Bloated government

How DFL operatives have taken control of the ‘non-partisan’ League of Minnesota Cities.

The more bloated state and federal government gets, the clearer it becomes. Local government remains closest to the people, a place where you can still speak up and maybe even make an impact in your community.  

But the pressure’s always on to make the duties of city councilors, mayors and county board members more complicated, more technical and more dependent on lawyers and consultants, more like bigger government.  

Take the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC), a lobbying organization that collects hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in membership and other annual fees from all but 18 of the state’s 853 cities.

LMC presents itself as a nonpartisan membership group “dedicated to promoting excellence in local government. The League serves its more than 800 member cities through advocacy, education and training, policy development, risk management, and other services.” 

Yet no other organization works more relentlessly to grow local government and the cost to taxpayers. The advocacy group fields six lobbyists at the State Capitol, spending some $770,000 of taxpayer money collected from cities in 2019 alone to achieve its objective of expanding local government. With combined assets of over $551 million, the League of Minnesota Cities and its Insurance Trust is arguably the most well-funded, influential lobbying organization in Minnesota. 

The “training sessions” the advocacy group hosts to initiate newly elected city officials every two years provide a window into LMC’s tactics and goals. Only individuals with an official city email address and LMC account can gain access to the closed sessions, which cost $175 this year.  

American Experiment found a conservative participant willing to monitor and report on what went on in the online sessions on the condition of anonymity. Our insider had previously taken the training as a rookie local elected official. Once in office, however, our informant soon became concerned over what increasingly appeared to be a gap between the LMC’s rhetoric and reality.  

 “My gut told me something was off,” our source said. “Why were there only DFL campaign staff at their events during the 2018 elections? Why did their event speakers seem to address only ‘progressive’ policies like public employee union pay increases, local minimum wage ordinances, an increase in the gas tax and GreenStep Cities?”  

He took the training again, hoping for real non-partisanship. But his findings at LMC’s 2021 Elected Leaders Institute training revealed the opposite. 

 In a discussion about leadership, speakers emphasized the goal of being “likeable.” The word “accountability” was not mentioned. Each presenter stressed the importance of depending on the LMC experts. The indoctrination of 2021’s newly elected city officials has begun. Be quiet, follow the liberal agenda, trust the LMC and everyone will like you. Don’t and you’re a bully, blamer, disengaged politician with an agenda, attributes listed in the training’s “Leadership Reputations to Avoid.”  

The policy agenda in the “Maintaining Balance” session focused on racial equity, diversifying your workforce and, to be fair, economic development.

 Minnesota’s Open Meeting Law (OML) was characterized as “confusing, complex, and yes, sometimes a little bit scary,” which is exactly what they’d like newly elected representatives to believe. Translation: Keep quiet, defer to the LMC and let administrative bureaucrats handle everything so you don’t get in trouble and lose your seat for a violation.

 The presenter lectured participants on “how to build consensus” among council members, without violating the Open Meeting Law, and recommended they “use staff to distribute information to other members,” noting that the “OML doesn’t apply to staff.” In short, newly elected leaders are instructed to give staff oversight over their communications rather than executing their statutory role as elected representatives with authority over staff. That’s transparency? 

New members are also counseled to be wary of using social media, despite the fact the legislature in 2014 exempted social media use from OML violations as long as posts are public. Yet these warnings peppered the training sessions to make sure council members understand their authority to communicate is narrow and should not take place outside the scrutiny of the administrative bureaucracy. 

 The LMC underscores that public finance is “intimidating” and “complicated.” But anyone with even rudimentary budgeting experience did a double take on the presenter’s definition of property taxes as “filling the gap” between city revenue and expenditures! Property taxes are a city’s primary source of revenue, not just something that “fills a gap.” 

 So, why would the LMC want council members to think of property taxes as something other than revenue? Answer: To avoid discussing spending cuts. Raising property taxes are, simply, the answer to balancing a budget. During the sessions on public finance, spending cuts were not mentioned once as a part of the budgeting process. Instead, the emphasis was that cities “must budget for services in good and bad markets,” an attempt to justify very flawed government reasoning that the economy is irrelevant when considering tax increases.  

 American Experiment is indebted to our observer for monitoring the “training.” While much more could be said, our source came away more convinced than ever that the LMC’s goal is growing local government and its revenues. 

“The training they provide is strategic to that end. The LMC is taxpayer funded through municipalities using tax dollars to pay LMC dues and to belong to the League’s Insurance Trust. Taxpayers and the council members that represent them need to understand the LMC’s liberal agenda and stop funding them. Until they do, the LMC will drive state policy in the legislature to support their growth agenda and will continue to groom public officials to advance it.”