Thursday, January 17, 2019

Legislative pushes for 2019

The Municipal Association has three Advocacy Initiatives for 2019, developed with the input of hundreds of municipal officials during the 2018 Regional Advocacy Meetings:

  • Update the Local Government Fund formula to guarantee a reliable funding level that is fair to cities and towns of all sizes. The LGF brought stable revenue to cities and towns four a couple of decades leading up to the Great Recession, but has provided reduced revenue and unpredictable changes since then. In this session, a bipartisan group of House members are sponsoring H3137 to tackle this issue. This bill would require the LGF to increase each fiscal year by the same percentage that the state general fund is projected to increase, not to exceed five percent compared to the amount in the current fiscal year.
  • Expand flexibility for using accommodations and hospitality taxes to allow expenditures for infrastructure in tourist-related areas. Bills have been introduced in the House and Senate addressing this: H3132 and S217. These types of tax revenue can be used for tourism-related expenditures, including advertising, building and maintaining cultural facilities and providing necessary city services for tourists and tourist facilities. Both of these bills add tourism-related site preparation, as well as flooding control and drainage for tourism-related areas, to the list of acceptable expenditures.
  • Reduce the wait time for local law enforcement hires to be admitted to the Criminal Justice Academy. Keeping police rosters filled is a key need for law enforcement agencies in South Carolina, and one which requires as much efficiency in graduating officers from the Academy as possible. By supporting the Criminal Justice Academy’s funding request, and supporting the effort to move the Academy off of unreliable fines and fee assessments to a more reliable, recurring source, the Association is also supporting an increase in Academy capacity that will result in much shorter wait times.
Cities and towns can’t push for legislative action unless they’ve cultivated relationships with their delegation. A recent Uptown article highlighted the ways local officials can get these relationships up and running, and what they should know about advocating for their needs effectively.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

MEO Institute course offerings are still expanding

"As soon as we began the Advanced MEO Institute, people began asking, ‘What’s next?’”

This is how Eric Budds, deputy executive director of the Municipal Association, describes the desire participants have expressed for additional education after they complete the Advanced Municipal Officials Institute of Government. The Association is now offering the Advanced Continuing Education track to help meet this demand.

In the Municipal Elected Officials Institute of Government, there’s the initial MEO Institute, and graduates of that program can move on to the Advanced MEO Institute. Finally, and this is the new part — graduates of the Advanced MEO Institute can participate in Advanced Continuing Education, an optional, self-directed track.

The Association has offered the MEO Institute for more than three decades. This first level covers many key parts of city and town governance that mayors and councilmembers need to know, like municipal finance, governance and economic development, and the SC Freedom of Information Act. There are seven courses in total, and all of them are required to complete the program.

The Advanced MEO Institute, established in 2014, allows officials to dig deeper into these topics and offers more learning flexibility. It features six courses in all, and participants can complete any four of their choosing in order to graduate.

There’s even more flexibility with Advanced Continuing Education. Advanced MEO graduates can pursue individual courses as they desire to reinforce ideas or get a refresher on critical knowledge.

The February 6, 2019 Advanced Continuing Education courses happening in Columbia have a registration deadline of January 22. The courses offered in this round are “FOIA: Making Transparency a Priority,” and “SC Ethics Act: Avoiding Common Pitfalls.” Specifics on additional courses in October will be announced later.

Find out more about all levels of the MEO Institute in its 2019 brochure.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Association of SC Mayors meeting targets emergency preparedness

From hurricanes to dam failures to acts of terrorism, the list of disasters which could impact South Carolina includes nearly everything, with the possible exception of volcanoes. 

Some of the disasters in the state's history have earned significant places in South Carolina folklore. The impact of the earthquake that struck a severe blow to Charleston on August 31,1886, can still be seen in the earthquake bolts added to reinforce the stability of houses throughout the lower peninsula.

The ever-present possibility of disaster provided the subject for a meeting of a recent meeting of the Association of South Carolina Mayors at the headquarters of the SC Emergency Management Division, in which SCEMD staff gave an overview of key emergency planning issues for city and town officials. 

The role of municipalities in emergency management is not as regulated as the role of counties. SC Code of Regulations Section 58-1 calls for each county to maintain an emergency management agency. Those entities are the primary point of contact for SCEMD at a local level during an actively unfolding situation. 

That said, the Code of Regulations also encourages municipalities to voluntarily establish their own emergency management program, which must coordinate with the county to request federal or state assistance. Cities and towns can also participate in state emergency exercises alongside counties.

Coordination issues aside, municipal officials face the same need for communication in a crisis as any other authority, and the Municipal Association provides tips for this situation. During the mayors’ meeting, SCEMD Public Information Officer Derrec Becker covered social media, interacting with news media and the importance of a city public information officer in an emergency, even going so far as to conduct a mock media interview for a disaster situation using his cell phone camera.

SCEMD staff also highlighted its new SC Emergency Manager app, which allows users to build emergency plans, find shelters, report damage and even use the phone's speakers as a locator whistle.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Farewell and thanks

By Reba Hull Campbell, Deputy Executive Director

As I’ve been cleaning out my office in happy anticipation of my Jan. 2 retirement date, many memories tucked in files, desk drawers and boxes have given me a chance to reflect on an exciting, fun-filled, lively, never-boring 35 years working in government, politics, communications and campaigns at the local, state and federal levels. 

Three 10-year-plus stints (U.S. Congress, SCETV and the Municipal Association) with a few shorter positions (campaigns, lobbying, nonprofit work) thrown in have given me the chance to see government at its best far more often than not. I’m grateful to have worked alongside so many people who truly believe in the power to do good and who are passionate about that. 

There’s one item on my desk that really drives home this feeling of gratitude. It’s a framed version of the well-known Theodore Roosevelt quote about the man in the arena. 
I’ve had this quote on my desk everywhere I’ve worked for the past 25 years. A former co-worker gave a copy to all of us who worked together on a hard fought, yet losing, campaign as we parted ways. 

This quote always reminds me not only to be in the arena myself, but also to be around people who want to be there too  to surround myself with people who count on each other to take risks, make the hard decisions and dare greatly. 

Shortly, I will wrap up this chapter of my life with huge gratitude to so many people who have encouraged me to be in the arena  to dare greatly in my own way. Countless mentors, friends, advisers, family, colleagues and bosses have paid it forward to me, believed in me, encouraged me to be my best and helped me up when I’ve fallen (a post on my personal blog shares some of my lessons learned from these people). 

However, more importantly, I’m grateful to have worked alongside so many committed public servants who live this “being in the arena” value every day. Over the past 13 years at the Municipal Association, it’s been mayors and councilmembers who have dreams for their cities and are willing to take time from their families, personal lives and the jobs to make their communities better. 

It’s been my colleagues at the Association who are always pushing each other to try new things while having each others’ backs. 

It’s been the city staff people I’ve come to know and respect who work tirelessly every day to make sure our cities are run efficiently. 

All of this is often behind the scenes work that the outside world isn’t aware of  but it’s important work, and I’m just grateful to have played a small part in it.

As I finish up packing boxes and doling out various parts of my job to my very capable colleagues, I shout out a huge thanks to everyone who has made these past 13 years pretty amazing. I’m looking forward to whatever’s next, and I hope to continue to cross paths with many of you! 

In general, the following people will be taking over various parts of my current role. Any of them will be able to capably get you anything you need going forward:

Tiger Wells – legislative
Meredith Houck – communications
Casey Fields – media
Patty Adams – she can direct you for anything else

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Fall Managers Forum spotlights police training, SCDOT road transfer program

Guest speakers at the Municipal Association's Fall Managers Forum gave attendees some fresh perspectives on familiar issues: law enforcement hiring and training, as well as road ownership.

Jackie Swindler, director of the SC Criminal Justice Academy, drew attention to the challenges local governments face in keeping their police rosters full, stressing that cities and towns should always make sure their officers arrive at the Academy prepared for their tests.

In 2017, he said, the Academy graduated 856 people, but in the same year, 881 officers in South Carolina left the profession.

“There’s probably not an agency right now that does not have an opening. Everybody does, and some of them have a lot,” he said.

While agencies must be creative and dedicated in attracting and holding onto officers, he noted that aptitude tests and pre-academy training can help ensure that candidates will be able to pass when agencies send them to the Academy. In doing so, agencies can save time and money.

“Please, take the time on the front end, to hire well, to vet, to test them academically, to test them physically, and then send them there with a chance to do well,” Swindler said.

DOT update

State Secretary of Transportation Christy Hall came with an update on the SCDOT’s transfer program, which gave local governments a chance to apply to take ownership of roads while also receiving maintenance funds to go with their new acquisition.

“It’s not a devolution or a transfer of roads without money,” she said. “It’s not a unilateral mandate. It’s not the state shedding its responsibility to local governments.”
Hall said ownership by local governments can help roads receive attention faster, and governments can pursue specific desires for the roadways they take over, such as speed humps or landscaping.

The SC Department of Transportation reached out to cities and towns through the Municipal Association earlier this year with information on the pilot program. By the deadline, 21 local governments had applied, requesting to take over a total of 293 roads. The SCDOT is now evaluating the requests and comparing the costs involved with funding available, Hall said.

She expressed hope that the program’s first year will show policymakers that local governments are willing to take over some roads as long as funding comes with them, adding that SCDOT will continue to communicate in partnership with the Municipal Association as the process moves forward. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Register today: Regional Advocacy Meetings start on August 14

By Casey Fields, Manager for Municipal Advocacy
Yes, we are serious. Attend a Regional Advocacy Meeting.

By now, you’ve hopefully read articles in Uptown
encouraging you to attend one of the ten Regional Advocacy Meetings coming up in August and September. You’ve seen the announcement in the weekly Uptown Update. You heard our executive director and board president reiterate at the Annual Meeting why you should attend.
If you are still wondering if you should attend your local Regional Advocacy Meeting, let me help you. YES. YOU SHOULD.
Casey Fields and Scott Slatton leading the discussion with mayors and councilmembers at a Regional Advocacy Meeting last year
The Regional Advocacy Meetings start on Tuesday, August 14, in Greenwood at the Arts Center. If you haven’t already registered for one of the ten, do it now. You don’t want to miss your opportunity to have your voice heard.

These meetings are designed for municipal officials to offer their input on the Association's Advocacy Initiatives for 2019.

We will go over laws passed during the 2018 session and how they affect you at the local level. We will talk about issues we know will return for the 2019 session (like the plastic bag ban) and, most importantly, we will hear from you. Your concerns and ideas on local issues that can be solved at the state level.

We will also share a good meal, great fellowship and talk a little about politics.

We have invited all current legislators to attend the Regional Advocacy Meetings this year to listen to local officials and share ideas on how to work together to solve problems.

This meeting is 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.

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.

So once again … register now for a Regional Advocacy Meeting. Never too soon to start planning our strategy to advocate for #StrongSCCities in our General Assembly.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Countdown: One week until the Annual Meeting
We’re a week out from the 2018 Annual Meeting, and the Association’s office is buzzing with last minute details.

More than 1,100 will attend the Annual Meeting next week. The agenda is jam packed with an inspiring keynote address, more than two dozen individual sessions and tech demos, lots of emphasis on ways to increase engagement, and many opportunities for local officials to learn from their peers.

Registration is up 13 percent over last year’s meeting which was up 6 percent from the previous year. Get all the details about the meeting here in addition to finding information about how to download the meeting app before the meeting, so you can get your schedule set in advance. 
This year, the app will feature links to meeting presentations and handouts in addition to articles and resources related to the session topics – all right in the palm of your hand.

The week leading up to the Annual Meeting is always a busy one at the Association to make sure all the details are in place.
Just about everyone on our staff has some role in the preparations – from proofing and stuffing name badges to polishing the silver award trophies to packing up the truck that carries the 1000+ registration packets, computers, publications, exhibitor packets and candy for the registration desk.

This year’s keynote speaker is Jennifer Pinckney, who lost her husband Rev. Dr. Clementia Pinckney in the Emmanuel Nine shootings. Read about her message of inspiration and engagement. 

Sen. Kevin Johnson will join us during the opening general session to receive this year’s Distinguished Service Award for his support of cities and towns in the General Assembly. Sen. Johnson is the former mayor of Manning and past president of the Municipal Association.

Meeting attendees will hear a lot about engagement at the Annual Meeting – engaging with each other, their residents, legislators and the Association. 

There will be many opportunities to learn about new ways to engage – including an emphasis on social media best practices. The opening session will feature a new way to use social media to help local officials share their good news stories about what’s happening in their cities and towns.
Participants will be able to get advice about using social media from the Association staff at the Social Media Bar as well as learn from “guest gurus” – mayors and councilmembers who are successfully using their social media accounts to engage their residents. Look for the guest guru schedule through the app at the meeting.

Meeting attendees can also pick up their own social media toolkit at the Social Media Bar that will give tips on how to get started with social media, policies and best practices, and transparency. 


Thursday, June 21, 2018

U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of local businesses

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states can require businesses with no physical presence in the state to collect sales tax. The 5-4 decision determined that “economic and virtual contacts” are enough to create a “substantial nexus” for allowing the state to require collection.

“This decision is great news for our local businesses, especially those small businesses that are major employers in our cities and towns,” said Wayne George, executive director of the Municipal Association. “This change will help level the playing field for Main Street businesses by giving individual states the authority to streamline their sales tax laws and collect sales taxes directly from online retailers.This ruling recognizes the changing nature of commerce and the need to simplify the tax collection process.”

The Municipal Association has long supported Congressional attempts to give states the authority to require businesses to collect this sales tax. The Association’s board has twice adopted resolutions urging Congressional action to make this change.

By law, the consumer is supposed to pay the sales taxes owed on purchases bought from out-of-state online retailers on his income tax return as a use tax. However, there’s a good chance most consumers didn’t if they ordered from an out-of-state online retailer.

This puts South Carolina’s hometown brick and mortar businesses at a 5 to 10 percent competitive disadvantage to these out-of-state online retailers. Plus, millions of dollars in owed state and local sales taxes goes uncollected annually.

In November 2017, a Government Accountability Office report estimated that states and local governments could "gain from about $8 billion to about $13 billion in 2017 if states were given authority to require sales tax collection from all remote sellers."

According to report, if state and local governments had been allowed to require all remote sellers — companies located outside the state — to collect taxes on all remote sales last year, South Carolina could have seen between $132 million and $193 million in revenue.

This report also found that nearly half of those potential revenue gains to state and local governments would have resulted from collecting sales taxes on all e-marketplace sales, transactions on sites such as eBay, Etsy and Amazon Marketplace. The current dynamic also works against local brick-and-mortar businesses that lose out on sales when customers visit to try on or try out a product only to go home and purchase the item online state-tax free.

Read more about the specifics of the case and its history from the State and Local Legal Center.

UPDATE on June 22. Governing magazine article 

UPDATE on June 24. National League of Cities' blog post that outlines more specifics about the decision.

For additional information, contact Reba Campbell at or 803.933.1245.

Monday, May 7, 2018

General Assembly designates May 6 - 12 as Municipal Clerks Week

It's Municipal Clerks Week in South Carolina! The General Assembly deemed it so with resolutions recently passed by the House and Senate. Goose Creek Rep. Joe Daning (former city councilmember) and Manning Senator Kevin Johnson (former mayor and former president of the Municipal Association) introduced the resolutions.

There's also an article in this month's Columbia and Greenville Business Monthly magazines touting the good work of municipal clerks.

The position of city clerk is the only municipal staff role that is required by state law, regardless of a municipality’s size or form of government. All 271 cities and towns in the state are required to have a clerk. Read this Uptown article for more background on the role of a city clerk.

And while the title “clerk” may conjure up an outdated vision of an old style secretary, nothing could be further from the reality in today’s complex world of local government. Municipal clerks play a critical and varied role to support the mayor, city council, and city manager or administrator.

The clerk’s responsibilities under state law include giving notice of meetings to council members and the public, keeping minutes of its proceedings, and performing other duties as assigned by council. A combined municipal clerk and finance officer role, referred as clerk/treasurer, is common in small to midsize cities. In larger cities, a standalone municipal clerk position usually exists.

Regardless of city size, clerks have seen their roles and responsibilities keep pace with changing times. The state’s only professional organization serving city clerks has played a critical training role as the clerk role has expanded over the years. The South Carolina Municipal Finance Officers and Clerk Treasurers Association, an affiliate organization of the Municipal Association of SC, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

With more than 250 members statewide, MFOCTA trains clerks and clerk/treasurers on the complexities of running a local government.

A number of cities have passed resolutions in honor of their city clerk.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Orientation class draws newly elected mayors and councilmembers from around S.C.

More than 40 newly elected mayors and councilmembers gathered at the Municipal Association of South Carolina this week for an orientation class on local government issues.

Officials from 33 cities representing diverse sizes and locations participated in the class. Mount Pleasant Mayor Will Haynie represented the largest city and Govan Mayor Wilma Edmonds represented the smallest. Plus, the entire council from the Town of Pelzer participated.

“People often run for office on a specific issue. But when campaigning turns to governing, things are different,” said Wayne George, executive director of the Municipal Association. Wayne is a former mayor and councilmember in Mullins, S.C. “Most newly elected officials don’t come to the office with a deep knowledge of municipal budgets, forms of government and general city administration. Today’s session helped get them off to the right start.”

The session that got the most questions was on the topic of the Freedom of Information Act and ethics. “Typically these topics draw a lot of questions during Association training sessions,” said Tiger Wells, who led the session. Tiger is the Association’s government affairs liaison and staff expert on FOIA and ethics issues.

Tiger supplied the meeting participants with resources available on the Association’s website to help answer questions about FOIA and ethics, including the S.C. Press Association’s FOIA handbook.

Tiger noted that the executive director of the State Ethics Commission, Meghan Walker, recently met with Association staff to discuss ethics questions often posed by local officials. Tiger passed on Meghan’s advice about contacting the Ethics Commission with questions: “Always ask first when you have questions about a certain activity.” She strongly encouraged local officials to ask questions and assured the Association staff that the commission’s staff will be responsive.

Other issues covered in the orientation class included leadership, advocacy, risk management, budgeting, forms of government and general city administration.

Local officials also learned about participating in the Municipal Elected Officials Institute of Government, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. The institute offers both in-person and online training. Mayors and councilmembers can enroll in the classes immediately upon election. The next MEOI session is on May 18 covering the Freedom of Information Act and Municipal Governance/Policy.

At the conclusion of the training, Wayne left the group with some sound advice from his years as mayor in Mullins: "Invite your legislators to visit your city so they understand the challenges you face before you need to ask them for a vote" and "Hold regular council retreats to establish your priorities and take time to understand each other's perspectives."

A copy of the Power Point presentations and all of the resources shared during the session are here.