Back to the Jan-Feb 2020 issue

Bits & Briefs

2019 Local Government Innovation Award Winners

A fine-free library initiative by the City of St. Paul was the winning city project of the 2019 Local Government Innovation Awards. The elimination of late fines and unblocking of more than 42,000 library cards — disproportionately belonging to residents living in areas of concentrated poverty — was designed to increase library use and remove a barrier for people who would benefit most from the library’s resources.

Additional city award winners:

  • The cities of Burnsville, Apple Valley, Farmington, Northfield, and Shakopee were recognized for a collaborative effort to automate the election judge hiring and training process. (Read more about this in Strategies for Recruiting Election Judges.)
  • The City of Grand Rapids, the nonprofit Mobility Mania — Accessibility for All, and the Grand Rapids Rotary Club were recognized for installation of a wheelchair-accessible swing in Crystal Lake Park.
  • The City of Shakopee and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community were recognized for establishment of the Shakopee Cultural Corridor.

The awards program is organized by the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs in partnership with the Bush Foundation. It is co-sponsored by the League of Minnesota Cities and other local government organizations. Entries are accepted in the local government categories of cities, counties, schools, townships, and native nations. Several cities were honored for collaborations that were recognized in other categories. To see all categories and winners, visit


A Crystal Gaga Ball

The City of Crystal’s Public Works and Recreation departments constructed four gaga ball pits to place in city parks last fall. “Kids really like it,” says Crystal Recreation Director John Elholm. “It’s just a fun activity and gets them outside being active, which is our goal.” Think of gaga ball as an international variant of dodgeball, but there’s no throwing or contact above the waist, i.e., no road rash to the face after recess. Players instead thwap the ball with their hand to strike an opponent on the legs, and like any good playground game, the last player standing wins. It’s played inside an octagonal ring of boards called a pit, which can be placed on pretty much any hard surface. For now, Crystal’s pits are in temporary positions, and the city will establish permanent surfaces for them in the spring.

Elholm pointed out that the pits don’t take up much space and are relatively inexpensive to build. Once you have the right brackets, the rest of the pit can be built from regular lumber. See the pits in action on Crystal’s local TV station, CCX News, at


Web-Based Safety Training for LMCIT Members

Flexible and budget-friendly safety training options for your city employees just got even better. The League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT) offers members web-based training provided by FirstNet Learning, and the lineup of topics was recently expanded to now include more than 60 interactive courses. Your employees will be able to complete these courses anytime, anywhere using a tablet, laptop, or desktop computer. Training topics include safe driving, emergency preparedness, team building, and more. Explore all the courses at


A Class for Real Estate Agents

The City of Big Lake recently hosted a class for real estate agents to better acquaint these de facto ambassadors with the demographics, services, and amenities of the community.

“Realtors are the gatekeepers of information for prospective new residents,” says Hanna Klimmek, community development director and executive director of the Big Lake Economic Development Authority. “We want them to be able to say to a client, ‘Here are all the reasons you want to go to Big Lake.’”

To provide agents with the information they need to help homebuyers make an informed decision, presenters shared information on demographic trends, economic development work, school district happenings, recreation opportunities, and public safety. Mayor Mike Wallen, who happens to be a real estate agent, was able to deliver a warm welcome to his colleagues. The city partnered with the St. Paul Area Association of Realtors to be able to provide two continuing education credits for agents who attended.


Reintroducing Rethos

The organization formerly known as the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota recently underwent a bold transformation. Ready for a reintroduction? Meet “Rethos.” A new name and a new look now better reflect the organization’s mission, centered around community-driven decision-making and people power here in Minnesota and beyond. “Rethos” is a combination of several concepts (including repurpose, reimagine, reuse) and the Greek word “ethos,” meaning a fundamental characteristic or guiding principle.

“We believe communities flourish when we reuse old buildings, celebrate our cultures and histories, and support small businesses,” says Executive Director Doug Gasek. “Rethos captures and affirms this idea.” Perhaps best known to cities for its Main Street Minnesota program, Rethos also offers financing, education, policy, and rural programming. Check out the new attitude at


Your Guide to Green Teams

Whether it’s a commission, a staff group, a committee, or a secret superhero club (OK, maybe not) a city “green team” can provide valuable support for your sustainability successes. Now there’s a guide to developing and maintaining an effective green team, culling best practices from the cities that have used them to provide continuity, expertise, capacity, and community involvement. The 2020 Green Team Work Plan document, available from Minnesota GreenStep Cities, offers up ideas and suggestions for organization and operation, as well as insight into two common green team deep dives — benchmarking and comprehensive planning. Get going with the 2020 Green Team Work Plan at