Thursday, August 25, 2016

Common themes emerging from Regional Advocacy Meetings

Week two of the Regional Advocacy Meetings wrapped up at the Clyburn Intermodal Transportation Center in Sumter for cities in the Santee Lynches COG.The building is former abandoned warehouse now serving as the headquarters for the Santee-Wateree Transportation Authority. There’s an interesting article in Architect magazine about the facility’s restoration.
The City of Blackville hosted officials from the Lower Savannah COG cities at the Blackville Community Center. This building is another example of creative reuse of an old building - a former gymnasium built in the 1930s. More than 65 officials from 18 cities participated in this week’s meetings.

City park next to the Blackville Community Center
We’re beginning to see a pattern in many of the legislative issues that officials are offering up as challenges in their cities and towns: roads, enclaves, funding for priority projects, law enforcement, and upkeep of stormwater drains and ditches, to name a few.
When asked about whether enclave annexation would be an issue in 2017, Scott Slatton, one of the Association’s lobbyists, noted that Rep. Mary Tinkler introduced H4834 in 2016. This bill would have allowed  cities to annex by ordinance pockets of land that are less than 25 acres and have been completely surrounded by the city for at least five years.

Late in the 2016 session, a House subcommittee approved the bill, but it was too late in the session for further action. “Since Rep. Tinkler is retiring, another legislator would have to take on sponsorship and leadership on this issue in the next session,” Scott said when asked about the possibility of the bill getting introduced in 2017. He encouraged local officials to talk with their delegation members about their interest in championing this bill.

Senators Kevin Johnson and Thomas McElveen met with the officials assembled in Sumter to give their perspective on State House issues coming up in 2017. Senator McElveen explained why he strongly supported changes in the structure of the SC Department of Transportation last session, noting nothing new can happen if the agency continues to be governed the way it has been in the past.

Senator Johnson was encouraging about the idea of a municipal capital project sales tax that officials discussed. “A referendum could certainly make this idea more acceptable to some who may otherwise oppose it as a tax increase,” he said.

Both senators voiced strong support for the Local Government Fund as well as other municipal issues.

During the discussion part of the agenda, local officials at both meetings expressed a variety of concerns including the Zika threat, accessing funding through the Rural Infrastructure Authority, zoning issues related to “tiny houses,” and funding for stormwater and wastewater needs. (Click the links for more detail about these issues.)

Last week’s blog post touched on the new laws concerning public prayer and ethics filings along with a court case regarding executive session and the Freedom of Information Act.

Next week, we head to Darlington, Beaufort and Greenwood. Learn more and register.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Great turnout for week one of the Regional Advocacy Meetings

The first week of the Regional Advocacy Meetings are history with more than 70 local officials representing 20 cities attending the two meetings in Surfside Beach and Moncks Corner.
These 10 sessions held around the state in August and September let local officials weigh in on challenges in their cities that could be solved through legislation. Plus they get a chance to hear from local legislators who share their perspective on issues that will likely be top priorities for the 2017 session. Read this blog post to hear from Casey Fields with details about how the meetings work.

Transportation, annexation, public safety (recruitment and training) and business licensing were hot topics at both meetings this week. 

Several legislators weighed in about how local officials can best make the case for city issues in the General Assembly.

"It's great to see you starting in August to talk about legislative issues," said Rep. David Mack at the Moncks Corner meeting. "Too often we hear from groups coming to us once the session has already started to tell us about their issues. It's nice to see you are getting started early."

Rep. Joe Danning encouraged local officials to stay in touch with their local delegation before they need something. "We need to hear from you all year long and know what's important to you."

Scott Slatton and Tiger Wells updated attendees on two bills from 2016. 

Prayer at public meetings. A 2014 U.S. Supreme Court case recently led to several changes to the South Carolina Public Invocation Act. First, prayers at meetings of public bodies must not seek to proselytize, advance or denigrate any one faith or belief. 

Second, a public invocation cannot coerce participation by observers of the invocation. Finally, it eliminated the need to rotate delivery of the invocation among the members of the public body. Instead, the body may appoint one of its members to deliver an invocation.

An invocation is one that is delivered for the benefit of the public body, not the public. So anyone who delivers an invocation at a meeting of a public body should direct the prayer to the body in an effort to mitigate the possibility of running afoul of the Supreme Court’s ruling. Additionally, public bodies should incorporate in their rules of procedures a prayer policy that uses the Act as a guide. 

Statement of Economic Interests filing. Legislation that passed in May requires any official who already files a Statement of Economic Interests to now report the source and type of income they receive. This also includes disclosure of income that immediate family members receive. 

Meeting participants got a copy of this flow chart for a quick summary of these new requirements.

The staff and local officials have been actively tweeting this week from the RAMs with updates and photos. Keep up with what’s happening by following @muniassnsc on Twitter

Next week, the staff heads to Blackville and Sumter. It’s not too late to register!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Cities getting creative with economic development strategies

With the uptick in the economy, we are seeing increasing growth and economic activity in South Carolina’s cities and towns. Take a look at the summer issue of Cities Mean Business magazine that focuses on how several cities are creatively growing their local economy.

Tried and true approaches to economic development are changing and new strategies are showing results. Read about how Anderson, Hartsville and Greenwood are building on their strengths using creative tactics.

Recreation and leisure activities can be a critical part of a city’s quality of life. Find out how Pickens, Easley, Walhalla, Greenville, Travelers Rest, Eutawville and North Augusta are using trails to bolster tourism and business growth.

From a bustling urban downtown park to a quiet place to sit and take in nature, city parks also shore of the quality of life in our cities and towns. Walterboro, Greenville and Charleston are finding that passive parks give people places gather and connect.

A common theme we hear more and more these days is the idea that people want to engage more in their community. Learn about the concept of “placemaking” and how cities are working to create and sustain public places to build stronger communities.

In each issue, we feature a guest columnist from an organization that works closely with South Carolina cities and towns. Ted Pitts, president and CEO of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, shares his insights on why cities and towns are big part of our state's growing economy. 

Cities Mean Business is the Municipal Association's bi-annual magazine published as an insert in SC Biz magazine in its spring and fall issues. Read it online now or get a copy in the upcoming issue of SC Biz.

Friday, August 12, 2016

New law impacts mutual aid agreements

By Tigerron Wells, government affairs liaison

In the closing days of the 2016 session, the governor signed legislation regarding mutual aid agreements. Rep. Tommy Pope of York introduced H3653 at the request of the SC Sheriffs’ Association to clarify sheriffs’ authority to enter into mutual aid agreements without the need for county council approval.

The Municipal Association closely tracked the legislation and became involved as it moved through the General Assembly. We wanted to make sure that, in clarifying sheriffs’ authority, the Legislature didn’t cause confusion for municipalities, since police chiefs are still required to seek city council approval before they can enter into this type of agreement.

The legislation that ultimately passed achieved the goal of clarifying sheriffs’ authority while maintaining municipal council authority to authorize agreements between municipal police departments and other law enforcement agencies.

While the bill’s language bars municipalities from using these agreements solely for the purpose of speed enforcement, it intentionally does not restrict municipalities from entering into this type of agreement for the broader purpose of traffic enforcement.

Importantly, the legislation also simplifies and streamlines the process of entering into mutual aid agreements by eliminating 23-1-210, 23-1-215 and 23-20-50. Municipalities operating under existing agreements that were executed based on those now-eliminated code sections should revisit them and any related ordinances or resolutions.

The Sheriffs’ Association has created a mutual aid agreement template to be used as a starting point for this type of agreement between sheriff’s departments and other law enforcement agencies. We anticipate that municipalities may be approached with these agreements in the near future, if they have not already been. 

As always, the Association encourages anyone reviewing or helping craft this type of agreement to pay special attention to potential liability issues that may need to be addressed.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Give your ideas for 2017 legislative session at Regional Advocacy Meetings

By Casey Fields, Manager for Municipal Advocacy
Listen to Casey's podcast interview to get more details about the Regional Advocacy Meetings
Casey Fields and Scott Slatton at
2015 Regional Advocacy Meeting
It’s August. It’s hot. It’s humid. And it’s time for the Municipal Association’s Regional Advocacy Meetings. These meetings are designed for municipal officials to offer their input on the Association's Advocacy Initiatives for 2017.

Jump in the car with your fellow local officials, buckle up and hit the road for an advocacy meeting near you. We will share a good meal, some fellowship and talk politics. I loved seeing everyone after Annual Meeting. The regional meetings keep the momentum going from such a great meeting in Charleston this year.

Association staff hits the road
The Regional Advocacy Meetings start on Tuesday, August 16, in Surfside Beach at the Civic Center. If you haven’t already registered for one of the ten, do it now. You don’t want to miss this year’s lineup. It’s a little different so pay attention.

We will open up the meetings by looking ahead to big issues for the 2017 legislative session. Business licensing and police training are two topics that I’m sure will come up. Then, we will hear what’s on your mind about issues in your city or town.

This year we are inviting legislators to join us for a panel to discuss their opinions on big issues for cities and towns in the 2017 session. We are inviting specific members of your local delegation to participate in a panel discussion and to stay for lunch. We'll let you know which legislators have accepted our panel invitations as soon as we get confirmations.

Even if you think you and your General Assembly member love each other like family, you still have to work on it. Especially if you have a newly elected House or Senate member.

This is not a lecture-style meeting. It’s a discussion among the Association staff, you, your colleagues and your legislators. It’s designed to be fast-paced but thorough enough to walk away with some good information and next steps for the months leading up to the new session in January.

And we promise a great meal.

I know you are busy. I know you have a lot of other responsibilities including running your city and protecting your residents. I promise the Regional Advocacy Meeting will be time well spent.

Register now for a Regional Advocacy Meeting. Don’t miss the opportunity to tell your legislators what’s on your mind (kindly, of course) and hear what’s coming up for the 2017 legislative session. I can’t wait to see your smiling faces! Never too soon to start planning our strategy to advocate for strong cities and towns in our General Assembly.

Listen to Casey's podcast interview to get more details about the Regional Advocacy Meetings.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Social media and the wild, wild west

Social media and the use of technology have become so commonplace in our lives, it’s easy to forget that it’s a wild, wild west landscape out there.

Transparency is a top priority for government, and social media presents lots of options for communicating with the public about government operations and activities. At the recent Annual Meeting, one of the keynote speakers talked about how government can use technology to keep residents engaged and informed.

But government has a particular challenge in dealing with technology and social media - both from the perspective of communicating information out and responding to posts by others. This National League of Cities whitepaper outlines many of these challenges.

The human side of social media and technology use is where local leaders may find the biggest challenge. Digital interactions have become such an ingrained part of our lives, but the line between personal and professional use of technology is continuing to blur. This trend will certainly continue.

That’s where government social media and technology use policies come in. Just as government entities have policies related to workplace behavior like work hours and dress, they should also adopt policies related to technology use. This could cover work-issued and personal devices as well as behavior expectations related to the use of social media.

Not only is it important to create a strategy for social media use, but it’s also important to have guidelines in place so employees have clear expectations about what is and isn’t acceptable behavior when using social media and technology.

Social media and technology policies can include a variety of issues. This Uptown article outlines questions to consider when formulating a policy. The Municipal Association's technology use policy for its staff can be a good example to work from. Also take a look at resources on HR policies regarding technology use, general social media guidelines and law enforcement policies.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Hometown Economic Development Grants can fuel local projects

One of the most popular clicks on the Association's website during the Annual Meeting was the Hometown Economic Development Grant program. Mayor Bill Young, the Association's president, rolled out the program in the meeting's opening session. Every city got an application packet by mail in early July, and there's an easy online application. 

"These grants will help cities carry out economic development projects that will make a positive impact on the quality of life in their communities, while also promoting and recognizing innovation in economic development practices," Mayor Young told the crowd assembled at the Annual Meeting. 

Cities and towns can apply for grants up to $25,000 to fund economic development projects that will produce measurable results, can be maintained over time by the city or town, and can serve as examples for other municipalities. This July Uptown article has all the details on the grant criteria. 

Examples of eligible activities for the grant include professional services related to producing master plans or conducting analysis for marketing, branding or promoting cities and towns and their local businesses; infrastructure development; and the creation of programs or assets for public use in conjunction with private or nonprofit organizations.

The application process, with a deadline of September 30, involves a match from the city. 

Email Scott Slatton or call him at 803.933.1208 for more information.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Saturday at the Annual Meeting: awards, games and grants

Saturday kicked off with the annual award breakfast recognizing nine cities and seven Main Street SC programs.

“This is a celebration of hometown success stories from around the state,” said Walterboro Mayor Bill Young, president of the Municipal Association. “The awards not only celebrate the positive things in our hometowns but also let us share with each other how we are addressing the issues that face our hometowns.”

Read more about the Achievement Award winners and the Main Award Inspiration Award winners. Videos from the awards will be online next week.

Today’s breakout sessions featured trends in recreation, best practices in recruiting police officers and an update on the Freedom of Information Act.

Pokemon Go…a trend?
Ken Ayoub, the Town of Mount Pleasant’s recreation director, isn’t quite ready to starting planning around Pokemon Go, a new craze described on its website as a "location-based augmented reality mobile game."
Ken Ayoub
“Who’s playing Pokemon Go? Is that a trend or is that a flash in the pan?” It’s too early to tell, Ken told attendees at a session that ended with a series of questions and answers from the audience.

Meanwhile, Ken, who has a 40-year career in recreation, has plenty of other established trends on his radar. He listed a few of these trends in the session:

•    Non-traditional sports like pickleball, quidditch and frisbee golf
•    Nonprofits’ desire to use city facilities
•    The use of criminal background checks intended to protect children and senior citizens
•    “Mobile rec,” the idea of driving equipment into communities via a city van

The April Uptown features several articles that focus on the trends Ken talked about.

Keep it open
Danny Crowe and Tiger Wells led a session on the Freedom of Information Act and talked about recent legislative and legal changes.

Tiger reiterated to the group the importance of stating on an agenda if there is a possibility council may take a vote on an issue discussed in executive session. This change is a result of the ruling in Brock v. Town of Mount Pleasant. This recent blog post has more information on this case and other FOIA issues.  

Danny Crowe and Tiger Wells
Danny covered several issues related to email and text messages. He noted that text messages should be treated the same as email or a paper document, despite the fact that many people now consider texts to be practically the same as a spoken conversation.

Danny also reminded officials that if they are having an email exchange on a personal device and official business is being discussed, they should copy their official email account so the city has a record of it. “Consider anything electronic like you would a letter,” Danny said.

Recruiting right
Everybody knows that finding and keeping good law enforcement officers is a constant challenge for police departments.

Attorney and former police officer Jack Ryan offered attendees ways to solve that vexing problem and how to prevent bad hiring decisions.

Jack challenged attendees to ask themselves what kind of police officers they want in their departments. After all, he said, different communities may need different types of individuals patrolling their streets.

“Who you decide to recruit in Clemson may be someone totally different from who you decide to recruit in Myrtle Beach,” said Jack.

Among his other insights:

•    No fibbers. “Dishonesty in somebody’s background? Don’t hire them,” said Jack. The reason, he said, is that the officer’s record will have to be disclosed during prosecutions.
•    How fit is fit enough? Consider what kind of physical standards are truly necessary for the job and the community to be policed. “I’m not saying we should lack fitness standards,” he said. “But we’ve got to look and see what’s important to us.”
•    Recruit in unconventional places, such as churches and basketball courts.
•    Explore candidates who are leaving other professions and looking for a new start such as nurses, flight attendants and others who have people skills.
•    Find. The. Money. “We need to find the money,” said Jack. “Not a lot of money—just a little more money—because people are not going to stay in this business if they can’t feed their family.”

This June Uptown article has some additional perspectives on recruiting police officers.

Economic development grants
The Association’s Scott Slatton seemed to be a really popular guy all day today answering questions at the Resource Hub about the new Hometown Economic Development Grants. Applications are due September 30.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Day Two at the Annual Meeting - fun, love and generational trends

Downtown Charleston’s Riviera Theatre was the venue for today’s opening general session. Charleston Mayor John Tecklenberg greeted the 600+ officials welcoming them to the Holy City and reflecting on the legacy of his predecessor, Mayor Riley.

Mayor Tecklenburg offered some thoughts about last year’s mass shooting at the Mother Emanuel AME church and called on local officials to recognize “an obligation to love and to share that love with our citizens.”

Some have called the aftermath of the shooting an opportunity to make positive changes. “It’s not an opportunity. It’s a responsibility,” Mayor Tecklenberg said. “It’s an obligation on our part to do something to improve our communities, our cities, our towns.”

The morning’s opening general session agenda also recognized the new graduates of the Municipal Elected Officials Institute of Government and included the election of officers and board members.

Two keynote speakers pooled their perspectives on bridging the gap between generations.

Keep it short
Curt Steinhorst, an expert on embracing generational trends and differences, said city and towns must adapt to the ways millennials are communicating. 

There are lots of reason for this. For starters, said the president and founder of Promentum Group, older residents are beginning to use technology in the same ways as younger folks. In other words, if you ignore the younger generation today, you will lose them as they grow older.

Curt gave a few tips:
•    Make city processes faster and easier. For instance, to improve parking, offer an app to pay to park. If the parking-payment system seems intimidating, teach users how to pay with a quick YouTube video.
•    Keep communications short. Younger residents might pay most attention to an email with a subject line that they perceive as relevant to them.
•    Use bulleted lists. Don’t over communicate.
•    Remember a telephone call is often perceived as a rude interruption by a millennial.

'Where is the fun?'
After Curt’s lively and information-packed talk came self-described “city love guy” Peter Kageyama. The community development specialist and author said cities are “obsessed with potholes”—a problem that certainly must be addressed—but city leaders should also ask, “Where is the fun?”

Peter Kagemaya
Peter pointed to several cities around the country that are doing little things to bring generations together. He argued that millennials and seniors often want the same benefits from cities, just at different times of day. Among his examples:

•    In East Lansing, Michigan, officials turned an old school into senior housing. The location of the building placed older residents in the same neighborhood as college students, which encouraged the two age groups interact.
•    At Falls Park in Greenville, SC, residents now use the space—formerly a bridge—for weddings, yoga classes and other activities, turning the park into “a social capital generator.”
•    Dog parks are a great way to bring generations together.

The delegates' lunch hosted Pulitzer prize-winner—and Camden native—Kathleen Parker, who brought her perspective to the presidential race.
Kathleen Parker
Look for more detail on the Annual Meeting in the August/September issue of Uptown.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Annual Meeting off to a great start

Day One of the 2016 Annual Meeting kicked off this morning with almost 300 municipal officials participating in four preconference sessions. 

Learning from North Charleston

It was a morning of “re’s”—repurpose, revitalize and redevelop. Nearly 100 people climbed into buses Thursday morning to explore North Charleston’s community development transformation.

Ryan Johnson, economic development and public relations official for the City of North Charleston, addresses attendees at the North Charleston Riverfront Park, adjacent to homes once occupied by Naval officers.

The three-hour tour revealed how North Charleston has given new purpose to old sites, be it an asbestos spinning mill, World War II housing or the old Navy officers’ housing campus.

“We are an industrial hub,” Mayor Keith Summey said, during a breakfast at the city’s coliseum. At any time during the day there could be 300,000 people in the city, either shopping, working or driving through, he said.

“Government has changed dramatically at the municipal level. We used to depend basically on property tax. We don’t do that anymore,” he said. “Hotel/motel accommodation fees, food and beverage taxes, business licenses, different forms of revenue that helps us become the type of city we need to be to enhance the quality of life for all of our people.”

One of the ways the 44-year-old city has approached revitalization was donating land to the Medical University of South Carolina to entice it to build a children’s outpatient center. 

The city also used leftover tax-increment finance district money from its Centre Pointe area to build a new city hall and a Fire Museum. On a smaller scale, the city purchased the former Shipwatch retail site with the intention of opening a grocery store in a food desert.

Afternoon breakout sessions got people thinking and creative juices flowing. 

These aren't the same old economic development practices 

Hartsville, Anderson and Greenwood showcased several successful creative approaches that have spurred economic growth in their downtowns.

Greenwood has reprioritized its marketing budget to focus more on using social media with professionally produced videos. "We took part of our marketing dollars from our downtown tax district and redirected it to video production," explained Greenwood City Manager Charlie Barrineau.

Anderson launched a “shark tank”-type grant program to support emerging entrepreneurs. The businesses that won are part of the city's focus on bringing certain types of businesses downtown. Read more about Anderson's grant program in this recent Uptown article that also appears in the summer Cities Mean Business magazine.

Suzy Moyd, Hartsville's downtown manager, explained how long-time businesses and new companies are both populating the downtown district. "We have four long-time businesses that just wouldn't give up on downtown," Suzy said.

Hartsville's Mantissa Executive Suites and Spa
She also showcased one of Hartsville's signature revitalization projects, the Mantissa Executive Suites and Spa. This project will be recognized on Saturday with a Main Street SC Inspiration Award. 

When water and sewer systems produce a surplus 

The Supreme Court’s decision in Azar v. City of Columbia means city officials would be wise to spell out the details of a utility fund transfer—exactly what they’re doing and how they’re justifying it. Municipal attorneys Eric Shytle, Lawrence Flynn, III and Danny Crowe offered constructive ways to gird against a legal challenge similar to the one leveled against the City of Columbia.

In short: Talk to city engineers. Consult the public works department. Get the rationale for a utility fund transfer laid out with the numbers and reasoning to back it up. Ideally, the decision-making process can be presented in court, if necessary.

“These ideas have been put down in writing in a policy, a resolution or an ordinance, the purpose has been explained, the reasons for that action have been explained, and that goes a long way,” Danny said. “Columbia did not have the benefit of knowing it was going to have to do that, have an explanation available. … You need to ask yourself, ‘Well, could a court looking at our utility fund and our transfers say the same thing, that we were making transfers without documenting and explaining why?’”

This July Uptown article gives some more background on this case.