Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Lakeland Mental Health Center Celebrating 60 Years of Service

The Fergus Falls based organization provides outpatient mental health services for six counties in west central Minnesota. Serving over 6,000 people, Lakeland Mental Health Center has proven to be a valuable asset to this region.

Established in 1949, LMHC was one of the state's first rural mental health care providers. With emphasis on outpatient services beginning in the 1960s, moving away from impatient facilities such as state hospitals was a turning point for specialized individual care.

In January 2010, Lakeland Mental Health Center will relocate into a new facility off County Highway 1. LMHC's current facility has been purchased by Lake Region Healthcare Corporation.

Lakes Country Service Cooperative is pleased to have Lakeland Mental Health Center as one of our valued members.

Congratulations on 60 years of excellent patient care!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

New ethics resources available from the League

Recognizing that public officials often face ethical dilemmas, the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) Ethics Advisory Panel developed two documents for city officials and staff to consider.

The Model Statement of Values is an aspirational document intended to provide a framework of ethical decision-making. It promotes nine ideals, each supported with several examples about what behavior associated with that value might look like.

The Template Code of Conduct is a law-based document, incorporating very specific standards of behavior already written into state statute.

These resources are now available on the League website, along with background information and a brief discussion of issues cities should consider prior to using either document. The LMC Board encourages cities to make their own decisions as to the best way to use these documents. To access the documents visit the League website.

For more information, contact Lena Gould, LMC, at lgould@lmc.org or (651) 281-1245.

FTC delays Red Flags Rule enforcement until June 1

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has once again delayed enforcement of the new Red Flags Rule. The rule requires creditors and financial institutions to develop and implement written identity theft prevention programs. Organizations now have until June 1 to be in compliance.

The federal Red Flags Rule applies to entities that qualify as “creditors” or maintain “covered accounts.” Your city is subject to the rule as a “creditor” if residents use city-provided water, electricity, gas, or steam and pay for it later. Similarly, your city utility has “covered accounts” under the rule if your city defers payment for utility services. Other city activities (for example, classes at the community center) may also come under the purview of the rule if your city defers payments and those accounts involve multiple payments or transactions—or if there is a foreseeable risk of identity theft related to particular accounts.

Two ARMER grants available for local governments

As part of the state budget for fiscal year 2009, funds were allocated to the Department of Public Safety’s Division of Emergency Communication Networks (DECN) to support local planning and integration with the Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response (ARMER) public safety communication system. This allocation was made in anticipation of the completion of the assessments of existing local communication infrastructure and local alternatives throughout the state.

These funds are being made available to local units of government through two grants. DECN will begin taking applications for these grants on Jan. 15 and will continue to accept applications until the allocated grant funds are fully encumbered. All grant applications received prior to Jan. 15 will be deemed received on Jan. 15.

FY2009 State Homeland Security Program.
A total of $2.6 million was allocated to the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for the following purposes: (1) participation planning funds; (2) infrastructure funds for local implementations; and (3) subscriber radios for local users.

FY2010/2011 State Infrastructure Grant Funds.
A total of $5 million was allocated by the Legislature for up to 50 percent of the cost of local infrastructure for local governments transitioning to the ARMER system. Details of the amount of funding to an individual county or agency are contained in the Notice of Grant Opportunity.

For more information about the grant process, including the Statewide Radio Board (SRB) Standard 6.5.0, which outlines the SRB process for evaluating grants, visit the League of Minnesota Cities website:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

10 Ways Facebook Pages Can Help Local Governments Better Serve Their Constituents

By Eric Eldon
A Facebook page can help a local government build a stronger social connection to the citizens it represents. Sure, local governments in democratic countries are already social, as they do things like offer public hearings around controversial issues, or mail out surveys to residents. But how many people come to hearings, or bother to fill out these surveys — especially students and working-age adults who have many other responsibilities? For any local government leader looking to truly understand the needs of the people they were elected or hired to serve, the answer is never enough.

Facebook offers a number of unique advantages in helping local governments do a better job of listening to their bosses, from features like status updates, to the wall, to applications for polling, longer discussions, videos and photos, and much else. And it’s the most popular social network in the US and scores of other countries around the world; people tend to provide their real names and locations. These factors make it especially useful for local leaders who are trying to figure out who their citizens really are.

General Tips:
Facebook pages can be used in all sorts of ways — it really depends on what the local government’s overall goals are. The first 6 tips deal with more general issues, the second section of 4 tips provides more details on what sort of information to share on your page.

1. Find real constituents:
While anyone can join any Facebook page, the fact that people live their real lives and list their locations on Facebook means that you can easily see if someone commenting on a page is actually a constituent versus, say, a digital out-of-towner looking to cause trouble. Should a government page owner make sure to respond to these people, too, for example? San Francisco, California’s page has a whopping 263,000 fans (around a third of its total population) but a large portion of those fans don’t actually live in San Francisco.

2. Decide who is in control:
Who has the responsibility for managing the page? The city council? The county? The mayor’s office? A paid employee of one of these offices? An independent member of the government? Many local governments are still figuring out how to handle online political campaign disclosures in general; we don’t recommend putting campaign material on a city page, for example. But how restrictive are you going to be about social media in general? Earlier this year, Bozeman, Montana, sparked controversy when it went as far as to ask for employee’s user names and passwords to Facebook and other sites — its goal was to make sure employees didn’t misrepresent the city on those sites, apparently. Also, some issues — like state legislation affecting towns across the state and legal issues may be left for another page. Note that Facebook does allow you to send geo-targeted “updates” to fans in certain geographic areas that appear in a secondary tab in the Facebook message inbox.

3. Make clear administration policies:
Does the government have the budget and the focus to pay someone to post regularly? Ventura, California has a general “civic engagement manager” position, for example, who is charged in part with social media, but the city also pushes its other employees to use social media. Is the page an appropriate forum to discuss issues with citizens — should sensitive issues be reserved for town halls or other in-person forums? If the government has a junior employee reading and responding to comments, it needs clear rules about what sort of comments they can respond to, and what comments should be sent up the hierarchy for response. Many companies use enterprise software services for pages, like Context Optional or Buddy Media, to manage this process. Page owners can also choose to either restrict users from leaving their own status updates, or you can let them post away. We suggest you moderate for hate speech and other inappropriate content, if you choose the latter. Also, watch out for employees who spend too much time using Facebook, especially for non-work related things like social games.

4. Provide useful profile information:
It may seem simple, but what other contact information are you going to provide fans? Many local government pages we’ve seen provide physical addresses, phone numbers and email addresses for central government offices or for specific departments. The pages for Knoxville, Tennessee and Grand Rapids, Michigan, for example, provide addresses, numbers and also business hours. If you do blog or tweet, we also recommend that you provide links to those destinations.

5. Decide if you need more than one page:
Should the police department, the fire department, the school district, and other parts of the government have their own pages? The Dallas, Texas police department has its own page, for example. What about the mayor’s office? On a related note, should each elected leader have their own personal page, that they take with them after they leave office? In general, we suggest more populated cities and counties create pages for individual departments. The goal is to have an active page, and if you’re a local government for, say, just a few thousand people, you don’t want to split your potential fans to the degree that you have a hard time getting conversations started.

6. Share content to and from your other sites:
Many cities already have their own web sites, and some use social tools like blogs or Twitter accounts. How should a page be integrated with these services? If other services already have active communities, then we recommend governments do things like post links to blog articles within their page, in order to help direct Facebook users to discussions already happening off the site. If your government is also using Twitter, Facebook provides an option that lets you repost any update from your page to Twitter; the Twitter app for Facebook, as well as some third-party apps, also let you post from Twitter to your page. If you have a blog, you can use the Networked Blog service or a number of other third party applications to syndicate the RSS feed of your blog into your page. A Facebook page can also be a place to promote other new services from. Cudahy, Wisconsin has an active page, that it has launched a new, full-service web site. Morris County, New Jersey posts to its page — and to other social sites — using Ping.fm, one of several third-party services that let you post remotely. But What to Share?Sharing status updates, photos, and other media in the stream is the single most important aspect of the site, as this information is what appears to users in their news feeds, and what typically generates the most conversation. Are you going to post only major news? Are you going to ask questions of your citizen-fans? Are you going to provide tips?

7. Public service announcements:
Are you making sure important public service announcements are reaching Facebook users? The H1N1 flu season is here, and Fairfax County, Virginia, is posting links about the availability of flu shots, with links to its web site on the topic. Montgomery County, Maryland, used its page to keep fans informed of a traffic light software glitch, and to let commuters know about public transit options.

8. Events:
Orlando, Florida’s page includes posts for about a free workshop for people facing home foreclosures. Maysville, Kentucky, goes as far as to create events on Facebook for civic activities, then posts those events to its page; fans can then see the events and RSVP, allowing the city to get a better idea of how many people are going to show up. You can set your page to include the Events tab, this way fans can see a chronological list of everything happening.

9. Multimedia:
In our random sampling of local government pages, we didn’t see many that made heavy use of photos, videos and other multimedia to increase engagement. We suggest simply reposting the countless, user-generated pieces of content being generated — search Flickr, YouTube and other sites for interesting content to keep people engaged.

10. Applications:
We also didn’t see many pages making use of applications. Using any of the third-party polling applications available on Facebook (accessible through the admin interface of pages), Facebook polls can be a quick and easy way to solicit feedback from Facebook users. Or, you can do what Fairfax County did, which was create a survey on its web site asking for feedback about its Facebook page, then link to the survey via an update to its page.

Local government leaders should look at these questions as a reflection of the new opportunities pages provide. As with any aspect of democratic government, Facebook pages are a work in progress for the entire community — not every attempt to use them will work according to plan, but making the effort is the best way to figure out what works best.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Energy efficiency improvements grants available

League of Minnesota Cities, Nov. 4, 2009

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) included approximately $54 million to the Minnesota Office of Energy Security (OES) for the State Energy Program (SEP) and approximately $40 million for Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants program (EECBG), $7.6 million of which was given directly to the state to give to communities that are not direct EECBG recipients. With input from the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC), OES has been developing programs to assist local governments.

Facility Cost-Share Grant program
OES will roll out the first of two programs in mid-November. The Facility Cost-Share Grant program will utilize both SEP and EECBG dollars. The first phase of the program will make between $4 million and $6 million available competitively statewide to local governments to make energy efficiency improvements to existing facilities. These improvements should be ready for immediate implementation. The Facilities Cost-Share Grant program will provide grants for up to 25 percent of the cost of a facility improvement with a maximum of $100,000 for each grant award.

The program will be made available to cities, counties, townships, and school districts. Eligible projects include lighting retrofits, existing building commissioning, building envelope improvements, HVAC equipment and control upgrades, and other proposed projects that improve energy efficiency.

The request for proposal (RFP) for the cost-share program will be posted on the EOS website when it becomes available in mid-November. EOS anticipates local governments will have 45 days to submit RFPs.

EECBG competitive grant program
The second program will use state EECBG dollars for a competitive grant to local governments. This program is intended to enhance energy efficiency and reduce energy use across the state. The grants will be awarded to the most competitive cities and counties that are not eligible for direct EECBG formula grants. Proposals will be evaluated based on energy savings and jobs created per grant dollar requested, green house gas emissions savings, and other criteria. More specifics on this program will be available soon.

OES will present a webinar on Nov. 10 at 3 p.m. to discuss the two stimulus programs and to answer questions from local governments. If you are unable to participate in the webinar OES will have the presentation available on its website at a later time along with answers to questions asked.

To register for the webinar, visit https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/265159144.
For more informationMore information on these programs is available on the OES website.

To ask questions, contact Abby Finis, OES, at abby.finis@state.mn.us or (651) 296-6205.
For more information, contact Hue Nguyen, LMC, at hnguyen@lmc.org or (651) 281-1260; Craig Johnson, LMC, at cjohnson@lmc.org or (651) 281-1259; or Lena Gould, LMC, at lgould@lmc.org or (651) 281-1245.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Northwest Area Foundation Survey Shows Minnesotans Are Struggling

As part of its national poll of 4,000 Americans exploring local perceptions of the struggle to make ends meet, Northwest Area Foundation found Minnesotans are recession-weary:
  • 63% said they've had to cut back on spending
  • 55% reported these changes will be permanent
  • 27% had problems paying for basic necessities such as mortgage, rent or heat
  • 32% have had trouble affording medical care
  • 47% said they don't know where to go in their community for help
  • 52% are unfamiliar with government services such as food stamps
  • A majority says it takes a least $40,000 a year to meet the basic needs of a family of four, which is more than twice the federal poverty level of $21,834 - the fourth consecutive year that a majority of respondents has expressed this
  • 59% are hopeful about the national economy
  • 80% believe that the number of people struggling to get by in their community can be reduced

The full report was released September 17, along with policy briefs, executive summaries and charts at www.nwaf.org.

Thanks to the Minnesota Council On Foundations for publishing this article in their fall newsletter - Giving Forum.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Residents Active, Productive in Fergus Falls

October 13, 2009 editorial from
The Daily Journal, Fergus Falls, MN.

Congratulations to the City of Fergus Falls for being designated as a Fit City by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Clearly, Fergus Falls leaders have worked hard for the designation.

Here are a few examples;

The recently completed path connecting the Central Lakes Trail to downtown Fergus Falls, encouraging walkers, cyclists and rollerbladders to use the trail.

  • The success of the Hoot Lake Triathlon and growing Athletic Republic Half Marathon, both attracting participants locally and regionally.

The development of DeLagoon Park's soccer, baseball and softball fields in recent years.

The expansion of the YMCA in the last decade.

The recent repaving of County Road 1 with a wider shoulder northeast of Fergus Falls was less heralded, but just as important to biking, running and walking enthusiasts.

We hope the Fit City designation also encourages city leaders to follow through on proposals to revitalize Lake Alice and create a system of trails along the Otter Tail River from Union Avenue to the airport. When other street projects come up, we encourage city leaders to design them to allow for cyclists and walkers/runners.

While Fergus Falls may not have the amenities that larger cities have, it has provided, and can continue to develop the resources for its residents to be physically active. And physically active residents will make for a more productive community.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Minnesota Receives $1,744,926.44 to Improve 911 Services

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced more than $40 million in grants to 30 states and U.S. territories to help 911 call centers across the country improve the ability to locate people calling from wireless and Internet-connected telephones.

“Reaching a 911 operator can make the difference between life and death,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said. “These grants will give states and territories the opportunity to improve their 911 systems, enhance safety and help save countless lives across America.”

“A majority of emergency 9-1-1 calls are now coming from wireless and Internet-connected telephones,” said U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. “These grants will help first responders locate where these calls are made and to ensure that help arrives quickly.”

The E–911 grant program was authorized under the Ensuring Needed Help Arrives Near Callers Employing 911 (ENHANCE 911) Act of 2004 (Pub. L. 108–494, codified at 47 U.S.C. 942). The grants were available to all states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and U.S. territories. The Act authorizes grants for the implementation and operation of Phase II enhanced 911 services and for migration to an IP-enabled emergency network. To qualify for a grant, an applicant must submit a State 911 plan and project budget, designate an E–911 coordinator, and certify, among other things, that the State and other taxing jurisdictions within the State have not diverted E–911 charges for any other purpose within 180 days preceding the application date.

The funds could be used to implement advanced technologies to deliver 9-1-1 calls with automatic crash location information as well as evacuation alerts to people using wireless services, warning them of dangerous situations like a bridge being washed out or a toxic spill.

All states and territories did not apply for funding.
Go to http://www.ntia.doc.gov/press/2009/E911grants_090929.html for a list of all grant awards.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Barnesville Hires New City Administrator

Michael Rietz of Castle Hills, Texas has accepted the Barnesville city administrator position.

The city council hired the Brimeyer Group, an executive search firm from Minneapolis, MN to lead in the search process and to negotiate the position's terms on behalf of the city. Five candidates were interviewed last week with a 6-0 vote by the city council to retain the services of Rietz.

The city has been without a city administrator since the beginning of the year when Michael Brethorst stepped down to accept a position with the VA Medical Center in Fargo, ND.

Rietz will begin his new position in Barnesville in the near future.