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.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Hartsville...South Carolina's newest All-America City winner

By Mary Catherine Farrell, assistant to the city manager, Hartsville

This has been a milestone year for the City of Hartsville. In June, a delegation of community members traveled many miles to Denver, CO to represent our city in its quest for the All-America City Award. This trip was the culmination of many late nights of practices and weeks of preparation: a ten-minute live presentation to a panel of judges, followed by ten minutes of questions and answers.
You may be thinking, “A 10 minute presentation? Easy!” Rest assured, figuring out how to creatively give voice to an entire city’s story in just 10 minutes is no simple task, especially because Hartsville has so much to share.

The road to Denver began in fall of 2015, when, at the urging of Councilman Johnny Andrews, city staff convened a host of key stakeholders to begin assessing our strengths and determine whether they aligned with the year’s focus, “Ensuring All Children Are Healthy and Supported to Succeed in School and Life.” Turns out Hartsville does a lot to help its children, both through direct services and through community-wide efforts to improve quality of life.

In March 2016, city staff used the feedback provided to develop an application that highlighted some of our exciting efforts: 1) Partners for Unparalleled Local Scholastic Excellence (PULSE), 2) youth-centric programs funded by local Byerly Foundation (Cypress Adventures Program, Police Youth Academy, integrated playground equipment, Durant Children's Center, and Darlington County First Steps’ recent Diva Den initiative), and 3) the Historic Butler District Neighborhood Revitalization.

In April, we received the news that we had been selected as one of 20 finalists. We then had roughly two months to figure out how to bring our application to life, who would represent our community, and how we were going to get them and all of our stuff across the country. Our community truly rose to the occasion to support our delegates. Local businesses (Sonoco) and the Byerly and Coker foundations generously funded the trip.

Our delegates tirelessly worked through late night rehearsals to refine and perfect the presentation. So many individuals and organizations worked hard to get the group to Denver, but the MVPs were our youth delegates. Our talented, passionate, amazing teens were truly the driving force of our group both on and off stage. 
They won the hearts of other cities as they mixed and mingled with the other youth delegates, even leading impromptu music sessions throughout the conference. They then stole the show with their incredible performance during the presentation and heartfelt, honest answers during the Q&A period that followed.

Since 1949, the All-America City Award has recognized cities that demonstrate innovation, inclusiveness, impact, civic engagement and cross-sector collaboration in overcoming challenges. The problems Hartsville has faced are the same problems faced by thousands of cities across the country.

It is how our community has responded to these challenges that is so far from common. We are not perfect. We are still grappling with issues of racial tension, child death, poverty, and the list goes on. But we work hard to unite in the face of tragedy, rather than to allow these things to divide us further.
This recognition has special significance for us for two reasons: 1) Hartsville was the smallest of the 20 finalist cities (up against giants like Las Vegas and San Antonio), and 2) this marks the 20th anniversary of our first All-America City win in 1996. 

We are so grateful for the efforts and passion of our predecessors, and have learned much from the wisdom of those involved in community betterment efforts then.

Finally, as much as we loved meeting and learning from our larger counterparts, this experience was a wonderful reminder that you don’t have to a big city to do big things. We are Hartsville, and we truly are a small town with a BIG heart! 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Roads, grants and a new affiliate for building officials...topics at Regional Advocacy Meetings this week

Darlington, Beaufort and Greenwood hosted this week’s Regional Advocacy Meetings where close to 100 local officials from 46 cities talked about issues and heard from local legislators.

One topic that bubbled up again this week is the idea of requiring that County Transportation Committees include municipal representation (the law current says only “fair” representation). In the 2016 session, language the Municipal Association proposed got into a House transportation bill that would have required at least three municipal officials sit on every CTC. This idea got very positive feedback from officials as a way for cities to have a better shot at getting their fair share of transportation dollars distributed through the CTCs.

At the Pee Dee area meeting at the Darlington Raceway, officials from several rural cities and towns noted the difficulty in finding funding for recreation projects. A representative from U.S. Sen. Tim Scott’s office was at the meeting and pointed out there are National Parks Service grants available to fund recreation projects related to preserving the history of civil rights. The grant deadline is Oct. 14. PRT also has funding available through the Park and Recreation Development Fund.

The topic of e-commerce and its effect on hometown businesses came up this week. Congress could consider a bill before the end of the 2016 session that would ensure online businesses are remitting the same sales taxes as brick-and-mortar businesses. Miriam noted that Sen. Graham has expressed support for this legislation while Sen. Scott is still considering his position.

Sen. Tom Davis of Beaufort and Rep. Bill Bowers of Hampton joined the group of officials meeting at Beaufort City Hall. 

Sen. Davis was encouraging in his response to the idea of a municipal capital project sales tax intended for infrastructure. He noted his strong belief in pushing government power and accountability down as much as possible. “I would support anything to give you more flexibility,” said the Beaufort senator, noting the municipal capital project sales tax idea would have to include a referendum and sunset provision in order for him to support it.

Sen. Davis also shared his thoughts about devolving some state roads to local governments. He said that in South Carolina 63 percent of the roads are state-owned, while the national average is 18 percent. Turning over some state roads to local governments would have to be optional and accompanied by a long-term stable funding source, he said.

Rep. Bowers discussed his strong support for changing the make-up of representation on the SC Department of Transportation Commission. He said Congressional districts are too political, and district lines need to make “more geographic sense.”

In Greenwood, Miriam updated officials on the Association’s 13th affiliate organization, the Building Officials Association of SC. She noted that, by bringing BOASC under the umbrella of the Municipal Association, there can be uniform training for building officials statewide. Get more details about BOASC.

Sen. Floyd Nicholson joined officials in Greenwood. As former mayor of Greenwood and past president of the Municipal Association, the senator praised the gathered officials for their work on the “front lines of government.” He strongly encouraged everyone to build relationships with their legislators and make it an ongoing process rather than just making contact when action is needed on a bill. This is a familiar theme every legislator attending the RAMs has mentioned.

Read this article from the Greenwood Index Journal to get a summary of the conversations at the meeting.

Next week, Mauldin hosts the RAM for the cities in the Appalachian Regional Council of Governments area. Register and get directions.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Status update on body camera funding

The SC General Assembly passed legislation at the end of the 2015 session that required law enforcement agencies to have body cameras. Agencies had until April 2016 to submit an application for body camera funding. The new camera mandate won’t apply until the General Assembly fully funds cameras for all agencies.

Between the FY15 and FY16 state budgets, the General Assembly appropriated a total of $5.8 million toward the $14 million in requests for body cameras made by 168 out of the 300 eligible law enforcement agencies in South Carolina.

The Public Safety Coordinating Council created an initial matrix that would ensure fairness among all the agencies making requests. First, the Criminal Justice Academy determined the number of certified officers in each agency (before the applications for funding were received).

Then, based on the numbers from the Academy, the PSCC set caps for the cameras at $600 each. It also created four tiers and established a formula percentage for each one (up to $600 max on each camera):
•    Tier 1 – Agencies with 1-24 officers/PSCC would fund 100 percent for the cost of the cameras selected
•    Tier 2 – Agencies with 25-50 officers/ PSCC would fund 100 percent
•    Tier 3 – Agencies with 51-149 officers/ PSCC would fund 75 percent
•    Tier 4 – Agencies with 150 officers or more/PSCC would fund 50 percent

After the applications came in and this formula was applied, the PSCC decided to use the leftover money to fund storage. It covered the storage cost requests for the Tiers 1, 2 and 3 agencies, but it was unable to do so for Tier 4.

The new law also required the state’s Law Enforcement Training Council to develop body camera policy guidelines for local law enforcement agencies. From these guidelines, agencies were required to create their own local body camera policies. 

Get background and more information about body cameras in these Uptown articles from November 2014 and October 2015. Read about the funding from the 2015-16 state budget

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 discussed a variety of issues 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 (this includes council and any public body appointed by the council), not members of the public attending the meeting. 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!