Back to the Sep-Oct 2020 issue

Bits & Briefs

Virtual Social for Safety Conference

Computer monitor with a video conferenceThe intersection of good communication and public safety has never been so important. If your city staff want to advance their social media skills as part of their work with or on behalf of a police department, ambulance service, fire department, or any other public safety role, the second annual Social for Safety Conference is happening Sept. 22–23 on a screen near you. Conference planners from the sponsoring organization, Government Social Media, are offering a variety of formats to keep keynote and breakout sessions engaging and interactive. On-demand viewing access will also be available for registrants. Learn more and register for the conference at

Just Deeds in Golden Valley

The Golden Valley Human Rights Commission launched the Just Deeds Project this summer to help homeowners discover and renounce restrictive covenants on their property titles. Now they are opening the program to other cities and welcoming partners Home iconfrom across the state. A restrictive covenant is language used to prohibit the purchase, lease, or occupation of a home by a particular group of people. They were predominantly used to exclude Black, Indigenous, and other households of color from owning property during the early hours to mid-1900s.

The covenants are no longer enforceable, but communities can better understand and address racial disparities still present today by taking a good look at how these practices of segregation influenced housing, investment, and access to education and services. No one has done a systematic search for covenants outside of the Mapping Prejudice project in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, but there are confirmations of restrictive covenants all over the state, says Golden Valley City Attorney Maria Cisneros.

Burnsville Offers Credit for ‘Smart’ Irrigation

Irrigating with wifi.Property owners in the City of Burnsville are showering praise on a city program that offers a water bill credit for installing a smart irrigation controller on their lawn irrigation systems. The credit covers the cost of the irrigation controller up to $200. What is a smart irrigation controller? It’s a device that uses a Wi-Fi connection and local weather reports to inform when to water and when to wait — allowing everyone to avoid that awkward moment when the sprinkler is on right before a rainstorm. This was the second year of the program and, according to Utilities Superintendent Linda Mullen, residents are seeing green. “I am saving $10 or more a month on my water bill,” said one program survey respondent. “My lawn was as green as a golf course.”

A Sweet Roadside Attraction in Halstad

A giant sugar beet.The latest Minnesota roadside attraction “cropped up” this year in the City of Halstad, a town of 581 in the northwestern part of the state. A giant 21-foot-tall sugar beet statue, the idea of a local family, was commissioned by the city to recognize the importance of the sugar beet industry, the publication Ag Week reported. The Red River Valley region is the largest sugar beet-growing region in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Halstad Business League led a fundraising effort for the statue, as well as the creation of what is to become the surrounding “Sugar Beet Park” — complete with sugar cube-shaped interpretive displays. The root vegetable now takes its rightful place among a string of community attractions along the “Historic King of Trails,” a route along U.S. Highway 75, stretching from Luverne to Hallock. Read more about the “World’s Largest Sugar Beet” at

Gardening Helps Grow City Livability

A young girl planting in the gardenResearch from the University of Minnesota released this year confirms what many a garden hobbyist can tell you: Time spent in a home garden just makes you feel better. The study found that gardening, and specifically vegetable gardening at home in an urban setting, is associated with higher emotional well-being, particularly among women and low-income residents. The researchers suggest that resident access to home gardens could be considered a factor in a city’s livability, based on the data, as well as in addressing food insecurity. Next up, researchers intend to compare home gardening to community garden settings. Learn more about the study at

NLC News: Fiscal Conditions Report Released; City Summit Goes Virtual

cover of the Fiscal Conditions report

The 35th annual City Fiscal Conditions report by the National League of Cities (NLC), released in August, was dominated by the impact that COVID-19 is having on local economies. The report reveals that America’s cities are experiencing the fiscal consequences of this pandemic downturn at an unprecedented speed, and it will take years for municipal budgets to recover. Access the report at city-fiscal-conditions-2020.

And, speaking of COVID-19, NLC’s 2020 City Summit is also being affected by the pandemic. The annual conference, originally planned to take place in Tampa, will now be a virtual event. From Nov. 18 to 21, city officials from across the country will plug in to best practices, new resources, and fresh faces — all from the comfort of their own hometowns. Still dreaming of Tampa? The event will return to this year’s original seaside locale in 2024. Learn more and register for the City Summit at

Paint the Town!
Winnebago Plans Mural to Revive Downtown

A purple paint bucket

The City of Winnebago was one of eight recipients of Paint the Town Grants awarded by the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) this summer. This program is a partnership between SMIF and 12 local Ace Hardware stores.

A total of 260 gallons of paint was purchased through the program to be used on projects that incorporate volunteerism for the public good like community murals, welcome signs, or historic structures.

Winnebago is putting its 11 cans of paint to good use on a mural downtown as part of the Winnebago Economic Development Authority’s Bring Back Downtown Winnebago program. Volunteers will assist Blue Earth-based artist Naseem Shahrivar in bringing her vision to life. Other recipients of the grants included local historical societies, community clubs, a county fair, and a school district.