Back to the Jul-Aug 2019 issue

Bits & Briefs

Motivate Residents With a ‘Yard Flip’ Contest

Best yard contests are a popular way to recognize property owners that invest in the aesthetics of their lot. But if you’ve found that the competition only motivates the green thumbs who already have prize-worthy flowerbeds, maybe it’s time to make like your favorite reality show and host a “Biggest Yard Flip Contest.” That’s what the City of Clinton did last year. Along with community sponsors and a local greenhouse, the city—located in western Minnesota in Big Stone County— encouraged the weedy, the overgrown, and the bland to kick it up a notch for a chance to win “Clinton bucks,” which can be redeemed at area businesses. City Clerk Karianna Wiegman said the contest was a fun motivator and reminded residents that a little sprucing up can make a big difference.

50+ Voters and Local Government

The 2019 AARP 50+ Voter Local Issues Survey reveals several interesting tidbits about what these residents really think about local government and civic engagement. The national survey asks questions related to news consumption, views on government, voting, and what qualities respondents most want to see in elected officials. Here are a few highlights from the report:

  • 65% had a favorable view of local government, which ranked higher than state and federal government.
  • 73% said it’s extremely important for a mayor to care about the needs of everyone, no matter their age, race, or income.
  • 71% said they’d think more favorably of a mayor whose top priority was supporting local businesses and helping create jobs.

You can see more results from the survey at

Smart Salting

Salting away the miseries of winter comes with a price—the impact that sand, chlorides, and other chemicals have on water quality. An advisory committee in Edina tackled this particular slippery slope and developed a model contract for snow and ice management. The contract embraces best practices to minimize environmental impacts while also maintaining safety and addressing liability. The advisory committee included service providers and property managers, i.e., the folks tasked with keeping our parking lots, entries, and walkways navigable year-round. The model is available for anyone to review when contracting for ice and snow management services. Find the model contract, cover letter, and explanatory memo online at Pollution-Prevention. And view Edina’s Salt Use Public Service Announcement, “More Isn’t Always Better,” at

Fun Fundraiser: Donated Art at Garage Sale Prices

Looking for a creative community event or fundraiser idea? The Friends of the Hopkins Center for the Arts (HCA) hosts an “Art From the Attic” event to raise money, draw traffic to the center’s exhibits, and give visitors a unique shopping experience. The popular event, now in its fifth year, also makes buying art less intimidating. “You don’t have to be an art collector, you don’t have to be wealthy, and you don’t have to know anything about art to find something you like,” says Aaron Wulff, director of development at HCA. “It’s a perfect fit for our mission.” Here’s how it works: Businesses and residents can donate their underappreciated or unneeded art for the sale. The donated pieces are marked at garage sale prices and sold at the event. Proceeds go to the center. Tips for success? Wulff says have a clear plan about what you’ll accept for the sale, consult with a pro for pricing, and know what you’re going to do with items that don’t sell. Learn more at Art-From-the-Attic.

Celebrate Women’s Suffrage Centennial

Sept. 8, 1919: That’s the day Minnesota ratified the 19th Amendment to give women the right to vote. The threshold of 36 states needed to make it official was met in August of the following year, and the official declaration of ratification to the U.S. Constitution happened on Aug. 26, 1920. Feel like celebrating? Look for centennial celebrations in communities across the country in the coming year. One place to find recognition ideas for your own community is the website of the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission, created by Congress. Check out the commission’s toolkits at Looking to go deeper? Consider how more than 40 years later the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibited barriers like tests and poll taxes so that black voters—men and women—could reliably exercise their voting rights. Learn more from a Washington Post editorial at

Catering Policy Serves Up More Memorable Events

The City of Brooklyn Park adopted an “open catering model” last spring to allow for residents renting their Community Activity Center to contract with any licensed caterer for their event. Previously, residents using the popular destination for events like weddings, family reunions, and graduations could choose from four exclusive caterers. And a batch of your Nana’s famous recipe? That was a no. But now the policy allows certain private events to bring in non-commercially prepared foods potluck-style. The effort was led by Councilmember Susan Pha, who organized a group of community members representing different cultures to help shape a new policy. By allowing a broader spectrum of food choices and price points, the new policy creates more opportunities for local caterers to secure business, and more ways that city facilities can serve up memorable events regardless of a resident’s preferred cuisine or dietary needs. View the policy at

Have You Heard the League’s New Podcast?

The League of Minnesota Cities’ new podcast, The City Speak, has surpassed 1,000 total downloads for its first 10 episodes! Not a listener yet? Hit play on an episode for short takes on city issues, featuring city officials from across the state. The podcast has covered a variety of topics, including city finance, council collaboration, and inspiring the next generation of city leaders. To learn more and listen to episodes, visit