Back to the Jan-Feb 2022 issue

Bits & Briefs

A starry night sky
Dark Sky Preservation and Policy

A citizen-led team in Marine on St. Croix is dedicated to restoring and preserving the benefits of a starry night sky for all. While that might sound like an easy sell, the team is also committed to conversations about pollution, including unnecessary, unshielded, poorly directed, and too bright exterior lighting in the community. This excess and wayward artificial light can negatively impact animals, insects, plants, and even humans. The dark sky work is a part of the city’s efforts as a participant in the Minnesota GreenStep Cities program.

“Marine residents are surrounded by landscape that is still relatively free of light pollution, and they appreciate that,” says volunteer Nancy Cosgriff. “Having the dark sky visible to stargaze is part of that beauty.” To get started, the team used an app to determine the degree of dark sky that the community had already lost. The team then reviewed the city’s lighting ordinance, compared it to other similarly sized cities, and made recommendations to the city’s Planning Commission. As a fun finale to that policy project, they threw a public stargazing event on the fall equinox that drew over 125 people — even the weather cooperated.

The committee also provides community education through columns in the weekly newspaper and city newsletter, events like walking tours, and a web page with information, tips, and resources. Learn more at https://bit.ly/marine-darksky.


Sign that reads "help support advice guidanceNeed Charter Assistance?

If you need to talk through your charter city questions with an impartial (but friendly) expert, it’s time to connect with the League of Minnesota Cities Charter Assistance Program. Is your city considering adopting the home rule form of government or amending an existing home rule charter? The League’s charter pros can help with that, too. Remember: Samples and models, explainers, and in-person or remote presentations are all free to members. And if you need to get specific about your particular documents, fee-based services are also available. For more information, visit www.lmc.org/charter.


NLC’s Congressional City Conference Returns to D.C.Minnesota State Capitol bathed in a warm sunset glow

The National League of Cities (NLC) Congressional City Conference is set for March 14-16, 2022, and will be returning to its non-virtual setting of Washington, D.C. City officials can participate to connect with the Minnesota congressional delegation, build knowledge of new federal programs, meet other city officials from across the country, and polish those advocacy skills. If spring arrives early, you might even see a cherry blossom or two. Learn more at https://ccc.nlc.org.


tall red water towerWater Towers All Year Long

The creators of the Tank of the Year contest are offering a monthly calendar featuring the best of the best water tank and tower designs from around the country, and Minnesota cities are well-represented. Tnemec Company named Moorhead as 2021 Tank of the Year winner, Lino Lakes as a finalist, and Rochester as People’s Choice winner. And while our Minnesota pride is strong, the contest also give us a chance to appreciate the work of city colleagues in other areas of the country. You can request a calendar and enjoy some quality water tower content (including a great video) at www.tnemec.com/about/tankoftheyear.


Become an ‘Employer of Choice’ With LMC’s New City Career Advantage Project

Just about every business article echoes that the U.S. job market is extremely tight right now because of the dual challenges of the “Great Resignation” and a labor shortage. Employers in all sectors are hyper focused on retaining employees as they realize competing with other employers to fill vacancies is a tall task in such a tight labor market. Minnesota cities are not immune from this pressure either — Minnesota Public Radio recently reported the worker shortage has some local governments scrambling.four career professionals

Now, as a city leader, you have a new source of ideas to help you compete for talent when it’s time to hire, and to keep the great employees you have on staff for years to come. Check out the new City Career Advantage project on the League’s website to see case studies from your brilliant city peers, recruitment resources, and even content that can support your youth outreach when inspiring the next generation of public-sector leaders.

What can help make your city an “employer of choice” for today’s employees? Case studies include policies that help small cities offer vacation time, events that build a positive organizational culture, and creative ways to get your jobs in front of the candidates you need. Visit the City Career Advantage project at www.lmc.org/CareerAdvantage and check back to see new case studies added throughout the year. If your city has a great practice for recruiting or retaining employees, please let the League know by sending an email to HRBenefits@lmc.org.


Step Into Caledonia’s Pocket Park

Caledonia Mayor DeWayne “Tank” Schroeder and the city’s Streetscapes Committee cut the ribbon on a downtown pocket park last fall where once an empty lot had been. The project, which City Administrator Adam Swann describes as a communitywide effort, has exceeded expectations and even won over a few skeptics. “We’ve received a lot of really good feedback from downtown business owners, residents, and visitors,” says Swann.

This mural is the centerpiece of the park. (Photo courtesy City of Caledonia)

The park features an immersive trompe l’oeil (fool the eye) mural, an ADA-accessible picnic bench, landscaping, and solar-powered lighting elements. The committee worked with artist Sarah Pederson of Lucid Painting to incorporate a veritable “I spy” of flora and fauna in the mural’s nature scene. To help keep costs low (about $4,000 in city funds, $17,000 total), the committee and city staff designed the park themselves and sought out grant support from foundations and the state. The city’s Public Works team built the sturdy mural structure, planted trees, and installed the benches and lighting. Community groups provided donations and additional labor.

Swann has two points of advice for other cities considering a pocket park: 1. Don’t be afraid to take a risk and dream big — you’ll find people in your community to partner with that will also be excited about it. 2. You can make a big impact relatively inexpensively. “The ability to turn an eyesore into something that’s visually appealing is going to attract people and keep them in the city to explore,” Swann says.