Friday, September 19, 2014

On the road...Week one

Preparations for the 2015 legislative session got into full swing this week with the first two of our ten Regional Advocacy Meetings.

We started in Uptown Greenwood on Tuesday where Mayor Welborn Adams welcomed local officials and city staff from the region to the beautiful Arts Center located in the renovated federal building. Close to 50 local officials from 12 cities and towns joined the Association staff for a lively conversation about issues affecting cities and towns. Blight, infrastructure, budget priorities and changes to the Freedom of Information Act topped the list of issues local officials discussed.

Senators Floyd Nicholson (left) and Billy O’Dell were joined by Representative Craig Gagnon who gave their insight into the upcoming session. The senators both said they support a gas tax increase but acknowledged passage would likely be an uphill battle. Rep. Gagnon noted he had heard from many of his House colleagues that the time has come to address the funding shortfall in the Local Government Fund. 

On Wednesday in Florence, we had another great turnout of more than 50 officials from 15 Pee Dee cities and towns. Florence Mayor Stephen Wukela greeted the local officials and staff who met in the recently opened Hotel Florence (right), a locally-owned downtown boutique hotel located in a rehabbed building that was originally a hotel and a hardware store.

Again, clearing blight, funding infrastructure, updating FOIA to require an agenda and identifying ways to fund services topped the list of issues discussed. 

Rep. Wayne George (left) spoke to the group about the importance of local officials’ voices in the debate over the Local Government Fund. As a former mayor, George said he completely understands the importance of LGF dollars to funding public safety and infrastructure, in particular. “Be aggressive in your efforts to support a new Local Government Fund formula,” he said.

Next week, we move on to Columbia, Summerville and Greenville. It’s not too late for elected officials and city staff to register and voice your opinion on issues affecting cities and towns.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

To Amend or Not to Amend

By Tigerron Wells, Municipal Association's Government Affairs Liaison

On September 16, I had the opportunity to testify before a Senate study committee looking at issues related to the Freedom of Information Act. The committee is comprised of Senators Larry Martin of Pickens (Chairman), Chip Campsen of Charleston, Gerald Malloy of Darlington and Shane Massey of Aiken. 

The committe met to begin discussing, among other issues, proposed legislation that will address agendas and amending agendas for public bodies’ regularly scheduled meetings.

The agenda issue resulted from the June 2014 SC Supreme Court decision, Lambries v. Saluda County. This ruling  concluded that the law says an agenda is not required for a regularly scheduled meeting of a public body. Neither does the law prohibit regular meeting agendas from being amended at the time of the meeting. 

Read more about the original Lambries v. Saluda County Court of Appeals decision in Uptown and the Association's position on the June 2014 Supreme Court decision in the City Connect blog post.

During the study committee meeting, I reiterated to committee members the Municipal Association’s position that cities and towns should continue following the customary practice of creating and posting agendas for regularly scheduled meetings at least 24 hours before such meetings. An agenda is critical to conducting a meeting effectively and efficiently.

I also noted to the committee members that a public body should not be restricted from taking up issues that are not included on an agenda at the time of the meeting. Agendas, after all, are important tools of order, but should not limit a public body’s ability to handle important public business that may come up unexpectedly after an agenda has been posted. Of course, changes should only be made under narrow and unavoidable circumstances.

The senators appeared to be in agreement that the FOIA should be amended to specifically require an agenda for regularly scheduled meetings. 

It seems that the discussion on this issue in January will revolve around how, or if, items could be added to the agenda at the meeting. 
The committee will continue to meet between now and January. Stay tuned for more details.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Listening to issues important to our cities and towns

By Scott Slatton, Municipal Association's Legislative and Public Policy Advocate

A rolling stone gathers no moss. And so far this year, neither has my truck! 

From Pickens to Bennettsville to Estill and everywhere in between, I’ve been privileged to meet with city officials all over the state to hear how the Municipal Association can help them solve problems either through training, advocacy or just general conversation.

As you prepare to attend the Regional Advocacy Meetings that start next week, let me share with you the most common issues I’ve heard about during my travels this year.

Infrastructure funding tops the list. Roads, bridges, and water and sewer systems all need reliable funding to keep our cities competitive. While suggestions vary on how to fund infrastructure, there is no disagreement on the needs of cities and towns across the state.

Clearing blight is a frequently mentioned issue. Code enforcement and dilapidated buildings are ongoing problems towns struggle with each day. More money would be helpful, but I’ve observed there are other, inexpensive solutions we need to help cities better understand.

Use of existing tools, commitment to the task, proper ordinances and then rigorous enforcement are all things the Municipal Association can help cities with. Other tools, like the Dilapidated Buildings Act and consistent collection of code enforcement liens, are would-be solutions.

Rounding out the list of frequently-mentioned topics is a perennial Municipal Association legislative priority: annexation. Specifically, the problems caused by enclaves. Changing our state’s laws to allow enclave annexation is a goal we can reach...but only with a tremendous, united effort from city officials and their allies across South Carolina.

What have I missed? Surely, there’s more! We want you to hear from you, so come tell us at an upcoming Regional Advocacy Meeting near you! The meetings start on September 16 and run through October 8. Sign up for the one closest to you.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Human Resources can be a tricky business

Dealing with HR issues in any work environment can be tricky to balance the needs of the employee with the needs of the employer. In government, HR brings in another perspective because of the public nature of the organization.

The special section in the September issue of Uptown takes a look at several HR issues the Association staff frequently hears about from our member cities.
  • Every city should have an employee handbook that is vetted by a labor attorney to ensure it complies with state and federal law. Read this article in the September Uptown about handbooks.
  • Performance reviews should be more about ongoing performance management than a once-a-year review. Get steps for planning and delivering a review here.
  • The State Retirement System increases in employer and employee contributions are outlined here.
  • Having a strong safety plan for your city is an important step toward saving money and protecting employees. Another Uptown article focuses on steps cities can take to increase safety. The Association’s property and liability program (SC Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund) and its workers comp program (SC Municipal Insurance Trust) also provide great resources to member cities to help mitigate safety concerns.
  • Many of these HR issues get attention from the SC Human Resources Association when HR professionals in city government come together twice a year to share ideas and best practices about their profession.
  • Other HR resources available through the Municipal Association are outlined in this article.