Thursday, December 1, 2016

Proposal to change make-up of CTCs: No rehabilitation without representation

By Scott Slatton, legislative and public policy advocate
Last week's blog post by my colleague Casey Fields spotlighted the process of developing the Municipal Association's 2017 Advocacy Initiatives.
One of these initiatives is support for reliable road funding that helps cities and towns create and maintain economic development opportunities for our state. To help ensure road dollars flow to cities and towns, the Association supports the notion of more municipal representation on County Transportation Committees.

Over the last two years, the General Assembly has nearly tripled the amount of C Funds that are sent to each of the state’s 46 counties. C Funds are a portion of the state’s gas tax designated for local roads. County Transportation Committees (one in each county) oversee the use of C Funds. The Department of Transportation's website has lots of background about C Funds.

In some counties, the CTC and the towns in its county work well together to ensure those municipalities receive the road money they need to keep their roads in good shape. In many counties however, cities don’t receive C Funds at all, thereby putting those cities at an economic disadvantage.

To ensure cities and towns across the state have equitable access to C Funds, the Association advocates changing the law governing who is appointed to CTCs. At least one mayor, one city council member and one city employee within a county should be appointed to serve on each CTC in the state. This would guarantee that a municipal point of view is brought to each CTC and help reduce the municipal road funding disparity within some counties.

Roads are a critical part of economic development in our state. And sharing reliable road funding responsibly in each county will help all South Carolina residents.

Additional resources:
December 2016 Uptown article: Municipal Association releases 2017 Advocacy Initiatives
2015 Uptown article: background on the state of South Carolina roads

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Only seven Mondays until the 2017 session begins

By Casey Fields, manager for municipal advocacy
The campaigns are over and the election dust has settled. We can breathe a sigh of relief that the campaign commercials are over, and the mailers will no longer clog up our mailboxes. Now the real work begins for local officials. 

We have 18 new members in the House of Representatives and eight new members of the Senate. This is the largest freshman class in the Senate in recent memory. It's not too early to let our legislators know what the priorities for cities and towns will be in the 2017 session.

In the December issue of Uptown, municipal officials get an in-depth look at the 2017 Advocacy Initiatives for cities and towns. The front page article goes through five major challenges facing cities and towns with action items that would result in changing state law to meet those challenges. 

Blog posts over the next four weeks will describe each of the individual initiatives. In the meantime and moving forward, here’s what else we need to do.

On the Municipal Association's website, there is a sample proclamation councils can adopt in support of the 2017 advocacy initiatives. This sends a message from your council to your legislators that these priorities are ones that are important to your city. Download the Word document of the proclamation and send a copy back to me after your council passes it.

If you have new legislators, call them now if you haven’t already. Introduce yourself and your city. Exchange cell phone numbers and email addresses. Start the relationship. Don’t ask for anything. Just provide them information about your city and its vision for the future. Take them a copy of the proclamation supporting the Advocacy Initiatives. Thank them for representing you and your city.

If your legislator was re-elected, call to say “congratulations” on serving another term. Renew that relationship that is already there. Exchange cell phone numbers. Thank them for everything they do for your city and point them to the Association’s website for more information on the Advocacy Initiatives. The Association staff has printed cards you can give to your legislators outlining the initiatives or you can get a copy from the website.

Building positive relationships with legislators is the most important thing mayors and councilmembers can do to advance good legislation to help cities and towns be the economic drivers and centers of commerce for South Carolina. These relationships help stop bad legislation and pass good legislation. These relationships establish local elected leaders as the go-to source of municipal information. These relationships provide valuable information to legislators in Columbia about cities and towns. These relationships are the backbone of our grassroots network across the state. 

There's a quick list of the newly elected House members and Senate below. We'll have contact info and committee assignments for them in a blog post after the December 7 reorganization sessions. Stay tuned. 


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Investment in social capital pays dividends

For some police officers, raising social capital is as simple as not ticketing a resident for a minor infraction. Educating the offender about the local ordinance can sometimes be more helpful in the long run than fining him. 

Walterboro residents have no doubt benefited from town officials who put social capital in the bank. But recently those same residents got to read about social capital, too.

That’s because an Uptown column written by Walterboro mayor and Municipal Association President Bill Young was picked up by his hometown paper. As Mayor Young described it, social capital is “the value created by the networks that connect similar people and build bridges between diverse people.

Clemson Police Chief Jimmy Dixon described some of the same ideas in another Uptown article, Accumulating social capital for a rainy day.”

"It’s only a matter of time before bad things happen. We don’t want it to happen. We are a safe community, but we’re not immune to it," he said. "You want support so when the hard times hit, people know you’ll do everything humanly possible to solve it.”

Social capital can have other, unexpected benefits. For instance, cities and towns may discover that banking some social capital even helps with public safety recruitment efforts. 

"The way a particular agency treats people in the community every day—if they take time to talk to people and treat them with empathy—it pays dividends in a lot of different ways," said Jack Ryan with the Public Agency Training Council during at session at this summer's Annual Meeting.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Professional photos with a cell phone? You bet!

Have you ever wondered why photos taken from your cell phone just don't work sometimes for print or website use? Are the photos often grainy? Does your subject look like he's got turkey feathers growing from his head? These challenges and some easy fixes were the topic of a session at this week's training for Main Street South Carolina managers.

"When you're a one-man shop, like many Main Street programs are, you might also be the photographer for your newsletters, websites or social media," said Beppie LeGrand, Main Street SC's manager. 

Meredith Houck, the Association's website and creative services manager, outlined several tricks of the trade for better photographs using only a cell phone and a little technical know-how of the phone and photography basics.

"You want your photos to tell a story. Even the dreaded "grip and grin" photos can be made interesting with just a few tweaks to your composition or lighting," Meredith said.

 *    Avoid placing the subject of your photo in the direct center of the photo.

 *    Most smartphones cameras have a grid view. Once you enable this, you'll see that the screen has four lines that divide the frame into nine equal parts. By using the rule of thirds, your subject should be on one of the lines, preferably where these lines intersect.

 *    Be aware of the background of the photo. If the photo includes people, make sure nothing appears to be sticking out of their head from the background.

 *    Make sure your resolution is set to the highest setting. A high-resolution image allows you to take quality photos that can be used in printed pieces and websites. A high-resolution image can always be compressed if the original is too large. Low-resolution image are usually grainy and pixelated. Pixels cannot be created to increase the size of a low-resolution image.

 *    When emailing or uploading an image, make sure to send the original size of the image. Do not compress the image.

Get Meredith's handout with the full list of tips from the session and take a look at her Power Point presentation.

The group ventured out in downtown Columbia to practice what they had learned.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Cities paying it forward after the hurricane...stories of grace and gratitude

When it comes to showing South Carolina’s big heart and ability to help our neighbors, we don’t need to look any further than the devastated Pee Dee Town of Nichols.

There are lots of great stories of cities helping cities after the hurricane. These are just a few:

While Hurricane Matthew pounded the coast, many small inland towns were left reeling from the flooding. There are many stories of humility, grace and gratitude from these devastating events. One example is Edisto Beach Mayor Jane Darby who used Facebook through the storm recovery to keep residents and homeowners updated on the progress of cleaning up their island home.

But Mayor Darby didn’t forget there were other South Carolinians who continued to struggle. She used Facebook to help pay it forward to the Town of Nichols and let her followers know that almost everyone in Nichols lost their home and belongings to flooding. She wanted to help and posted this plea:

The mayor also shared Nichols’ Facebook album of photos showing the brown murky flood waters standing stagnant in homes and businesses.

When the emergency distribution center closed in Edisto Beach, the mayor and city officials sent the remainder of the supplies that had been donated to Edisto Beach to Nichols … a great story of paying it forward.

The City of Cayce also lent a helping hand to Nichols by sending public safety officers to help with search and rescue operations immediately after the storm hit.
Then, the Cayce Department of Public Safety and the North Charleston Police Department were two of many local law enforcement agencies that collected goods for people in Nichols.
Just yesterday, House Speaker Jay Lucas of Hartsville took a trip to Nichols to see the devastation first hand. Watch this WIS-TV news report and read this Florence Morning News story to get a snapshot of what Speaker Lucas saw on his visit.

The Speaker recognized a top priority right now is getting the city government back up and running so residents can be assured of police and fire protection. Speaker Lucas also pledged to be the town’s legislative voice to try and identify funding for rebuilding since its local representative has retired.
But that’s what we’re all about in South Carolina….paying it forward and helping out. These are just a few of the stories. Got more? We’d love to know about them.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Shout out after the storm ... "electric cities" chip in to help each other

It’s easy to write that disaster recovery plan but, when the hurricane strikes, the real proof of the plan’s worth becomes evident. That’s certainly the case with the mutual aid agreement among the state’s 21 “electric cities” that run their own electric utilities.

All 21 of these municipal utilities are members of the South Carolina Association of Municipal Power Systems. The original purpose of SCAMPS, when it was established in the 1980s, was to serve as a vehicle for mutual aid during emergencies. Today SCAMPS, as an affiliate of the Municipal Association, also provides training for its members and advocacy related to utility issues in the legislature.
These municipal-run utilities were established to provide a nonprofit, community-owned and locally controlled source of reliable electric power. Governance by an elected council or utility commission allows the policies and decisions affecting electric rates and system operations to be tailored to the specific needs and priorities of the local community.

A hallmark of public power is system reliability. The SCAMPS utilities participate in a mutual aid assistance compact which pledges the availability of equipment, manpower and resources in emergency situations to restore power in affected utilities.

Following Hurricane Matthew, six municipal utilities reported a combined total of approximately 25,000 customer outages resulting in an activation of the mutual aid system.

Jimmy Bagley, Rock Hill’s deputy city manager, has served for many years as the voluntary mutual aid director for SCAMPS members. During Hurricane Mathew, Jimmy led the mutual aid response by coordinating in-state and out-of-state resources.

Rock Hill’s Electric Utility Director Mike Jolly responded with the core team sent to Orangeburg which was the hardest hit SCAMPS utility. There were approximately 15,000 customers without power in Orangeburg.This WIS-TV story that ran on Friday features Mike and the crew’s work in Orangeburg.

In addition to Orangeburg, mutual aid resources were dispatched to Bennettsville and Georgetown. The mutual aid response involved approximately 140 people including 69 SCAMPS-member employees, 16 private utility or tree company employees, and 52 employees from out of state public power utilities from Alabama, Florida, North Carolina and Nebraska.
Roughly 117 people were deployed to Orangeburg, 13 to Bennettsville and nine to Georgetown. The majority of these crews worked from Saturday October 7, through Thursday, October 13. SCAMPS had a 100 percent participation rate in the response by the utilities that were not seriously affected by the storm and employed more than five lineman.

The Municipal Association also served as a clearinghouse for providing information to the SC Emergency Management Division each day regarding the progress of restoring power in the three hardest hit cities of Orangeburg, Georgetown and Bamberg. Eric Budds, the SCAMPS contact for the Municipal Association, stayed in daily contact with EMD to update outage information that the governor incorporated into her daily reports.

During the storm, utility directors were busy at work focusing on the outages. Read this Uptown article to learn more about what a utility director does on a usual daily basis.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Cities helping cities during the hurricane

It’s been quite a week for South Carolina cities hit hard by Hurricane Matthew. We’ve moved into the recovery period where cities are reaching out to help others in need. 

The first news block on the Association’s website has up-to-date information for cities regarding mutual aid requests, as well as documents from the state Department of Transportation related to debris cleanup.

Twenty-one cites in South Carolina run a municipal power system and are members of an affiliate organization of the Municipal Association called the SC Association of Municipal Power Systems. These utilities stay in close contact with one another whenever widespread power outages occur. Hurricane Matthew was no exception.

As soon as the governor declared a state of emergency on October 5, utilities in these electric cities outside of the target of the storm started getting resources ready to send lineman crews out to help out electric cities in parts of the state that needed it.
So maybe it's not an ice storm this week, but the Superman sentiment about linemen is true in any emergency
The electric cities hardest hit by the hurricane include Bennettsville, Orangeburg and Georgetown. Already Clinton, Camden and the Laurens Commission of Public Works have been helping Bennettsville. Meanwhile, Union, the Greer Commission of Public Works, Rock Hill, Abbeville, the Gaffney Board of Public Works and Easley Combined Utilities have been working in Orangeburg. Seneca crews have been helping out in Georgetown.

Utility directors are busy helping get the power back on today, but if you want to know more about what they do on a regular day, read this article from Uptown to learn about a utility director’s various responsibilities.

Monday, October 3, 2016

New leadership at Criminal Justice Academy lays out priorities

At last Friday’s fall forum for managers/administrators, the new director of the SC Criminal Justice Academy, Jackie Swindler, addressed more than 50 managers and administrators about some of the concerns and challenges he’s looking at in his new position.
Swindler has more than 40 years in law enforcement and is the former long-time chief of police for the City of Newberry. Most recently he was the law enforcement liaison for the SC Department of Social Services.

Here are five take-aways from Swindler’s conversation with the managers and administrators:

1 - The CJA is funded by fines and fees from tickets, but that could change. Swindler will be asking the Legislature for a permanent line item of funding instead. One of the Municipal Association’s 2017 advocacy initiatives lends support to this change to CJA’s funding stream.

2 - Training could be coming directly to police departments in their own cities. Swindler is requesting state funding to dispatch a mobile team to go into four regions of the state to do ongoing training at local departments.

3 - If the legislature approves this new CJA budget, Academy training for new officer certification will be increasing from 12 weeks to 15 weeks. What’s in the extra weeks? Increased diversity training and a focus or making sure officers don’t put themselves into situations where shooting a gun is the only line of defense.

“Those additional three weeks will be … all about where you position yourself, how you posture yourself, use of force, arrest, verbal judo, de-escalation, cultural diversity, prejudices, biases, all those things will be taught, Swindler said. "Most of our situations happen as the result of how we communicate and then how it escalates. If we are able to have the additional three weeks, those will be some really good hands-on weeks.”

4 - Psychological tests are important. Swindler is requesting in his budget enough money to be able to reimburse police departments for psychological tests they administer to job candidates. “You do the test, send us the invoice, and we’ll pay you. I strongly encourage you to use psychological (screenings),” he said. “I know it’s hard on some budgets to be able to do that. It’s being asked of us throughout the county. The public is saying, ‘please vet your officers.’”

5 - Remember to report new hires to the CJA within 72 hours. It’s the law, after all. “We got one in the same envelope that was the hire form and the fire form,” said Swindler.

Swindler recently participated in a law enforcement task force hosted by the Municipal Association where stakeholders came together to discuss many of these challenges. The task force will continue to meet throughout the fall.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

It’s what we do . . .

Last night, two members of the Municipal Association staff were in Summerville to make a presentation about the three forms of municipal government to the council and a group of 30 residents. Sure, maybe this is a topic that the average Joe on the street doesn’t give much thought to. But it’s a very important topic in the context of understanding the mechanics of local government.

Scott Slatton and Bill Taylor are both former city managers. Scott is one of the Association’s lobbyists and was manager in Woodruff and in NC before joining the Association. Bill was the city administrator in Cheraw for 29 years and has been a field services manager since 2010.

This deep background in municipal government operations gives them the insight and perspective to help city officials when they are navigating issues such as changing the form of government.

“It’s important for city officials and residents to have a full understanding of issues like forms of government and how it affects governance in the city,” Scott said. “The differences in the forms really boil down to who has the authority to do what. Understanding that ensures everyone stays in their lane.”

It’s also important for residents to understand their council’s form of government. (Get a list of all cities' form of government.)

“Understanding their city’s form of government empowers residents to be more effective in advocating for what they need from their elected officials,” Bill said. “This means knowing who to go to when a pothole needs filling and who to go to when a policy issue is up for discussion.”

This article in the Summerville Journal-Scene gives a good summary of the conversation at the meeting. 

This Summerville meeting was just another day at the office for Bill who covers half of the state as one of two field services managers for the Association. Each week, Bill and  Jeff Shacker take well over 50 calls, make more than 25 visits with local officials, attend numerous council meetings, facilitate planning retreats, and do training sessions for city officials on topics such as forms of government, running effective meetings and compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.

“We started the field services program back in 2007 so we could take the Association’s resources directly to city officials to help them with planning, training and governance,” said the Association’s Executive Director Miriam Hair. “Their time on the road not only gives city officials information, but it also helps Association staff to understand the challenges city officials face each day in providing city services to residents and businesses. By understanding these challenges, we can improve the resources offered to cities and towns.”

And for issues that don’t need front lines answers from Bill or Jeff, officials and city staff have easy access to information about just about any topic related to municipal government on the Association’s website. The search box in the top right corner of the site lets a visitor just type in a topic, and the site returns a list of resources available on the site.

Giving local officials the tools they need to do their jobs…it’s what we do.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Regional meetings wrap up...record crowds give input on advocacy initiatives

The Regional Advocacy Meetings wrapped up this week with the final session in Columbia. Over a period of five weeks, more than 330 officials from 109 cities joined 21 legislators at ten meetings. Record turnout!

The Association’s legislative committee meets on Wednesday, September 21. It will make recommendations to the Association’s board regarding the 2017 advocacy initiatives based on feedback from the RAMs, staff meetings with legislators and their staff, and discussions with partner organizations. These initiatives will be rolled out in early December as the blueprint for legislative action in the 2017 session.
Here’s a quick summary of some of what came out of the RAMs:
  • Officials got briefings on new requirements regarding prayer at public meetings and changes to the process for filing the Statement of Economic Interests. Read this post from week one of the RAMs to get details on what local officials need to do to comply with these two new laws.
  • Miriam gave a detailed update on progress from the 2016 session regarding business license legislation. 
  • Themes emerged from the dozens of pages of notes resulting from feedback from local officials: the state of SC roads, enclaves, funding for priority projects, law enforcement and fairness of funding distribution from County Transportation Committees. Read what Beaufort Sen. Tom Davis had to say about a municipal capital projects sales tax and turning over state roads to local governments. 
  • Several issues prompted lots of conversation. Read this post to find out more about discussions on enclave annexation legislation and the idea of a municipal capital projects sales tax. 
  • Other questions that came up multiple times included the Zika threat and how to access funding through the Rural Infrastructure Authority. Read more about those in this post.
It’s not too late to provide input on the 2017 advocacy initiatives. Contact anyone on the legislative team with your ideas by noon on Tuesday, September 20.