As COVID-19 and its implications continue to spread, a few key issues have come into play for cities across Greater Minnesota. Thankfully, there are some answers and resources available. Below is a brief summary of the issues and steps cities can take during this time.
Many cities with council meetings this week have decided to adopt resolutions declaring a local emergency within their city. Making an emergency declaration can signal to the city’s residents and businesses that:
- The situation is serious and the city is on the case and doing its part to respond responsibly; and
- The council supports any decisions made by staff in response to the crisis, like temporarily closing facilities or changing personnel policies.
The statutory requirements for declaring a local emergency are found here: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/cite/12.29
Telephonic or electronic council meetings
Many cities have also decided to conduct their meetings under the procedures of Minn. Stat. § 13D.021, which allows meetings to be conducted electronically or by telephone during a health pandemic. This procedure is available to cities whether they declare a local emergency or not. In order to take advantage of this procedure, first, the mayor, city administrator and/or city attorney must formally determine that in-person meetings of the city council are not practical or prudent due to the health pandemic, and second, the city must post notice that the meeting will be conducted pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 13D.021. (The city would also be wise to notify any press that normally covers the meeting.)
The statutory requirements for a meeting conducted under § 13D.021 are found here: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/cite/13D.021
Communication and dealings with contractors
The Minnesota Department of Labor & Industry (DOLI) has reported receiving a number of phone calls from contractors who have been unable to contact cities regarding permitting and inspection issues. Cities should plan ways to ensure communication and regular business matters continue to occur in compliance with state law and city ordinances. Cities are required to contact DOLI if they have, or are considering, reducing building inspections. DOLI has specifically indicated that it is impermissible for cities to stop all inspection services. The Governor has, however, exempted cities from providing inspections services themselves.
Further, the Minnesota Department of Revenue has indicated that there has been no change to Local Board of Appeal and Equalization meeting or notice deadlines during the current crisis. Such meetings must continue to be held in compliance with Minnesota’s open meeting law, granted they may occur electronically under Minn. Stat. § 13D.021.
See this supplement from Minnesota Management and Budget as an example plan to maintain continuity of government operations: https://www.lmc.org/wp-content/uploads/documents/Template-for-infectious-disease-COOP-supplement.pdf
CGMC, in conjunction with other city organizations, will continue to monitor the issues faced by cities during this time and will send out updates as needed.