Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Palmetto Pride "talked trash" at the Annual Meeting

For some of us, tossing a McDonalds bag out a car window would seem strange and out of character.

If only everyone felt that way. 

On Friday at the Annual Meeting, Esther Wagner, special events program manager for PalmettoPride, laid out ways that cities and towns could control and prevent litter during a session that drew dozens of municipal officials.

Here are a few:

•    Mini grants — PalmettoPride is offering a mini grant for South Carolina municipalities to purchase trash receptacles for downtown areas or parks. Municipalities must demonstrate an active litter reduction program including, but not limited, to enforcement, regular emptying of trash cans, and routine maintenance and cleaning of area in need.
•    Awareness — The city website should feature disposal information and anti-littering messages. “You should be very clear about where things are to be dumped, which dumps will take mattresses, which ones will take e-waste. Have that easily accessible for your people,” Wagner said. “People are going to landfills and are being turned away and dumping stuff on their way back."
•    Ordinances —  “You can’t enforce litter laws if you don’t have litter laws,” said Wagner. PalmettoPride can provide a sample ordinance. “Make sure that your officers are well trained, so they know what to do for a litter stop and how to make a litter ticket stick,” she said.
•    Judicial support — “We get a lot of reports that the judiciary and prosecutors don’t support their tickets,” said Wagner. “If you have that issue, come to us, and we will see what we can to do help you train those people on why it’s important.
•    Hotline  — PalmettoPride sponsors a statewide Litter Busters Hotline, thanks to the cooperation of the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Public Safety. Call 877-7LITTER (754-8837) to report the location, time and the litterbug’s license number. S.C. DPS will send the offender a letter, noting littering isn't tolerated in South Carolina, and fines or jail time could result.
•    Tree grants — Wagner said PalmettoPride gets seedlings for pennies on the dollar. State inmates nurture the seedlings for two or three years until they’re old enough to adopt out for beautification. Inmates have gotten jobs in landscaping companies after this experience.

•    Parolees — A judge assigns a specific road to be cleaned up as part of an individual’s parole. A city employee can drive by and make sure the road’s been cleaned up. "If it’s not, let the judge know."

Friday, July 21, 2017

Annual Meeting opening session brings insight, elections and a couple of surprises

Walterboro Mayor Bill Young, president
Municipal Association of SC
New officers, graduates of the Municipal Association’s Municipal Elected Officials Institute, an inspiring keynote address and recognition of a state legislator headlined the opening session of the 2017 Annual Meeting.

Keynote address focused on cities finding their niche
The keynote speaker, Ed McMahon, with the Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C. had lots to tell attendees of the Annual Meeting. The gist: How cities and towns can make themselves competitive by accentuating their uniqueness instead of imitating other thriving places.

“Most Americans care more about the place they live than the political party they belong to,” he told a ballroom full of municipal officials.

These were among McMahon’s points:
•    Don’t compete with other cities in a race to the bottom by giving away tax incentives to big business.
•    “It’s not about what you don’t have,” he said. “It’s about what you do have.” Quality of life is critically important to economic wellbeing. Don’t join an “arms race” that only a few cities will win. For example, resist the urge to try to build the flashiest convention center, the biggest festival market place, or some other trendy attraction, such as an aquarium.
•    Green spaces aren't just a nice “extra.” Treat parks and green spaces like the sources of vitality that they are. Green spaces add value to property.
•    Preserving what is special about community is very good for business. McMahon pointed to a company called Brandywine Investment Fund. Its founder moved from Philadelphia to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, because of the outdoor recreation opportunities in Wyoming.
•    It’s good to be discerning when it comes to deciding what businesses you want in your city.  Don’t be afraid to say no. “If you’re afraid to say no to anything, you’ll get the worst of everything,” said McMahon. “… Communities that set high standards compete for the top.”
•    Mixed-use developments are the way to go. That means apartments, offices, swimming pools, small businesses, and any number of other establishments have a place on top of, for example, a downtown Walmart or Best Buy. McMahon cited the City of Fayetteville’s data from 2011 that showed a mixed-use Waffle House outperformed a “strip,” standalone Waffle House by 15 percent. 

Highlights of Ed McMahon's presentation

Cayce Mayor Elise Partin
Elections, recognitions and awards
New Municipal Association officers for 2017-18 are Cayce Mayor Elise Partin, president; Florence Councilmember Octavia Williams-Blake, first vice president; Isle of Palms Mayor Dick Cronin, second vice president; and Mauldin Mayor Dennis Raines, third vice-president.

Williston Mayor Jason Stapleton, Johnston Mayor Terence Culbreth, Clemson Mayor J.C. Cook, Hollywood Mayor Jackie Heyward, Lexington Mayor Steve MacDougall and Chester Councilmember Amy Brown are the newly elected board members.

Rep. Joe Daning
Representative Joe Daning (R-Goose Creek) received the Distinguished Service Award. This is an award that is not presented each year but only when someone outside of municipal government has truly exhibited the service that this award was intended to honor.  

Association President Bill Young, mayor of Walterboro, said “Rep. Daning has been a consistent and reliable ally to South Carolina municipalities, He’s stepped up repeatedly and spoken out in defense of preserving home rule and local authority.”

Two surprise recognitions rounded out the opening session when Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols received the Farlow Award for outstanding service to municipal government, and Miriam Hair was awarded the Order of the Palmetto in recognition of her retirement later this year.

Mayor Doug Echols
Mayor Young noted Mayor Echols’ many years of service to the City of Rock Hill and to the Municipal Association. “The real feather in his cap is happening next week  with Rock Hill hosting the BMX World Championships,” Mayor Young said. “This event will bring more than 3,300 riders from over 40 countries and an estimated 20,000 spectators to Rock Hill.”

Senator Floyd Nicholson (D-Greenwood) made a surprise appearance to present Miriam Hair with the Order of the Palmetto, the state’s highest civilian honor. 
Following a video highlighting Miriam’s 32-year career at the Association, Mayor Young brought Senator Nicholson to the stage saying, “In the video, we saw Miriam’s letters for outstanding work in high school athletics. If it was possible to letter in municipal government, there wouldn’t be enough room on one jacket to recognize Miriam’s accomplishments at the Municipal Association. 

In the absence of that, we’ve done the next best thing…and brought her former high school coach to join us today for a special presentation. Before we all knew him as Mayor Nicholson or Senator Nicholson, Miriam and her family knew him as Coach."

Sen. Nicholson was Miriam’s high school basketball coach and later worked with her when he was Greenwood’s mayor and president of the Association’s board. Today he is the state senator representing Miriam’s hometown of Greenwood.


Annual Meeting Day 1: Get a peek at the mobile workshop with the Town of Hilton Head Island

More than 100 municipal officials learned that Hilton Head Island's redevelopment efforts have a lot in common with their own. In particular? The forces that drive redevelopment can be found everywhere.

They include: Aging infrastructure. Millennials. Changing lifestyles. The economic downturn. Growth. Aging buildings with lagging maintenance.

Hilton Head Island’s Mall at Shelter Cove was built in the 1980s. Today the Shelter Cove Towne Center is the result of re-envisioned development. But it took careful planning and design guidelines to get there.

An aerial photo of the old mall showed that Broad Creek, which is next to the property, wasn’t used to its full potential. 

“It turned its back on this beautiful view,” said Jennifer Ray, Hilton Head Island’s planning and special projects manager, during a breakfast at a restaurant in the development held before a bus tour of the town’s redevelopment successes. The tour was part of the Municipal Association’s Annual Meeting.

“The mall started failing,” said Ray of the old Shelter Cove shopping center. In the 2000s, this mall, just like many indoor shopping centers, faced competition as online retail increased and as the economy started to downturn.

The owners asked the town for a development agreement to spur activity, but the plans never came to fruition. A few years later, an Augusta, Georgia-based developer got involved. Instead of a strip mall design, the developer created a village atmosphere.

“The shops have a different flavor as you walk along. There are public spaces next to the route to encourage you stop and linger,” Ray said. And in the back by the creek, there is a public park.

“It would have been the loading dock in the back of the grocery store had the developer not been willing to say, ‘That jewel out there that Hilton Head Island prizes is valuable to our tenant as well.’”

“We have an extensive design review board and design guidelines,” said Ray. "Island character is a concept this island was founded on when Charles Fraser started development here. We take that very seriously and have a high quality, sustainable product that will be beautiful and last for years. It also blends into nature, which is another one of our assets that people come here for.”

Creating the new Shelter Cove Town Center took creativity and care to get the aesthetics just right. One way to do this was to add patches of public spaces, including benches and gathering areas, to the development.

Landscaping, pedestrian-level lighting also helped. Rethinking the power lines was yet another way.

“The town helped negotiate with Santee Cooper to move the power line,” Ray said, so that it runs through the parking lot. “That’s not the area that you want to focus on. You park your car, and you get out and you move on.”

Lower-storied buildings were placed closer to where automobiles are moving. Farther back on the site features larger buildings. Coordinating bricks and building materials helps create a cohesive project.

“You never feel like you’re right in front a large mass of large grocery or big-box store," said Ray.

Thursday’s redevelopment tour showed more than 100 municipal officials other highlights, including acreage of the future University of South Carolina Beaufort site on Office Park Road, the Sonesta Resort, which suffered damage from Hurricane Matthew and had to undergo repairs, and other hotel redevelopment projects and gated communities.

Friday, July 14, 2017

New FOIA Handbook now available

Now that changes to the state’s Freedom of Information Act have taken effect, the S.C.Press Association has updated its FOIA handbook

The Municipal Association shares this handbook on its website as a resource for local officials. The updated version is now available online, and copies will be available to officials attending the upcoming Annual Meeting.

Legislators introduced the bill with the intention of making public bodies more responsive to records requests. The bill gives the public faster access to an official ruling when a public body either rejects or otherwise fails to satisfy a FOIA request. The bill also establishes time frames for the public bodies receiving those requests. Get details in this earlier blog post. 

In May, the Association held a series of conference calls to outline the changes to FOIA. Two questions came up during the calls that prompted Association staff to do further research.

The first question focused on how to deal with FOIA requests for materials submitted to councilmembers from the public during a meeting. The second related to requests for records that include personal identifying information. Get details in this earlier blog post. 

This recent article in GSA BizWire also gives an overview of the changes.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Countdown to the 2017 Annual Meeting

The 2017 Annual Meeting is just a week away, and it’s time to start thinking about how to get the most of out of your time at Hilton Head.

Read on for a sneak peek at a number of sessions that have been featured in recent Uptown stories.

Learning from other cities’ successes is a big part of the Annual Meeting. Greer Mayor Rick Danner shares his city’s story of working across jurisdictional lines to ensure success of several city projects. And Palmetto Pride shares how cities are working to put litter prevention strategies in place.

Crises come in all shapes and sizes. Hear from three city leaders who weathered recent storm incidents and find out some creative solutions to common problems they faced.

Law enforcement agencies are finding training through a simulator gives officers hands-on experience with situations encountered every day. Meeting attendees can attend a breakout session to learn about this training then give the simulator a first-person try

It’s not too early to start planning for the 2020 Census. Find out what cities need to be doing now to get ready.

Just because South Carolina hasn’t legalized medical marijuana doesn’t mean its use can’t be an issue for employers. A labor attorney will discuss this and other pressing HR issues.

Fifteen-minute tech talks on Thursday and Saturday give officials the chance to glance at trends and what’s new in technology for local governments.

Want the meeting in the palm of your hand? Download the meeting app before you leave home and get your schedule organized before you arrive at Hilton Head. 

New this year will be satellite parking at a church near the Palmetto Dunes entrance on the William Hilton Parkway for guests at the Sonesta, Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn Express. All the details on the website and the app

Finally, the 2017 Communications Survey will be available for everyone to complete at the Annual Meeting. Or get a jump on things and take the survey online now to tell us how you like to get information from the Association.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

S.C. cities in the international spotlight twice this summer

South Carolina cities and towns will be drawing international attention twice this summer with the international BMX cycling championship coming to Rock Hill in late July and the "once-in-99-years eclipse" passing over more than 140 cities and towns on August 21. 

International cycling championship in Rock Hill

First, the week of July 25 – 29, the City of Rock Hill is hosting the UCI BMX World Cycling Championship. The event is just shy of the Olympics in terms of prestige and prominence in the cycling world. Organizers anticipate more than 20,000 spectators will be in Rock Hill to watch 3,300 riders from more than 40 countries.

This BMX event is anticipated to be the largest international sporting event in South Carolina history, according to Rock Hill officials.

Rock Hill was selected to host this event in 2014, two months before the track, modeled after the 2008 Beijing Olympic track, even opened. The last time the BMX world cycling championship was held in the U.S. was 2001 when Louisville, KY hosted it. The last two championships took place in Zolder, Belgium, and Medellin, Colombia.

Rock Hill has invested heavily in sports tourism in the past decade, and the results are showing. The Rock Hill Parks Recreation and Tourism Department estimates that sports tourism has had a $157.3 million direct economic impact on the city since 2006.

In recent years, Rock Hill’s reputation as a competitive cycling center has skyrocketed with the opening of the Giordana Velodrome (track cycling) in 2012, and the Novant Health BMX Supercross Track in 2014. Rock Hill’s cycling focus also extends to Cyclocross trails, a mountain bike course and Criterium course.

The City of Rock Hill recently held a media day “race event” for local reporters to experience the thrill of the BMX track personally. Read here about one of the participant’s race down the starting ramp that stands two stories tall and drops 40 feet down before looping about 1200 feet around the track of intensely rolling hills.

S.C. cities uniquely positioned for eclipse

Then, on August 21, more than 140 South Carolina cities and towns will fall into the swath of the first total solar eclipse in North America in 99 years. There’s a lot of economic impact packed into those two minutes and 41 seconds.

While Columbia is the largest South Carolina city to experience the “full totality” of the eclipse, many smaller towns in the “path of totality" are using the once-in-a-lifetime event to showcase their distinctive appeal.

As early as last August, officials in Newberry began thinking about their eclipse plans. A photographer from New York called to say Newberry’s location in the swath of the eclipse would provide him with the shot of a lifetime, and that's where he wanted to be. 

The Town of Blythewood and its local chamber of commerce are making the most of the week leading up to the eclipse. 

“When a ‘once-in-99-years’ event rolls through your town complete with NASA-predicted, overwhelming quantities of visitors, your town better be prepared to show itself off,” said Mike Switzer, executive director of the Greater Blythewood Chamber of Commerce.

The town and chamber are partnering with the local branch of the Richland Library to host eclipse-related seminars. There are sessions for both children and adults about eclipse photography, local history of eclipses and crafts related to the eclipse.

"Moondoggled: An Eclipsing Battle of the Bands" will take place the afternoon of the  eclipse before, during and after the totality at the town's new Palmetto Citizens Amphitheater in the 24-acre Doko Meadows park. Local bands will compete for a $500 prize. Their playlists must include at least one sun or moon-themed song.

“Plus there will be a shred truck at the park during that time so people can destroy those highly-classified, super-secret documents during the two minutes of darkness,” Switzer said. 

This Uptown article showcases what Newberry, Santee and Columbia have planned. Learn what other cities are planning here.

BMX photo credits: Wendy Waddle, City of Rock Hill

Friday, June 16, 2017

Water Water Everywhere

Take a look at the thermometer, and it’s easy to see summer is upon us. Time to head to the beach or the pool. Time to cool off floating down the river or frolicking in the local splash pad, right?
Not so fast. 
The water we count on to cool us off, water our yards and flow from our faucets isn’t guaranteed to always be there. Drought is common in South Carolina, and cities and towns need to be prepared when drought conditions occur.
Water is a limited resource that not only impacts the health and well-being of a community, but it also can be an important economic development catalyst.
The June issue of Uptown focuses on water as a resource for our state. Read more about drought, blueways, water pollution challenges and water safety.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Additional legal guidance on FOIA changes

Tiger taking a break between
conference calls
Last week's blog post about changes to the Freedom of Information Act prompted so many inquiries that the Municipal Association hosted five conference calls this week reaching dozens of local officials with an update about these changes.

Tiger Wells, the Association's government affairs liaison, was the staff member responsible for negotiating the city perspective on this legislation. He led the series of calls by walking local officials through these bullet points of highlights of the bill.

Callers raised a number of questions, but two came up several times. In response, Tiger wrote a memo to the members of the Municipal Attorneys Association with some guidance.

The first question focused on how to deal with FOIA requests for materials submitted to councilmembers from the public during a meeting. The second related to requests for records that include personal identifying information. 

Read the memo to MAA members to get the answers to these questions.

Contact Tiger at 803.933.1270 or with any questions.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Updates to the Freedom of Information Act every local official needs to know

By Tiger Wells, government affairs liaison
More than 80 mayors and councilmembers met at ten locations around the state today for the Municipal Elected Officials Institute of Government session focusing on the Freedom of Information Act. Timing for this session is perfect because, last Friday, Gov. McMaster signed H3352 that makes substantive changes to FOIA.

Carolyn Sawyer (left) talks with Bill Taylor, field services manager for the Municipal Association, and Bill Rogers, executive director of the S.C. Press Association, during the MEO Institute session on FOIA
The Municipal Association’s handbooks and website information related to FOIA are being updated to reflect these changes. We also got word from the S.C. Press Association that its Public Official's Guide to Compliance with the Freedom of Information Act is undergoing an update too. Until these updates are complete, local officials should refer to this summary to get the details on this new law.

Highlights of the impact of H3352 on local governments.

Legislators crafted H3352 to make all public bodies more responsive to records requests. The bill gives the public faster access to an official ruling when a public body either rejects or otherwise fails to satisfy a FOIA request. The bill also establishes timeframes for the public bodies receiving those requests.

One of the primary provisions of the new law outlines steps that will help public bodies in the stewardship of the public’s resources while granting new certainty to the requester about when records will be available.

For example, public bodies now have 10, rather than the previous 15, days to determine if it can respond to a FOIA request for records less than 24 months old. However, the bill extends the number of days from 15 to 20 that public bodies have to make this determination for records that are more than 24 months old.

Public bodies must now produce requested records within 30 days following its final determination about the availability of the records when they are less than two years old. Public bodies have 35 days for records older than two years.

These new response times also give a little more flexibility than before, since the law now allows the requesting party and public body to agree in writing to further timeline extensions.

Another provision focusing on good stewardship of public resources permits public bodies to deny and request circuit court review of FOIA requests that are overly broad, unduly burdensome, vague, repetitive or otherwise improper. These and other disputed requests would go to a circuit court for a determination. If the circuit court determines that the requested records are not subject to disclosure, the public body will benefit from a good faith finding that will act as a shield protecting it from paying the requesting party’s attorney’s fees and cost if the requester subsequently prevails on appeal.

This document includes details of all the changes resulting from H3352. Watch for notification of updated handbooks and website information in the weekly Uptown Update or check back to the Association’s website.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Get the scoop on the roads bill

By Scott Slatton, legislative and public policy analyst
After three years of trying, the South Carolina General Assembly adopted a state road funding plan last week. While that’s not necessarily news this week, the effects of the plan’s passage will hopefully make news in your city or town in the coming years. Get more details on the bill in last week’s From the Dome to Your Home. 

Senate Transportation Committee considering the 12 cent gas tax
South Carolina’s motor fuel user fee (the gas tax) will rise by a total of 12 cents by 2022, which will generate upwards of $350 million in new money for repair and maintenance of state roads. Unlike other pots of road money that may be diverted to other uses, these new funds will be placed into a trust fund that may only be used for “. . . repairs, maintenance and improvements to the existing transportation system.”

Importantly for cities and towns, the new law increases funding for the C Fund by about half over the next six years, eventually reaching approximately $115 million. That’s about $40 million in new money that cities and towns can seek from their County Transportation Committees for projects on state roads within their boundaries.

The new law adds a seat to the SCDOT commission, bringing the total to nine members. It allows the governor to appoint the commissioners with the advice and consent of the General Assembly. And the law allows the governor to remove SCDOT commissioners without the approval of legislators. This is a significant departure from the past when commissioners were essentially immovable by anyone unless they committed a crime.

To get an increase in the gas tax the General Assembly had to wade into tax policy by creating a menu of new tax credits to help South Carolina residents offset the additional tax they will pay at the pump. The tax policy change that cities and towns should pay attention to is the reduction in the property tax assessment ratio for manufacturers.

The manufacturing property tax assessment ratio will drop from 10.5 percent to 9 percent, but the General Assembly has set aside up to $85 million to offset the potential decrease in property tax revenue to cities, counties and schools. 

The Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office estimates it will take at least ten years before the offset reaches $85 million. And if it does, there is a circuit breaker provision in the law that will not allow the potential loss of property tax revenue to exceed the $85 million.

The law takes effect July 1, but don’t look for work to start right away. As SCDOT Secretary Christy Hall testified frequently at the General Assembly, it will take some time for contractors to staff up and mobilize for the work the new money will generate around the state.

In the meantime, thank your legislators if they voted for the new law. And maybe thank a summer tourist while he’s filling up in your town for helping us take care of our roads.