Minnesota Cities Magazine

Ask LMC: Can the City Run Criminal Checks Without an Ordinance?

Background checks
Q: Does the city need an ordinance to legally use the background check image police department to run criminal history checks on job candidates and license applicants?

LMC: No. In the 2013 legislative session, the law was changed so that cities no longer need to pass an ordinance to run criminal history background checks on applicants for city employment or for certain license applicants. The law does not require the city to adopt a written policy on this issue either. However, the League recommends that some type of written document be developed to guide the city and ensure the checks are being run in a consistent manner. For more information and a model policy, see the LMC information memo at www.lmc.org/backgroundchecks.

Q: A local nonprofit has asked us for a 3.2 beer license. Should we require the organization to have insurance?

LMC: Yes. State law exempts 3.2 percent malt liquor licensees with sales of less than $25,000 in the preceding year from the law’s general dram shop insurance requirements. This exclusion tends to benefit local charities and nonprofit groups. However, for risk management purposes, cities should consider requiring proof of insurance from all liquor licensees regardless of whether it is required by state law. Insurance requirements for liquor licensees serve two important functions: (1) they help to protect the public in that any damages or injuries that occur will be covered by insurance; (2) they help to protect the licensee from the cost of defending a lawsuit or paying a valid claim for injuries or damages. Insurance requirements should be addressed in the city’s liquor ordinance. For more on this topic, read the LMC information memo at www.lmc.org/liquor.

Property taxes
Q: How can I help residents better understand the property tax system, especially in regards to their tax bills?

LMC: The League offers several resources on in its website that can help explain Minnesota’s rather complicated property tax system to residents. Property Tax Statement 101 explains property tax basics while walking through each section of the tax statement that property owners receive. The document provides details about how tax values are determined, and gives basic information on how taxes owed are calculated. Property Taxation 101 offers a more in-depth explanation about the mechanics of the property tax system. State Homeowner Property Tax Relief Programs 101 provides a summary of state-paid refund programs available to homeowners. These resources, which are updated as needed to reflect legislative changes, are available at www.lmc.org/property-tax.

Council Meetings
Q: When does the city council need to have a quorum, and how many councilmembers are needed to establish a quorum?

LMC: In most cities, a quorum is a majority of all the voting members of council. For example, if your city has four councilmembers and a mayor, three of these people make up a quorum. If your city is a charter city, the charter may designate how many members of the council constitutes a quorum. Before a city council can meet or transact business, a quorum of councilmembers must be present—in person or virtually. (Last year, a state agency opined that a councilmember participating in a meeting via Skype counts for purposes of establishing a quorum.) So if flu season hits your city, and only the mayor and one councilmember show up, they cannot hold a meeting. When it comes to voting, establishing a quorum is a first step and mostly a separate issue. As long as enough elected members show up at the scheduled meeting time and place, quorum requirements are met and the meeting may proceed. The number of votes needed for a particular action is based on specific statutory or city law and is often different than the number needed to establish a quorum. For more information, see Chapter 7 of the LMC Handbook for Minnesota Cities at www.lmc.org/handbook.

Got questions for LMC? Send your questions to choffacker@lmc.org.

Read the March-April 2014 issue of Minnesota Cities magazine

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