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October 19, 2020

1/15/2020 3:32:00 PM
Why city governments need representation in St. Paul

It's been well over 200 years since Thomas Jefferson noted, "The government closest to the people serves the people best."
Though admittedly Jefferson has a few years on me, I confess that I have worked long enough in city and county government - and as a local government consultant in the private sector - to credibly endorse his observation.
And, his words are particularly true of city governments. City officials live and work, and spend most of their time, in the communities and neighborhoods they serve.
In Cottonwood County cities, as in others, mayors, councilmembers and city staff charged with the duties of managing and providing city services are accessible, responsible and directly accountable to residents.
Local cities are members
To advocate for city-friendly policies at the state level, cities in Cottonwood County have joined the ranks of 830-plus others as members of the League of Minnesota Cities. The League believes in the principle that elected and appointed city officials - those closest to the people - are best qualified to make decisions that meet the unique needs of their own communities.
That is what we call the principle of local control - city government having authority and flexibility to meet the challenges of governing and providing citizens with core services like public safety, public works, parks and recreation, and others.
Because state-level decision-makers in Minnesota develop laws and policies that profoundly affect city government, the League, with offices adjacent to the Capitol in St. Paul, serves as the primary voice of cities when advocating for the principle of local control and other city-related policies. The League accomplishes this through providing a large menu of member services that includes lobbying and advocacy.
No matter your size or distance from St. Paul, all League member cities and their residents can have confidence that their voices are well-represented.
As the beginning of the 2020 State Legislative Session nears, the League is poised to, once again, step up to the plate. The foundation for advocacy efforts lies in a 150-page document of city policies developed by committees of city mayors, council members, administrators, clerks and department heads representing all corners of the state.
Windom president
In 2019 Windom administrator and former League president Steve Nasby served as a policy committee member, for example. Not coincidentally, the document's policy No. 1 addresses the principle of local control.
Legislative advocacy is one of the countless benefits of League membership and is particularly important for smaller cities that don't have resources to send their own lobbyists to St. Paul.
The League's dedicated staff leads advocacy efforts every year, with participation from countless city officials who take time to meet with their district's legislators and provide legislative testimony when called upon.
In recent years, our Minnesota cities have seen state legislative proposals that would limit city abilities to create their own employment policies, restrict cities exploring innovative ways to gain revenue, and limit city authority to provide publicly-owned broadband services, among others.
More than two dozen bills to restrict local decision-making were introduced in the 2017-2018 biennium alone, and - in addition to lobbying legislator - the League made available a model resolution for cities to adopt stating opposition to those proposed restrictions.
That is but one example of how our organization supports the advocacy efforts of member cities.
Because of the dedicated work of generations of local public servants, Jefferson's words are as relevant today as they were more than 200 years ago. The League of Minnesota Cities is proud of our association's role in helping cities be the best they can be through supporting local control and promoting outstanding service delivery.
David Unmacht is the Executive Director of the League of Minnesota Cities.

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