city election? Is it automatic if the numbers are close?

Answer: Got a close call? After election results are finalized, some cities will be asked to have a recount on close races. Recounts may be requested by a candidate or from a court order—but there are no automatic recounts for city offices in Minnesota.

A losing candidate for a city office may request a recount, at the expense of the city, if:
  • The total number of votes is more than 50,000 and the difference between the votes cast for that candidate and for the winning candidate is less than one-quarter of one percent of the total votes counted for that office. 
  • The total number of votes is between 400 and 50,000 and the difference between the votes cast for that candidate and for the winning candidate is less than one-half of one percent of the total votes counted for that office.
  • The total number of votes is less than 400 and the difference between the votes cast for losing candidate and for the winning candidate is less than 10 votes.
In the case where two or more seats are being filled from among all of the candidates for the office, the elected candidate with the fewest votes is the candidate used to determine if the difference between the winning candidate and losing candidate is close enough to have a recount.

If a candidate requests a recount but is not within the margins mentioned above, the recount would be at that candidate’s expense unless the final result is changed more than the margin of error for the vote counting machine or the requesting candidate is declared the winner.

More information on this process is available here: Secretary of State’s 2014 Recount Guide 
And because you may need a few, here you go: a selection of rubber finger tips

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.  

Friday, November 7, 2014

Gathering at the Community Table: A Round-Up of the 2014 Regional Meetings

Lakeville City Clerk Kelly Rasche
was at the table this year!
Coffee and conversation are Minnesota traditions—and city officials in our state are just like the rest of us…happy to indulge in both whenever (and wherever) possible!

Municipal leaders had the chance to do just that when the League of Minnesota Cities staff held a series of statewide Regional Meetings this October. Held every fall in different Greater Minnesota Cities (east, west, north, and south), this year we had a chance to visit with more than 300 city officials in eight locations.

The agenda was heavy on two-way dialogue, as well as the usual options for cream, sugar, or artificial sweetener, of course! Along with mayors, councilmembers and city staff gathered around tables to ponder two timely topics: effective strategies for authentic citizen engagement (or, simply put, how to get residents involved in city government), and maintaining work-life balance.

Discussion highlights included tips on getting citizens to attend city meetings, effective sharing of information, taking the city's message to residents at other community group meetings, and managing mobile phones, among others.

The issue of civility was also addressed—in cinematic fashion, no less. Attendees were treated to a newly-produced LMC video that featured the mayor, council, and staff of the fictional city "Mosquito Heights."
Meeting attendees prepare to watch the
latest Mosquito Heights production.

The latest Heightian adventure showed our characters struggling through the issue of building a new public safety center in a hostile environment marked by personality conflicts, role confusion, and angry citizens. Following the video, meeting attendees convened into roundtable groups to reflect on the potential causes and costs of incivility in their own communities, along with possible remedies.

Each gathering also featured a learning session on technology and data security, along with an update on League legislative activities. And at the conclusion of the meetings in each location, city officials had an opportunity to meet and greet local candidates for the state legislature.

On the whole, not bad for a day's work—all in the name of tradition!

P.S. - There is still one meeting left for this year. The Metro Regional Meeting will take place on Thursday, Nov. 12 in Minneapolis...get details and see the agenda online!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Research Q of the Week: The Stars and Stripes on Veterans Day (11/6)

Question: Should my city fly the U.S. flag at half-staff on Veterans Day?

Answer: The U.S. flag is one of our country’s oldest symbols and represents the principles of justice, liberty, and democracy. It is displayed at half-staff as a symbol of respect. (The term “half-staff” means the position of the flag when it is one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the staff.)

The U.S. flag should be displayed daily on or near the main administrative building of every public institution. But, cities should not fly the U.S. flag at half-staff on Veterans Day. Who says? The U.S. Flag Code (4 U.S.C. §§ 5-10) provides voluntary guidelines for the proper handling and displaying of the U.S. flag, as well as information on when the flag should be at half-staff.

Read on for some city-specific tips for flying the U.S. flag.

When should the flag be at half-staff?
  • On Memorial Day, the U.S. flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon and then raised to the top of the staff.
  • The U.S. flag should be displayed at half-staff by the U.S. president’s order, upon the death of principle figures of federal government or the death of the governor of a state.
  • The U.S. flag should be displayed at half-staff by the governor’s order, upon the death of a present or former state official or the death of a member of the Armed Forces who dies while serving on active duty.
How long?
The length of time the U.S. flag should be displayed at half-staff varies from 30 days for the death of a U.S. president, to the day of the death and the following day for a member of Congress. When flown at half-staff, the U.S. flag should first be raised to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff position and should be raised again to the peak before it’s lowered for the day.

So this Veterans Day, keep the stars and stripes flying high, and take a moment to review the U.S. Flag Code.  

Written by Susan Naughton, research attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: snaughto@lmc.org or (651) 281-1232.

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

Monday, November 3, 2014

Spotted: LMC Ambassadors Visit Waite Park Regional Meeting


LMC ambassadors (l-r) Bill Craig, Sev Blenkush, and H. Dan Ness were spotted at the Waite Park Regional Meeting last week. Great photo, guys!

Through the Ambassadors Program, retired city officials and staff (a.k.a. the folks that have seen it all) work to connect you and your city with the right LMC services and make sure your city's needs are being addressed. Want to get in touch with an LMC ambassador? Learn more about the LMC Ambassador Program here.

Photo credit goes to LMC staffer Heather Corcoran

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Behind the Not-So-Scary Scenes of Election Day (11/30)

Question: Oh my gosh, it’s almost time for perhaps one of the spookiest days of the year for city staff. ELECTION DAY! It’s so terrifying, I’ve blocked it out. What is it that happens on that day again?

Answer: Don't be afraid! City staff plan year-round to take the "eeee!" out of elections. What are city staffs doing behind the scenes to avoid a fright? Here are some of the more important things that must be done by city staff on and around Election Day:
  • Election judges get election materials, including precinct voter rosters and absentee ballot applications, from the clerk before 9 p.m. the night before (Nov. 3) or the clerk can arrange to have them delivered to the polling places before voting begins.
  • Before voting begins on Election Day, election judges prepare the polling place with a variety of duties required by law, such as posting the Voters’ Bill of Rights.
  • The city clerk must post a sample municipal ballot at each polling place.
  • Polls must be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Where the city administers absentee ballots, individuals returning absentee ballots on behalf of another voter must deliver these ballots by 3 p.m.
  • After polls close, two members of the ballot board must count the ballots, “tabulating the vote in a manner that indicates each vote of the voter and the total votes cast for each candidate or question.” The results must indicate the total votes cast for each candidate or question in each precinct and report the vote totals tabulated for each precinct. The count must be recorded on a summary statement.
  • Within 24 hours after the polls close, election judges must deliver the summary statements, ballots and other materials to the county auditor or clerk. Also within 24 hours of the polls closing, the absentee ballot board must accept or reject absentee ballots that arrived after rosters/supplemental reports were generated.
  • Within 48 hours after the polls closing, the clerk must return polling place rosters and completed voter registration cards to county auditors.
  • Nov. 7 is the first day the city council can meet as canvassing board for the municipal election this year. A canvassing board reviews the results of an election and either certifies vote totals as official, or orders and administers a recount if necessary.
The Secretary of State’s election division is always the best one-stop shop to help plan your not-so-scary Election Day: 2014 City Clerk Election Guide

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.