General Operational Issues During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Published: March 21, 2020

(Updated June 3, 2020)

Get answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding general council and city operational issues:

Meetings & council business

Declaring an emergency

Managing normal city business

Meetings & council business

Q1. If it is determined that it is not advisable to gather for a city council meeting, is there any way to allow for a quorum to conduct at least basic business via a conference call and stay within the Open Meeting Law?

A1. Even in times of emergency, the Open Meeting Law will still apply to any meeting with a quorum. However, councils may hold meetings over the telephone (or by other electronic means) so long as the presiding officer, chief legal counsel, or chief administrative officer determines that it is not practical or prudent to hold the meeting in person because of a health pandemic, or when the mayor or governor has declared an emergency.

This meeting will still need to be open and accessible. Both the council members and the public must be able to hear any discussion, testimony, or votes. Voting must be done by roll call so that all votes can be identified and recorded.

Notice must still be provided, and additionally, the council must also give notice that 1) some members may participate by telephone, and 2) that the public may monitor the meeting by telephone.

Traditionally, meeting via telephone would still require a member of the council, the chief legal counsel, or the chief administrative officer to be present at the regular meeting location. However, if the mayor or governor has declared an emergency, or if it is not feasible to be physically present due to a health pandemic, the entire meeting can be held via telephone or other electronic means.

City councils may also hold meetings via interactive TV (including web-based technology like Skype), though this has more restrictions, such as one member of council needing to be present, limited uses per councilmember, and so on.

Information about council meetings by telephone under emergency circumstances is found in Minnesota Statutes 13D.021. Details about notice requirements are found in Minnesota Statutes 13D.04. Also, there is a League information memo about open meeting laws (with more details about holding meetings via interactive TV) that may be useful.

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Q2. Can the council delegate the authority to staff to pay bills and invoices before being approved?

A2. There is authority for the council to delegate the paying of bills without prior council approval by a designated person. Typically, this is the clerk or treasurer. In order to do this, the council has to pass a resolution, establish internal control procedures, and prepare audited financial statements. A list of expenditures must still be presented to the council at the next council meeting for informational purposes. The requirements to do this are discussed on pages 6-7 of the LMC information memo, Procedures for Paying City Claims.

—View the information memo: Procedures for Paying City Claims

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Q3. Can the city reduce the number of public meetings it holds each month to one?

A3. State law does not govern the time, place, or frequency of council meetings. Regular meetings of the council, however, must be held at times and places established by council rules. Councils typically meet once or twice a month in the city hall or at another public place in the city.

The council must keep a schedule of its regular meetings on file at its primary office. The council should also set an alternate meeting day for any regular meeting days that fall on a legal holiday. If the council decides to hold a meeting at a different time or place from that stated in its schedule of regular meetings, it generally must give the notice required for a special meeting.

Since the city will be reducing the number of meetings as opposed to adding more, a resolution that amends the existing council rule, which states there are two meetings a month, should suffice. The resolution should also change the meeting schedule that is on file at city hall. General public relations like advertising the meeting change is recommended so that residents are not confused about the change.
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Q4. Do we know how long community gathering cancellations and remote options should be implemented?

A4. Gov. Tim Walz declared a peacetime emergency in Executive Order 20-01 on March 13, 2020, implementing community-level strategies to slow the COVID-19 spread in Minnesota. On May 13, 2020, Gov. Walz rescinded the stay-at-home order and implemented Executive Order 20-56, Safely Reopening Minnesota’s Economy and Ensuring Safe Non-Work Activities during the COVID-19 Peacetime Emergency. Per this order and guidance from health officials, the governor is prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people and advising individuals to ensure space for social distancing at small events (6 feet). Continue checking both the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) websites for updated information.

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Q5. Should we consider closing our community spaces to public use to mitigate community spread?

A5. The MDH recommends postponing 1) events where 50 people or more would gather, 2) smaller events held in crowded venues that do not allow social distancing of six feet, and 3) events with more than 10 people where the participants are at high risk for severe illness. However, organizers may need to take unique risks into consideration. Gov. Walz has declared a peacetime emergency and implemented community-level strategies to slow the COVID-19 spread in Minnesota.

—Get updates and learn more about how to slow the spread of COVID-19 from the MDH website

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Q6. Is the governor canceling any public events?

A6. As mentioned above, Gov. Walz declared a peacetime emergency on March 13, 2020, implementing community-level strategies to slow the COVID-19 spread in Minnesota. He also signed several executive orders to further strengthen Minnesota’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Executive Order 20-04, the governor ordered the temporary closure of Minnesota restaurants and bars for dining in (take-out is still allowed), as well as other places of public accommodation and amusement, including theaters, museums, fitness centers, community clubs, salons, barber shops, and other similar establishments.
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Declaring an emergency

Q7. Can the mayor declare a public health emergency? Or does that have to come from the governor or public health director?

A7. Yes. The mayor is responsible for declaring a local emergency. This declaration allows the city to use the parts of its disaster plan that are appropriate to the situation. The declaration may also authorize aid and assistance under those plans. If the mayor does declare a local emergency, it must be publicized and published. A local emergency lasting longer than three days requires the consent of the council. Because the emergency declaration is local, the emergency management functions are limited to the territorial boundaries of your city, unless other law becomes applicable. Examples of other laws include existing mutual aid agreements or cooperation required if the governor were to declare a state of emergency. Minnesota Statutes 12.29 and 12.25 address local emergencies.

Learn more about declaring a local emergency and holding telephone or electronic meetings

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Q8. What procedures are available to delegate authority to staff during an emergency?

A8. Every city or county will be different. Please look to your emergency plan, continuity of operations plan, or pandemic plan. If you do not have a plan in place, a resolution declaring a local emergency would be a place you could include this information. To request samples, please contact the League’s Research & Information Service Department at research@lmc.org.
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Q9. Does the declaration of emergency by the state mean that sick leave or quarantine will be reimbursable from emergency funds?

A9. It does not. Stay tuned for potential state and federal legislation on this topic. It would be a good idea for cities to document their costs during this response. There may be reimbursements offered later and would be good data to have in planning for future emergencies.
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Managing normal city business

Q10. Do you have any guidance about granting peddlers licenses with the COVID-19 situation?

Q10. If the city is operating normally, that function should continue. If the city has declared an emergency, that may be a function you do not consider critical, you can suspend issuance and enforcement actions.
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Q11. Can nursing homes restrict visitors?

A11. Yes. These restrictions have been recommended by the CDC, the American Health Care Association, and the National Center for Assisted Living.

—Learn more about these recommendations for preventing COVID-19 in nursing homes (pdf)

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Q12. Is there any guidance available for first responders, building inspectors, etc. on the use of masks when entering homes or other buildings where folks might be ill?

A12. See guidance for first responders and law enforcement from the CDC

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Q13. Our first responders are almost out of N95 masks. Where can we get more?

A13. The Minnesota Department of Health encourages cities in this circumstance to reach out to your Regional Heath Care Preparedness Coordinator.

—See a list of Regional Health Care Preparedness Coordinators and their contact information

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Q14. Are there issues with indoor or outdoor pools?

A14. The CDC says there is no evidence that COVID-19 can spread to humans through the use of pools and hot tubs that are properly operated. Gov. Walz’s Executive Order 20-63, allowed pools to reopen on June 1 for the sole purpose of youth sports and youth programs per the Youth Sports & Recreation and Swimming Pool & Aquatic Facilities guidance.

—Learn more about COVID-19 and pools from the CDC

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Q15. Can COVID-19 be transmitted via the water supply?

A15. The CDC says that the COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking water. Conventional water treatment methods of filtration and disinfection should remove the virus.
—Learn more about water transmission and COVID-19 from the CDC

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Q16. If residents are out of toilet paper, can tissues or paper towels be flushed?

A16. No. Tissues and paper towels should not be flushed, as it creates problems for pipes, pumps,and septic systems.

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Q17. Are there any COVID-19 materials available in foreign languages?

A17. Yes! The MDH has a variety of COVID-19 informational materials in Spanish, Hmong, Russian, and many other languages.
—Get MDH COVID materials in different languages

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Q18. What is the timeline for mitigation efforts? It seems that most health experts say that we will be dealing with this for three to six months. Is closing our office for two weeks helping, or do we need to plan for a longer-term closure?

A18. Experts say that the virus may peak between June and July, but there is no way to know for sure. Closing the office for a few weeks may help stretch out the numbers of people who become ill and avoid overloading hospitals and clinics. Guidance from the CDC and MDH will help guide the decision whether to keep offices closed, and the League will be monitoring that information daily and providing updates to members.

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Q19. Can the city financially support local businesses that have been forced to close or are struggling due to the COVID-19 outbreak?

A19. There is no authority in state law for a city to financially support businesses. In addition, it is likely that there is no public purpose for such an expenditure. The Office of the State Auditor consistently emphasizes that there must be legal authority and a public purpose for expenditures of public funds. Charter cities should refer to their charter to see if such authority exists. Cities may be able to provide assistance through an economic development authority, but should consult legal counsel for an analysis of potential avenues of assistance.

Financial assistance from the Small Business Administration and Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development may soon be available.

—Learn more about assistance for small businesses from the DEED website

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Q20. Should we close restrooms in our city park?

A20. When public restrooms remain open, they encourage park use. With increased park use, social distancing may be more difficult to achieve. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources COVID-19 response includes public restrooms information.

Cities could consider keeping the restrooms open that have the heaviest traffic. If cities were to keep the restrooms open that do not have as much traffic, vandalism may occur at the restrooms. Another consideration to think about is that any toilet paper, sanitizer, and soap in the restrooms could be stolen because of the shortage. Therefore, limiting the amount of supplies in the restrooms is a good idea. If a city decides to keep public restrooms open, consider posting signs at entrance points to the restrooms on preventive measures.

If bathroom facilities are open, they must be cleaned and disinfected regularly in accordance with the DNR’s Outdoor Recreation Guidelines.

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Q21. Are any required reporting deadlines for cities extended?

A21. In Emergency Executive Order 20-22, Gov. Walz gave the state auditor the discretion to suspend, extend, or otherwise modify any state statutorily imposed deadline or reporting requirement pertaining to reports or other filings to the state auditor by a political subdivision. At this time, the Office of the State Auditor (OSA) is automatically providing cash basis cities and townships with a 45-day reporting extension, from the original March 31, 2020 due date. The 2019 information is now due May 15, 2020. Cities and townships do not need to contact the Government Information Division (GID) to request this extension. If you have other questions regarding reporting, please refer to the frequently asked questions on the OSA website, email GID.OSA@osa.state.mn.us, or call (651) 297-3682. More details about the 45-day reporting extension and other future deadline suspensions or extensions will be posted on the website for the Office of the State Auditor.

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Q22. Can our first responders have information about people in our community who have tested positive for COVID?

A22. Executive Order 20-34 directs the Minnesota Department of Health to share the addresses of COVID-positive patients who are still considered contagious with 911 operators. To the maximum extent possible, 911 dispatchers and first responders will rely upon other sources of information, such as a caller screening protocol, before using the shared data. 911 dispatchers may provide the shared data only to first responders who have an emergent need to know the shared data to aid in their infection control precautions. Please note:

  • Unless no other means of communication is available, the shared data must not be disseminated over any channel of communication that could be actively monitored by the public or uninvolved parties. When using channels of communication that could be actively monitored by the public or uninvolved parties, 911 dispatchers and first responders are encouraged to use coded language or other similar methods that would prevent the public or uninvolved parties from obtaining the shared data.
  • Only the addresses of those people who MDH has determined to be contagious to others will be shared. MDH must promptly notify DPS when an address is no longer associated with a person who is contagious, and DPS must then promptly cause the shared data to be deleted or removed from 911 dispatch systems.
  • Pursuant to the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA), Minnesota Statutes 2019, section 13.03, subdivision 4(c), shared data remains classified as private data on individuals and not public data under Minnesota Statutes 2019, section 13.02, subdivisions 8a and 12, and Minnesota Statutes 2019, section 13.3805, subdivision 1.
  • No recipient of this shared data may use the information as a basis to refuse or delay a call for service or cause others to refuse or delay a call for service.

Read more in the MDH/DPS Protocol Related to Executive Order 20-34 (pdf) and the Training Bulletin for First Responders (pdf). Please note, most cities do not have to take any action. Entities that operate a Public Safety Answering Point will need to sign confidentiality agreements. Cities should review with their first responders the protocols for how they will receive this data and what data to include in written reports.

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Q23. Can the city’s boat launch, park restrooms, and golf course be open for use?

A23. Yes. Executive Order 20-38 allows for individuals to engage in outdoor recreational activities where they will not come into close proximity with others from different households. If these facilities will be open to the public, the city must follow the DNR’s Outdoor Recreation Guidelines.

Outdoor recreational activities allowed by this Executive Order do not include performances, competitions, team events, tournaments, races, rallies, organized sports, spectator events, fairs, or any other events that involve the gathering of individuals in a manner that would preclude social distancing. For example, individuals must not partake, as participants or as spectators, in activities such as marathons, fundraising walks, fishing contests, league sports, and tournaments.

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Q24. Should the city require participants in recreation activities to sign a waiver and release of liability?

A24. The decision to use waivers is a policy question for each city. Some cities may take the approach that if the city’s negligence causes an injury (and the city is not immune from liability), the city should be held responsible. In that case, a waiver would not be appropriate. Other cities may take the position that the city should do everything possible to protect the city from liability, including the use of waivers. LMCIT does not have a formal position to encourage or discourage the use of waivers.

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Q25. Should COVID-19 language be used in waivers?

A25. Most waivers are likely broad enough to protect the city from COVID-19 claims. However, in light of the current coronavirus pandemic, it would be a good idea to include specific COVID-19 language. Such language should include waiving claims related to COVID-19 as well as assuming the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

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Q26. Does the League have a sample waiver with COVID-19 language?

A26. Yes. The League has drafted a sample park and recreation waiver with COVID-19 language. The city should consult with its attorney for guidance related to specific situations.

—Download the LMC model Park and Recreation Waiver with COVID-19 Language (doc)

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—Access more COVID-19 News and Resources