Thursday, October 3, 2019

Communications Workshop to Discuss Economic Development Messaging, Branding

Economic development is a critical conversation in any municipality. What the public perceives and discusses about the economic prospects of a community drives decisions about where they are going to live, work or visit. 

The upcoming Communications Workshop at the offices of the Municipal Association of SC on October 29 is going to dig into this topic with a panel discussion of several municipal staff members from around the state talking about how they spread the word about their own economic development success stories. This is an area that came up in a social media panel discussion at the Municipal Association’s Annual Meeting in July, as described in this Uptown story. Numerous cities and towns in South Carolina have been able to boost stories about their ongoing economic development pushes through social media, sometimes even drawing attention to development trends before local media outlets really latch onto the story. 

Another session at the Communications Workshop will cover the visual elements of communication — the techniques that local government communicators can use when creating photo or video content to make their messages more understandable and interesting to their audience. Every year, the Municipal Association employs visual language in the video series that accompanies all of the Achievement Award winners around the state

One of the 2019 award winners, the City of Goose Creek, received its award for a project to create a new official branding for the city as well as an economic development communications campaign. Another session at the Communications Workshop will touch on this issue: “Branding and Marketing Your Town as a Destination for Visitors,” led by Kelly Barbrey of Experience Columbia SC. 

The workshop is designed both for municipal public information officers as well as anyone else with a role in local government communications. Attendee space is limited, and the deadline to register is Friday, October 18 at 5 p.m. See registration information for the workshop.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Building Officials Association of SC tackles education, legislation

People expect safety from the buildings they occupy — the places where they live, work and play. Rarely does anyone enter a building and wonder whether its design, its construction materials, or even its wiring and fire suppression systems, pose a threat. 

The hundreds of licensed building officials, inspectors and plans examiners in South Carolina have the job of making sure that building safety isn’t compromised, and the Building Officials Association of South Carolina supports them in this vitally important work. 

The Building Officials Association of South Carolina, which affiliated with the Municipal Association of South Carolina in 2017, focuses on training for its members. The affiliate's 2019 Annual Meeting, for example, covered such topics the International Building Code requirements for building size, sprinklers and mixed-use occupancies, as well as what the IBC has to say about building rental spaces and making them fire resistant. 

The affiliation between BOASC and the Municipal Association has led to a greater focus by each group on State House legislation that impacts building regulations in South Carolina. The BOASC membership and the Municipal Association’s legislative team stay involved with lawmakers and stakeholders on the issues, and testify at hearings on pending legislation. Here are some examples of building regulation bills that are active in the current 2019 – 2020 session and that have received attention and input from BOASC and the Municipal Association: 


  • H4327 – This bill came about because of concerns that IBC standards for sprinkler systems are too burdensome in cases where a commercial kitchen is used in the agritourism industry. In simpler terms, this would apply to a barn that’s rented out for weddings, and food is prepared at the barn. This scenario can easily lead to the property owner being required to install a sprinkler system costing $30,000 or more. BOASC engaged with the SC Building Codes Council and General Assembly to modify the number of attendees that would trigger the sprinkler requirement. As currently amended, the bill’s threshold is 300 people. For lower numbers of people, other safety measures, like smoke detectors and fire extinguishers would still be required. 
  • S796 – This bill emerged from the concern that the requirement in state law for the SC Building Codes Council to update residential building codes every three years is too burdensome for home builders. The current bill changes the timeline for updates to the residential codes after the most recent publication of code updates.
  • S757 – This bill would require all municipalities and county governments looking to adopt ordinances that would impact the cost of building housing to first prepare an analysis of the impact of the potential costs. Preparing such reports could itself be costly for local governments whenever their councils take action on home construction. 

Those interested in getting involved with the Building Officials Association of SC can learn more here.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Loss Control Helps Keep City Staff and Property Safe

In the world of insurance and risk management, loss control is exactly what it sounds like — efforts made to make losses of property or life, as well as injuries, as small as possible. Loss control helps keep people safe, and helps to stop potential increases in the cost of insurance.

The Municipal Association’s Risk Management Services, which is the home of two self-funded insurance programs — the SC Municipal Insurance Trust and the SC Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund — has a loss control division focusing entirely on ways to keep the people and the properties that serve municipalities safe. 

“A good safety and risk management process helps identify, analyze and monitor potential risks and take actions to mitigate the impact of potential losses,” said Heather Ricard, director of Risk Management Services. “The loss control staff exist to help municipalities develop and implement safety programs that will protect property and save lives.” 

Loss control training can take many different forms. SCMIT and SCMIRF members have access to tools, like model fire and law enforcement policies and procedures, on-site technical assistance visits as well as online and print education resources. A safety calendars — one for general risk management and another for high-risk critical tasks for law enforcement — is released each year to members as an additional training tool. These calendars draw attention to risk management actions cities and towns can take every month. Members also have access to LocalGovU, a free online training platform that has 90 classes which focus on municipal risk.

The response to resistance simulator is perhaps the most high profile of the available training opportunities. It places law enforcement officers in situations where they must make split-second decisions about the level of force they should use. This Uptown article explains more about the training. 

Other services are available to all cities and towns. Loss control staff contribute to the Risk Management Services RiskLetter newsletter, which can give city and town officials’ ideas of how to better minimize operational risks. The article topics in the recent Summer 2019 issue, for example, include these: 


Venyke Harley serves as loss control manager for Risk Management Services. Recently, John Ciesielski joined as loss control consultant, having previously worked for the South Carolina branch of OSHA.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Managing Public Participation at Council Meetings

Residents often care deeply about the city or town they live in. It’s what can motivate them to attend city council meetings, take part in public comment periods at those meetings or one day run for office themselves.

Even though public comment periods can be a valuable channel of engagement, feelings among participating residents can run high and public participation can become disruptive during the business meetings of a council, with issues like speakers exceeding their time limit or inappropriate conduct.
Many city councils use timers for public comment periods during meetings, like this one used by the City of North Augusta. 

State law requires public hearings for some actions taken by council at meetings, like the adoption of a budget or the adoption of a fee schedule. In other cases outside of this requirement, a city or town council will use ordinances or locally adopted rules of procedure to provide for and manage public comment periods. 

This Uptown article takes a look at the approach to public comments taken by several municipalities — the City of Westminster, City of Columbia, Town of Seabrook Island and Town of Summerville. 

The Municipal Association has another resource touching on this topic: the How to Conduct Effective Meetings handbook. It includes a sample set of rules of order that a council can adopt which include rules for speaking during a public comment period, with the following requirements: 
  • The speaker can comment on municipal issues other than personnel matters.
  • The speaker must sign an agenda list maintained by the clerk before the meeting with the subject and purpose for speaking. 
  • The speaker is limited to two minutes.  

As the rest of the handbook illustrates, thoughtful management of public comment periods are only one aspect of running meetings effectively. When handled well, these sessions can have a real impact on making sure that the voices of city residents are heard before council in a meaningful and useful way.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

2019 Regional Advocacy Meetings Are Almost Here

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is it for city and town officials to attend one of this fall’s Regional Advocacy Meetings to get involved in the Municipal Association’s advocacy efforts at the State House? 

Director of Governmental Affairs Tiger Wells answered this question in a recent podcast: “somewhere between 12 and 15.” 


2018 Regional Advocacy Meeting, Walterboro. Note that locations differ for this year's meetings. 


These meetings give municipal officials a chance to offer their input on strategy, to share solutions and to learn how legislative action in the 2019 session specifically affects their city. Local officials will also get a sense of what is coming for the 2020 session and participate in a strategy session on pending bills dealing with flexibility with hospitality and accommodations tax revenue, business licensing, small wireless facilities and plastic bag bans. 


2018 Regional Advocacy Meeting, Clemson. 


There are 10 meetings scheduled around the state in August and September. The meetings run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and have lunch served as well. There’s no charge for the meetings, but registration is required for lunch planning and handouts. Here are the registration links for each date: 


Thursday, July 25, 2019

Municipal Social Media Still Growing More Important

Cities and towns are accelerating their adoption of social media as a communications tool, and the panel at a social media session during the Municipal Association’s Annual Meeting showed how this can involve many people involving the city’s leadership and staff. 

The panel featured Newberry Mayor Foster Senn, whose Twitter account works alongside all the City of Newberry channels like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Christopher George, meanwhile, serves as communications manager for the City of Spartanburg (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram); and Shawn Bell serves as city administrator, complete with social media duties, for the City of Fountain Inn (Facebook). 

Over time in Spartanburg, George said, “social media has become, without a doubt, our number-one way of reaching people.” 

He said the original build-up of the audience occurred around 2012. 

"We were very keen on pushing downtown development at a time when it [social media] was really just getting started for us," he said. "The local media wasn’t paying quite as much attention to it. They are now."

George added that business development may have gotten the audience subscribed, but they are now engaged in communication on other topics. Spartanburg routinely gets thousands of views for city council meetings on Facebook Live.

In Newberry, Senn’s use of Twitter is not unusual for an elected official. Pushing out information, he said, promotes transparency and helps residents to be informed. 

"They want to know about their town, they want to know that they’re a part of it. If they’re informed, they feel more a part of it," he said. 

Social media channels now do much of the heavy lifting for special event promotion, and Bell drew attention to Fountain Inn’s Facebook promotions of its Saturday farmers market, Fourth of July celebration Christmas events and Coffee with Council gatherings. He also uses it to promote Ask the Administrator sessions, a quarterly appointment for Bell to answer questions on Facebook for a couple of hours on a Thursday evening. 

Social media is a two-way communications tool. The panel discussed the careful and thoughtful responses to negative posts, and addressing those posts that are blatantly abusive of profane after documenting them, as social media is subject to the SC Freedom of Information Act

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Getting Ready for Tech Talks at the Annual Meeting

The Municipal Association and its technology partner VC3 are bringing Tech Talks — short sessions to cover critical IT topics — throughout the Annual Meeting in Greenville later this month. 

Many topics will be covered, with the full list available here. Because technology is becoming a pivotal role in our lives, there are several available resources explaining why cities and towns should take an interest in the session topics. Here are some of the Tech Talk sessions paired with some advance reading/listening that can help attendees prepare for them. 
  • Cybersecurity Checklist: How Do You Rate? – This session will take a look at some key cybersecurity needs like email encryption and cyber liability insurance. Cybersecurity was the subject of a recent City Quick Connect podcast with Krystal Daily, information technology director for the Municipal Association. In that podcast, Krystal also dug into the issue of ransomware attacks on municipalities, which will be the threat discussed in the Tech Talk session Be Prepared With a Cybersecurity Incident Response Plan
  • Text Message Archiving Basics – The need for archiving solutions for text messages on city devices comes about because such texts are subject to the SC Freedom of Information Act. Learn more about the challenges of digital document retention in the Uptown article “Keeping Digital Public Records on the Record.” 
  • Crafting a Social Media Policy – Social media has opened up worlds of opportunities for cities in terms of resident and visitor engagement and even with things like police work, since law enforcement agencies can use social media to improve transparency and working relationships with the public. Even so, city staff need to be careful to use social media appropriately and in accordance with planned rules, and that’s where social media policies come in.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Driving Dangers Create Liabilities for Cities and Towns

Vehicle crashes remain the most likely way a person can die on the job. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics found that in 2017, 40 percent of employees who died in the workplace died in transportation-related incidents. 

South Carolina, unfortunately, ranks high among the states with the deadliest highways. In 2017, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported that at 1.8 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, South Carolina led the nation in this category. The national average was 1.16 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles. The state also recorded 19.7 motor vehicle fatalities per 100,000 of its population, ranking it third in that category. 

Also during 2017, the South Carolina Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund received auto liability claims that resulted in more than $3.5 million in total costs. The average cost per claim was $8,800. Auto liability claims are claims filed as a result of damages and injuries from another party, so these numbers do not include the damages incurred to the city’s and town’s vehicles. 

Automobile accidents continue to be the leading cause and cost of employee injuries in the South Carolina Municipal Insurance Trust. These accidents account for 10 percent of the employee injuries in the SCMIT pool, but accounted for approximately 25 percent of the claims cost in 2017. 

The liabilities of driving for cities and towns are the reason why SCMIT and SCMIRF are offering a joint summer training on defensive driving, taking place July 11 in West Columbia. Session topics address issues that can turn up in claims, like speeding, aggressive driving, following too closely, distracted driving and lane management. The course has no cost to attend for members, but registration is first-come, first-served, and closes July 5.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Get Ready for the Annual Meeting

In a little over a month — July 18 to 21, to be exact — the Municipal Association’s Annual Meeting will arrive in Greenville. 

For those who want to take an early look at some of the sessions planned for city and town officials to learn and find inspiration for their hometowns, several previews are now available: 

  • This May Uptown article takes a look at preconference opportunities and breakout sessions. 
  • Eric Budds, the Association’s interim executive director, joined the City Quick Connect podcast to talk about the schedule, including sessions on community partnership building for law enforcement as well as opportunity zone investments. 
  • Bridge building between police and their communities is going to be a theme at several sessions. Kassy Alia Ray of the nonprofit organization Serve & Connect will explain that group’s role in outreach efforts around the state. Read more in this Uptown article

Attendees can also take advantage of the Annual Meeting app. Download the app from either the App Store or Google Play by searching for MuniAssnSC. Event information will continue to be added to the app as the meeting approaches, including details on the agenda, speakers and fellow attendees.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Main Street SC, SC Community Development Association spotlight Aiken and North Augusta


Last week brought together two programs of the Municipal Association — the SC Community Development Association and Main Street South Carolina — for a joint meeting in two cities — Aiken and North Augusta. Attendees heard from many local officials, like Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon, North Augusta Mayor Robert Pettit as well as city managers and Main Street SC directors, among others, and toured projects and downtowns in both communities.
Here are some highlights of the session:

  • A walking tour of Aiken with Aiken Downtown Development Association Executive Director Haley Knight and City of Aiken’s Tourism Supervisor Mary Rosbach. 
  • A spotlight of the Riverside Village developments in North Augusta with City Administrator Todd Glover, and the North Augusta Forward Main Street program with its Executive Director Avery Spears-Mahoney. The City of North Augusta won a 2019 Achievement Award from the Municipal Association in the Economic Development category for the project. 
  • Greenville Mayor Knox White delivered the keynote address, sharing the story of Greenville’s impressive growth and development and touching on many of the things that have made downtown Greenville so successful — an intense focus on mixed use to bring residential space downtown as well as focuses on walkability, public art and other elements that make people genuinely want to be downtown. White will also speak at the Municipal Association’s Annual Meeting, taking place in Greenville July 18 – 21. 
  • SCCDA toured Aiken’s brand-new J. Carrol Busbee Public Safety Headquarters, rebuilt out of a vacant grocery store building, which houses space for police, fire, a courtroom, offices, emergency operations and a dispatch center. 
  • An “Unwrapping the Big Box” panel discussion for SCCDA included not only an explanation of Aiken’s public safety project from Assistant City Manager Kim Abney and Planning Director Ryan Bland, but also a discussion of the redevelopment of the Aiken Mall and the former Aiken County Hospital. Moncks Corner Community Development Director Doug Polen discussed the revitalization of a visible corner that had been home to a shuttered drugstore. 
  • Main Street directors from across the state shared recent successes and challenges confronting their downtowns.
  • National Main Street Conference scholarship recipients from Aiken, Camden, Laurens and Summerville highlighted their experiences at the 2019 conference: best practices in building resiliency, cultural tourism districts, downtown housing in addition to networking with other economic development professionals nationwide.