Thursday, March 19, 2020

Sunshine Week Shines Light on the Importance of Governmental Transparency

Every March, the newspaper industry and the SC Press Association mark Sunshine Week as a time to focus on governmental transparency and the community value of open access to public information. 

This year’s Sunshine Week comes at a time when the new coronavirus has caused a rapidly advancing list of closures and cancellations in local government and elsewhere. This has led to questions about announcing and conducting public meetings of city and town councils as well as other bodies in compliance with the SC Freedom of Information Act. The Municipal Association has provided guidance on issues such as setting up emergency meetings and how councilmembers can participate in meetings remotely. 

Open government is also the focus of the March issue of Uptown. The issue includes a look at the specific staff members charged with handling FOIA requests in Simpsonville, Clemson and Myrtle Beach. 

Another article explains the changes that came about in the most recent update to South Carolina’s freedom of information law in 2017. This FOIA update specified that information received from local governments in response to a FOIA request cannot be used for commercial solicitation. It also reduced the length of time governments have to respond to FOIA requests. The update added new requirements for how governments may charge fees for the process of searching and making copies of records. 

FOIA requires that the meetings of public bodies must generally be open to the public, after being advertised appropriately, but several exceptions exist to allow for confidentiality that promotes the overall public good. Bodies may therefore enter into executive session, a portion of the meeting that is closed to the public. This Uptown article explains the correct way to enter into executive session and operate during the session, as well as the consequences of misusing executive session. 

For an overall look at FOIA specifics, see the SC Press Association’s Public Official's Guide to Compliance with the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

2020 Census Day Is Almost Here

In a few weeks, Wednesday, April 1, 2020, will arrive — the measurement date for the 2020 Census. April is also when the U.S. Census Bureau is scheduled to release its estimates of 2019 population numbers. 

Next, the Census Bureau will conduct follow-up efforts through July, aimed at improving the accuracy of the count. Many local governments in South Carolina have created Complete Count Committees to improve response rates. Existing estimates show that this census will be a significant one for South Carolina. The 2010 Census counted 4.6 million people living in South Carolina, a number that grew to about 5.1 million by the 2018 estimate. 

Municipal governments have a huge interest in making sure every resident is counted, and they can stay involved up to and even after Census Day. Data from the 2020 Census will contribute to many funding decisions. At the federal level, the numbers will help to determine who receives billions of dollars of funding for areas like transportation, healthcare and education. The data also drives South Carolina’s Local Government Fund allocations. 

2020 Census resources 

Thursday, March 5, 2020

What City Officials Should Know About the New Coronavirus

Most municipalities have disaster plans in place for floods, tornadoes or hurricanes. Yet outbreaks in recent years of flu strains as well as the new coronavirus, have led many city leaders to adjust their disaster plans or create new ones that would allow city services to keep running in the event of a pandemic. 

When a pandemic strikes, people in many areas become ill at the same time. It is the responsibility of state and local governments to continue providing services to the public while stemming the spread of the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

In South Carolina, city governments have no direct responsibility for vaccinations, education or public health functions. Yet city leaders still need to have policies in place to provide both regular services and reassurances to residents, even if a majority of the city employees are affected by the pandemic. 

Most municipalities are keeping a close watch on coronavirus developments, and making sure their employees are taking steps to stay healthy. Local governments have been stressing the importance of individual infection control measures, such as washing hands frequently and using sanitizers and proper cough etiquette. 

If a pandemic strikes, the key to slowing its spread is to reduce or eliminate contact with sick individuals. Many municipalities are encouraging sick employees to stay home. 

While health officials continue to monitor outbreaks of the coronavirus, there is always a risk that the situation could change quickly in South Carolina. Health officials urge local governments to continue to promote healthy practices to prevent spreading the illness and to have a plan in place for worst-case scenarios. 

DHEC Resources 

Additional Resources 

The Association will post additional resources as they become available to our website.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Municipal Association of SC Supports New Version of the Business License Bill

The Municipal Association staff has worked with legislators and stakeholders to negotiate on H4431, the business license bill. The Association has been negotiating standardization and is committed to finding a resolution that’s fair for cities and businesses. 

This week, the House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee amended the bill. The amendment struck all of the original bill’s existing language and replaced it with standardization language. Language was also added to clarify the circumstances under which some businesses do or do not have to pay the business license tax. Because the amended bill has language which would standardize the business license process, it is now appropriate to support H4431 as amended. Support for the bill could change if any amendments to the bill include language that would harm cities and towns. 

Here are some details of the current amendment: 

  • All business licenses statewide would have the due date of April 30. May 1 would start the license year, and penalties would begin after May 1. 
  • Business license taxes would be calculated based on gross income for either the calendar year or the business’ fiscal year, with some additional rules specific to contractors. The original bill called for a calculation of the tax based on net income, which the Municipal Association opposed. 
  • A standard business license application would be distributed by the SC Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office. 
  • Jurisdictions would be required to adopt an updated class schedule every odd year, with the schedule recommended by the Municipal Association of SC and adopted by the Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office. Jurisdictions would have some flexibility to create sub-classes for economic development. 
  • As a payment option for businesses, business license renewals can be made through an online payment portal hosted and managed by the Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office. The entire taxpayer payment would go directly to jurisdictions. Jurisdictions would still be required to accept payments by other means, such as in person, by phone or mail. 

Read a summary of the standardization language included in the amended version of the bill.

Municipal officials should contact their legislators to support H4431 as amended and keep up to date as the legislative session continues. Be sure to read From the Dome to Your Home, the weekly legislative report, and listen to the City Quick Connect podcast. 

In the latest episode of the podcast, the Municipal Association’s Director of Advocacy and Communications Scott Slatton and Manager for Municipal Advocacy Casey Fields discuss many of the specifics of the new version of H4431.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

2020 Hometown Legislative Action Day Focuses on Business License Legislation

Hometown Legislative Action Day on February 4 brought together about 475 representatives of cities and towns around South Carolina. Municipal officials heard from state senators on many issues impacting the state and local level, most notably business license legislation. In the afternoon, they headed to the State House to engage with their own delegations. 

State Senate President Sen. Harvey Peeler gave the opening keynote address, calling attention to the importance of the relationship between the General Assembly and local officials. He outlined critical topics for the current legislative session, including education reform, the future of Santee Cooper and the $1.8 billion budget surplus, and closed with a reminder of the importance of the 2020 Census. 

“If you’re going to do one thing for your cities and towns, make sure that the people are counted,” he said. 

A senate panel discussion brought together Sens. Tom Davis, Shane Massey, Ronnie Sabb and Katrina Shealy. They dug into many of the same key issues as Peeler, and discussed the possibilities for H4431, the bill that would change the methods by which a business license tax is calculated, purchased and enforced. 

Sen. Marlon Kimpson spoke during lunch. He covered such topics as affordable housing as well as past and current legislative preemption efforts in areas such as wages, vaping and plastic bag bans. 

“The reality is that the people on city council, and the people in Inman, Georgetown, Spartanburg, Greenville, and all the towns are in a better position than me to determine whether or not plastic bags are an issue in your jurisdiction,” he said. 

Cornelius Huff, mayor of Inman and president of the Municipal Association of SC, also touched on the value that local government brings when protecting residents and local businesses. 

“We are the government closest to the people making decisions that affect our residents’ basic quality of life every day. We are listening to the concerns from residents about plastic bags in creeks and rivers. We are listening to the concerns from residents about vape shops located near schools and churches,” he said. “And guess what? We are taking action. We are answering those concerns with action and changes at the local level.” 

Municipal Association Executive Director Todd Glover discussed the threat that H4431 would have on $400 million of revenue that cities and towns collect every year to provide services. He said the Municipal Association believes that passing a bill that is advantageous to both municipal government and to businesses during the current session would be beneficial. 

The Municipal Association supports standardization of business licensing practices as a way to treat businesses and cities fairly. This includes standardization of due dates as well as the passage of the model business license ordinance, which has happened in about 130 municipalities. 

Other HLAD sessions included “Place Branding and Economic Development,” highlighting efforts in Charleston, Lake City and Travelers Rest. The SC State Election Commission provided a presentation on issues seen in recent election cycles and demonstrated the new voting system it began using in 2019. Attendees also heard from the SC Public Employee Benefit Authority about the state’s retirement systems and health plan, and also from the Municipal Association’s Risk Management Services on reducing liability and claims costs. Presentation materials from HLAD will be posted on the Municipal Association’s website.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Final Preparations for Hometown Legislative Action Day

Hometown Legislative Action Day, the day for municipal officials to gather in Columbia to amplify their voices on behalf of their cities and towns, arrives next Tuesday, February 4. 

The general session this year will bring messages from several state senators, including Sen. Harvey Peeler, president of the Senate, as well as Sen. Marlon Kimpson, who will speak during lunch. There’s also more to learn about other sessions and the 2019 – 2020 Municipal Association Advocacy Initiatives in an article that appeared in the January edition of Uptown. As in past years, visits to the State House will take place after lunch, giving attendees an opportunity to meet legislators face to face. 

The preregistration deadline for HLAD has passed, but onsite registration for the conference will still be available on February 4. There are several ways attendees can prepare for HLAD: 

  • Download the meeting app. The app connects meeting attendees with the agenda for both HLAD and the Municipal Elected Officials Institute. It allows users to set a personalized schedule and get information about the presenters and the attendees. Receive important notifications during the event and connect with other attendees using the internal social network. The app is available through the App Store or Google Play by searching for “MuniAssnSC,” or by using the link
  • Check out the full agenda. The agenda is available both on the Municipal Association’s website and on the app. 
  • Know where to park. The parking garage behind the Marriott, with entrances on Hampton and Sumter streets, will have limited availability. Meeting attendees and hotel guests may not park above level 4-A in this garage or the vehicle will be towed. Additional parking will be available at the parking garage located at 1200 Taylor St. (one block from the hotel). City parking fees will apply. 

Courses for the Municipal Elected Officials Institute and Advanced MEO Institute will take place the next day on February 5. MEO graduates receive recognition both during Hometown Legislative Action Day and in press releases from the Municipal Association afterward.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The 2020 Legislative Season Has Arrived

Earlier this week, the SC General Assembly returned to Columbia to begin the second half of the 2019 – 2020 legislative session. There are several things city and town leaders should be thinking about heading into the legislative season. 

Attend Hometown Legislative Action Day on February 4 
Hometown Legislative Action Day gives municipal officials a time to gather in Columbia to get involved in legislative issues and meet with members of the General Assembly. This year, the gathering will delve into the topics of local decision-making and business licensing. An HLAD preview appeared in the December issue of Uptown

HLAD will take place at the Marriott in Columbia. Registration and hotel information are available now. The preregistration deadline is next week on Thursday, January 23. 

Keep up with what’s happening 

An easy way to stay up to date is to read From the Dome to Your Home. This is a weekly report during the legislative session on all legislative activity that impacts municipalities. The report also suggests action steps and takes a look at the upcoming week. Ongoing coverage of the session is also available through the City Quick Connect podcastNew episodes are released on Mondays during the session. 

Bills that were introduced in 2019 are still active for the 2020 session. Many of these bills preempt local governments from making decisions at the local level on issues important to local residents. Changes to business licensing, short-term rentals and plastic bag bans are just a few. For those interested in following along with specific bills, check the legislative tracking system. The system also includes the prefiled bills for 2020 to be considered this year.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Take a Look at Professional Development in the New Year

The Municipal Association of SC offers numerous affiliate associations to help city and town employees with professional development needs. These groups provide specific training opportunities and online resources as well as networking — both through meetings and listserves. 

In 2019, the SC Community Development Association was part of a group touring projects in North Augusta and Aiken, including the new City of Aiken Department of Public Safety

Affiliate memberships run on a calendar year schedule. Municipal staff will receive a mailed membership notice in early January but may also renew or join online. Here are the groups and their benefits: 
  • Building Officials Association of SC – BOASC focuses on the challenges of administering and enforcing building and related codes in order to protect the life, health and property of building occupants. Staff contact: Elizabeth Copeland 
  • Municipal Court Administration Association of SC – MCAA provides training for court administrators, clerks of court, municipal judges and other employees involved in court administration. Staff contact: Sara Snell 
  • Municipal Technology Association of SC – MTASC exposes members to a broad range of technology systems, platforms and solutions. It offers training for IT staff, those with GIS responsibilities and employees working in other departments but whose duties include technology services. Staff contact: Sara Snell 
  • SC Association of Municipal Power Systems – SCAMPS focuses on legislative initiatives, mutual aid and provides training for elected officials, management staff and operational personnel of the electric cities in the state. Staff contact: Elizabeth Copeland 
  • SC Association of Stormwater Managers – SCASM offers quarterly training on stormwater management policies and best practices. Training addresses topics like proposed changes to stormwater regulations and case studies of innovative practices. Staff contact: Sara Snell
  • SC Business Licensing Officials Association – BLOA promotes best practices for administering the local business and professional license tax through training, networking and the Accreditation in Business Licensing and Masters in Business Licensing. Staff contact: Elizabeth Copeland 
  • SC Community Development Association – CDA training focuses on economic and community development needs, best practices and successful case studies. Members come from local and state government as well as private industry, elected positions and volunteer positions. Staff contact: Sara Snell 
  • SC Municipal Attorneys Association – The MAA annual training, designed for city and town attorneys, complies with the Supreme Court of South Carolina Commission on CLE and specialization requirements for continuing education credits. Staff contact: Eric Shytle 
  • SC Municipal Finance Officers, Clerks and Treasurers Association – MFOCTA training covers the diverse job responsibilities of its members. MFOCTA sponsors the Municipal Clerks and Treasurers Institute with the Municipal Association and the Joseph P. Riley Jr. Center for Livable Communities. Staff contact: Elizabeth Copeland 
  • SC Municipal Human Resources Association – MHRA helps members stay current on state and federal labor law and court rulings. Its trainings are accepted by national human resources organizations for continuing education credits. Staff contact: Sara Snell 
  • SC Utility Billing Association – SCUBA trains members on utility billing, collections and customer service. Programs frequently focus on customer service skills, workplace safety, and best practices in utility billing and collections. Staff contact: Ken Ivey 

The Annual Meeting of the SC Association of Municipal Power Systems is a time for the state’s city and town power systems to share technical developments and management practices. 

More information 
A recent City Quick Connect podcast featured a discussion of the affiliate associations and their specific training opportunities. An Uptown article also covered the offerings of the various affiliates.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

When Does a Council Action Require an Ordinance?

As city and town councils conduct business at their council meetings, they sometimes face the question of whether a specific action requires the passage of an ordinance. If the action does need an ordinance, that comes with the requirement of at least two readings, which take place on two separate days with at least six days in between them — and some local rules require three readings. 

In some cases, when councils wish to express a position on an issue or draw attention to a particular issue, passing a resolution using one reading and one vote is appropriate. Resolutions are not permanent local laws, as ordinances are.

South Carolina law requires the passage of ordinances for many specific actions. There are cases where the law does not require an ordinance, at which time councils can choose either an ordinance or a resolution. The law requires ordinances in these cases: 

Council operations 
Financial operations
Land use and regulation 
More resources 
Ordinances and Resolutions, a recent article in Uptown, take a look at the differences between the two. The article also addresses the requirements placed on how ordinances are handled after their adoption. 

The Municipal Association’s Handbook for Municipal Officials in South Carolina also discusses the difference between and ordinance and a resolution in Chapter 3, which also covers the correct processes for council meetings.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Countdown to Legislative Advocacy in 2020

In a few short weeks, lawmakers will return to Columbia to take up the business of South Carolina state government. The second half of the 2019 – 2020 legislative session brings with it the need for local leaders to engage with their legislators on issues crucial to supporting local authority to make local decisions. 

City and town officials walk to the State House during Hometown Legislative Action Day. 

There are several things that local elected officials and staff should do to help during the legislative session. 

Keep up with the action 

From the Dome to Your Home gives leaders a great way to learn more and stay engaged. This weekly recap email goes out on Fridays during the session, covering all the legislative activity that has the potential to impact South Carolina’s cities and towns. The content in From the Dome to Your Home also appears in the City Quick Connect podcast during the legislative session, along with added discussion from the legislative team. 

It’s also possible to follow specific legislation that is mentioned in the weekly legislative reports through the Legislative Tracking System. For example, H4431 is a much-talked-about business license bill that would cause a number of complications in how business license taxes are calculated and structured. 

Another example is S217, a bill which would give municipalities the ability to use revenue from hospitality and accommodations taxes to control and repair flooding in tourist-related areas. The bill represents the last of the Municipal Association’s advocacy initiatives that have not yet been completed in the current session. S217 has already been passed by the Senate and now waits for further action in the House Ways and Means Committee. 

Connect with legislators 

It’s not enough to know about the issues — city and town leaders need to remain in touch with their legislators so they can communicate about how particular bills would impact their communities. Building relationships and communicating effectively with legislators are skills that need to be honed. Those wanting to learn more about the process can check out the Municipal Association’s advocacy handbook, Raising Hometown Voices to a New Level of Influence

It’s also critical to know which legislators to contact, given that some municipalities fall within multiple House and Senate districts. The online South Carolina Municipal Officials and Legislative Directory now allows for searching municipalities by their representatives and senators. 

The Municipal Association’s Hometown Legislative Action Day, which will take place in Columbia on Tuesday, February 4, gives city and town officials a chance to meet with representatives and senators at the State House, and to learn more about legislative issues. Registration information is available on the Association’s website. Don’t wait until January 14 to call your legislators. If you haven’t already talked to them about important issues for 2020, do it now. 

Hometown Legislative Action Day attendees meet with their legislative delegations in the lobby of the State House.