Back to the Nov-Dec 2019 issue

Bits & Briefs

Try ‘Chat Benches’ to Build Community

Detective Sgt. Ashley Jones of the Avon and Somerset Police Department in England is credited with designating the first “chat bench” in a local park last summer to remove a barrier between two strangers who might enjoy some conversation. Jones got the idea after talking with a lonely senior who had fallen victim to a scammer, according to news reports. Now the cheap and easy concept is catching on as a way to build community and combat chronic loneliness that can lead to victimization. How it works: find a bench in a popular public place. Put up a simple sign with a note that the bench is open to anyone willing to chat. Let your bench visitors take it from there to create moments of face-to-face connection that can brighten someone’s day. Read more about this in a Washington Post story at

Minnesota Lawyer Honors LMC Attorney Irene Kao

Irene Kao, League of Minnesota Cities’ intergovernmental relations counsel, has been selected as one of Minnesota Lawyer’s Diversity and Inclusion honorees for 2019. Minnesota Lawyer worked with members of the Minnesota State Bar Association’s affinity groups to develop the criteria for individuals and organizations with a consistent track record in D&I advocacy and action. Among her qualifications, Kao is a leader and co-facilitator on the League’s race equity team and a past president of the Minnesota Asian Pacific American Bar Association. Kao in particular caught the judge’s eyes with her recent work developing a series of “judicial boot camps” to encourage more Asian Pacific Americans, especially women, to be judges.

Snow Pusher, Mood Lifter

Kids in Rosemount got to put their own artistic touch on a city service last fall when the Rosemount Youth Com-mission organized a “paint a plow” activity. The project occurred in September at one of the Rosemount City Council’s monthly Council in the Park events.

Young artists who stopped by were able to see a plow up close and personal, and put a colorful handprint on the plow blade’s face (hand wipes were provided, too!). Tor Berkeland, the public works staffer who will be driving the colorful plows this winter, was in attendance for the fun.

Hosting the art project was one of the 12-member Youth Commission’s goals for the year, according to City Administrator Logan Martin. Rosemount may be part of a trend — the City of Northfield and even the Minnesota Department of Transportation have recently bucked the plain plow look for a mid-winter mood lifter.

Better by Design

The League’s building at the corner of Rice and University in St. Paul has been a home base for city officials visiting St. Paul since 1996. And since 1996 — when you were more likely to have a Nintendo Game Boy than a cell phone, and Google wasn’t a registered domain yet — a lot of things about how work and gathering spaces function has changed. This winter, the League is kicking off a remodel project that will create new and improved meeting rooms for members, as well as more flexible working space for staff. What can you expect? Easier access, tech-ready rooms, more availability, and safety-centered design, all in the same familiar building. Careful planning by the League’s governing boards means that there won’t be any debt incurred or any effect on member dues. We’ll be posting regular updates in the Cities Bulletin, so stay tuned.

The 2019 Regional Meetings

Minnesota city officials all over the state joined the conversation this fall at the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) 2019 Regional Meetings. As always, these meetings offered city staff and elected officials an opportunity to talk with peers as well as with League staff and Board members. On the agenda, guests from state agencies were on hand to discuss regional economic development issues and opportunities. The meetings also featured panel discussions of how staff and elected officials can support mental health in first responders. Police chiefs from Willmar, Chisholm, Sleepy Eye, East Grand Forks, Waite Park, Austin, Crystal, and Wadena were involved in these panel discussions.