Minnesota Cities Magazine
More from Sep-Oct 2016 issue

Ask LMC: New Guidance for Use of Housing Applicants’ Criminal Records

Housing Background Checks
Q: Can a city providing public housing conduct criminal background checks of potential residents?
LMC: Yes, but housing providers should review and update their policies and practices in light of a recent letter from the fingerprintU.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The letter indicates that blanket policies barring anyone with a criminal record from housing may be unlawful under the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin.

HUD notes that African Americans and Hispanics are arrested, convicted, and incarcerated at rates disproportionate to their share of the general population. A facially neutral policy or practice that has a disparate impact on individuals of a particular race, national origin, or other protected class may be unlawful discrimination.

Rather than a blanket policy, providers should consider the nature, severity, and recency of criminal conduct, and perform individualized assessments of relevant mitigating information beyond that contained in criminal records. Housing providers should work with their attorneys to ensure their policies and practices comply with this new federal guidance. Download the HUD guidance letter at http://bit.ly/1T81FSu.

Depositing City Funds
Q: Can our city use a credit union instead of a bank?
LMC: Yes. Cities have the authority to deposit funds into a variety of financial institutions. Cities also have the authority to make investments with city funds. A depository is the place (or places) in which a city keeps its money. The council of every city must, by resolution, designate at least one depository for city funds. The city may designate as a depository any financial institution, defined as a savings association, commercial bank, trust company, credit union, or industrial loan and thrift company. The city may designate more than one institution. There is no limit on the amount a city may deposit into one institution, although the council may limit these amounts by resolution. Accounts that exceed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation guaranteed amount must be protected with additional collateral. For more information, read the LMC information memo at www.lmc.org/deposits.

Absentee Voting
Q: I know the Legislature made some changes this year to make absentee voting more efficient to administer. Can you explain the changes?
LMC: the Legislature changed the law a few years ago to allow for no-excuse absentee voting, cities and counties are feeling overwhelmed with the volume of residents voting early. A 2016 law change will ease the process by allowing early voters to place their ballots into a ballot counter before the election. Then, voters will be told by the counter if they have made a mistake on the ballot, and election administrators will not have to open a series of envelopes to get the ballot into the counter. This change will save time and resources for our cities and counties administering absentee voting (see Minnesota Statutes, section 203B.081).

Here is some of the fine print in the new law:

  • Counties may make ballot counters available to cities administering absentee voting, but they are not required to.
  • Ballot counters may be used for absentee voting for the seven days prior to the election.
  • Absentee voters have the choice to place their ballot into the counter or into the normal series of envelopes.
  • No results from the ballot counters can be given until they are combined with Election Day results.

Labor Relations
Q: The city administrator’s assistant has access to all labor negotiation computer files. Can we have him removed from the union as a “confidential employee”?
LMC: Maybe. A “confidential employee” is an employee who, as part of his or her job duties, is required to do one or both of the following:

  • Access and use labor relations information.
  • Actively participate in the meeting and negotiating on behalf of the public employer. “Labor relations information” means management positions on economic and noneconomic items that have not been presented during the collective bargaining process or interest arbitration, including information specifically collected or created to prepare the management position (see Minnesota Statutes, section 13.37, subdivision 1©). For more information, see Chapter 6 of the HR Reference Manual at www.lmc.org/labor.

Read the Sept.-Oct issue of Minnesota Cities magazine

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