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.


Friday, July 8, 2016

Sneak peek at the 2016 Annual Meeting

The countdown is on for the 2016 Annual Meeting that starts Thursday, July 14, in Charleston. Last minute preparations are taking place at the Association's office this week. 

Envelopes with name badges and event tickets for more than 800 registrants have been checked and double checked. Today, 40+ staff members gathered to stuff registration packets. Many hands make light work - it only took 18 minutes to stuff more than 800 folders!

The full agenda, jam-packed with more than 40 sessions and events, is online and also available through the meeting app.

Downloading the app in advance gives meeting registrants the chance to create a personalized schedule, read speaker bios, look at the attendee list, and create a profile for commenting and social media interaction. 

This May Uptown article gives background on two nationally-known speakers who headline the opening general session on Friday morning. They will discuss generational trends in communication and technology.

Kathleen Parker
Nine 15-minute tech talks scheduled throughout the Annual Meeting give elected officials a quick glance at timely IT topics such as VOIP phone systems, network security and body-worn cameras, while the Friday delegates’ lunch features nationally-known newspaper columnist, Kathleen Parker. She will share her witty, and sometimes provocative, perspective on the 2016 presidential election.

The Association will roll out its new economic development grant program at the opening general session on July 15. All cities have received a copy of the application packet by mail. Additional information and a link to the online application are in the July Uptown.

Downtown Anderson's start-up challenge
Recent Uptown articles give background on several breakout session topics, including land-use liability, local governments’ role in managing the zika virus and the opioid abuse epidemic, parks and recreation trends, creative ideas for downtown development, and legal and legislative updates.

Twitter users can keep up with meeting activities by following the Association @muniassnsc and using the hashtag #mascam16.  

Charleston, here we come!

Friday, July 1, 2016

FOIA and ethics filings topics at recent meetings

Last week, Association staff spoke at two conferences about issues related to the Freedom of Information Act and ethics reporting. Here’s a recap of what they discussed … 

At the SC Association of Municipal Power Systems meeting, leaders of the state’s 21 municipal electric utilities got a briefing from the Association’s Deputy Executive Director Eric Budds on several Freedom of Information Act issues. When it comes to FOIA, utility boards and commissions of public works fall under the same rules as municipal councils and other bodies appointed by council.

First, Eric briefed the group on the recent Supreme Court ruling in Brock vs. Town of Mount Pleasant. This ruling states that a public body, after leaving executive session, may only take action on a matter discussed during the closed session if the meeting agenda indicates the possibility of that action.

Read this April blog post or listen to this podcast to get details on this case and sample language that can be included on an agenda to note the possibility of action resulting from an executive session. 

Second, Eric reminded the meeting attendees about two FOIA issues from 2015 related to agendas and executive session. The General Assembly passed legislation last year that outlines the process elected bodies must use to amend an agenda after a meeting has started. This June 2015 blog post explains more.

Also, a 2015 Supreme Court case clarified language that must be used on an agenda to describe “contractual matters” to be discussed in an executive session. Get more detail in this June 2015 blog post.

At the City/County Management Association meeting, more than 100 city and county managers got a briefing from Tiger Wells, the Association’s government affairs liaison, about changes in filing ethics reports.

Tiger explained the impact of H.3186 that passed in May. It requires any official who already files a Statement of Economic Interest to now report the source and type of income they receive. This also includes disclosure of income that immediate family members receive. 

Take a look at this flow chart to get a quick summary of these new requirements.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Parks make their mark

This week’s blog post from the SC Economic Developers Association points out some positive statistics related to the economic impact of national and state parks in South Carolina. In 2014, the state’s national parks had an economic impact of $105.9 million, while the state parks brought in $26.9 million in direct revenue alone.

Hartsville's Piratesville splash pad
These economic impact numbers grow further when you add city parks into the equation. While there is no central location that measures direct economic impact of city parks and recreation programs, we know that the traditional city parks with swings and slides have given way to handicap accessible parks, water pads, sports tournaments and trails that draw tourists and residents alike. 

Quidditch tournament in Rock Hill
Sports tourism is booming in city parks all over the state. Rock Hill’s velodrome is one of the latest additions to the growing number of sports tourism venues around the state. Emerging sports like Quidditch, pickleball, disc golf and ultimate Frisbee is also bring tourists and dollars into our cities with tournaments, while traditional youth and police sports leagues continue to grow. 

Walterboro's Wildlife Sanctuary
Passive parks that offer quiet greenspace offer even more opportunities for residents and visitors to enjoy the outdoor amenities in South Carolina’s cities. From Greenville’s Falls Park to Walterboro’s Wildlife Sanctuary, there is something for everyone in the city-owned parks. 

Trails in urban areas as well as trails that run between cities are becoming increasingly popular. The City of Florence has a network of trails that runs throughout city, many of which connect city parks to one another. Plus, many segments of the Palmetto Trail run through South Carolina cities and towns.

The Swamp Rabbit Trail between Greenville and Trail and the Doodle Trail linking Easley and Pickens cater to bicyclists and walkers alike. Both of these trails were built on former rail beds connecting the two cities. 

Keeping parks clean and crime-free is a goal of all city park programs, but there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to make this happen. Many cities rely on volunteers to help keep grounds clean, coach teams or tend gardens. In Charleston, for example, “park angels” volunteer to work with and learn from the city’s horticulturalist.

While this means more opportunities for residents to be involved in city programs, it also increases the potential for injury and liability claims. City officials manage these risks through training and background checks, so that residents and visitors enjoy these opportunities while ensuring these municipal assets don’t become municipal liabilities.

At the upcoming Annual Meeting in Charleston, there will be a breakout session examining trends in public recreation.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Training is a must for planning and zoning officials

Listen to a podcast interview with Jeff Shacker, field services manager, about planning and zoning training.

Planning and zoning are two responsibilities of municipal government that the public often doesn’t see until there is a problem. Whether it’s a zoning decision a landowner disagrees with or a planning commission decision that doesn’t align with state law, controversy around planning and zoning will likely occur in just about every city at some point.

While it may be impossible to completely avoid controversy in these areas, proper training for appointed officials and staff who deal with planning and zoning is not just a good idea, it’s required by state law. 

Here’s the background….going back as far as 1924, the legislature granted local governments the authority to take on planning and zoning to manage growth and development. Local governments are not mandated to perform these duties. Each municipality must decide whether to exercise its planning authority. However, if local officials want to enact zoning regulations, they must also implement a planning program. 

All municipal planning and zoning must conform with the 1994 state South Carolina Local Government Planning Enabling Act (SC Code Title 6, Chapter 29). Plus, a 2003 amendment established mandatory training requirements for all appointees and staff involved with local planning and zoning.

The consequence for not meeting the training requirement is severe. An appointed official can be removed from office, and a professional employee can be suspended or dismissed. It could also be grounds for a legal challenge of official actions taken by a board or commission.

There are many roles in the planning and zoning process, and the Municipal Association has lots of resources for elected and appointed officials and staff who deal with these issues. The Comprehensive Planning Guide is a one-stop-shop for any questions related to planning and zoning. Also, the Association provides the required orientation and continuing education training. Plus there’s a listserv that planning and zoning staff can use to ask questions and share ideas.

Mayors and councilmembers can learn about planning and zoning from a Session A class in the Municipal Elected Officials Institute of Government. Officials attending the upcoming Annual Meeting can learn more about how to avoid the legal liability associated with planning and zoning decisions at a break-out session on Thursday, July 14.

The Association’s field services managers say they frequently get questions about the training requirements for planning and zoning officials. Get a few of them answered here and listen to a podcast interview with Jeff Shacker, one of the Association's field services managers, to learn more.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Tiny houses may cause big challenges

Are you a fan of HGTV, the home and garden network? It’s recently become home to four programs all showing off the new trend in housing – small spaces. These shows sell the fun and functional lifestyle of living in a home as small as 100 square feet.

Coming on the heels of the huge home McMansion trend of the past 10 years, these accessory dwelling units, often called granny pads or tiny houses, are becoming increasingly popular for people looking to downsize, make money or house relatives.

As fun as the idea sounds, these small living spaces bring up big questions related to regulation and safety for local governments.

South Carolina cities are beginning to grapple with these questions as the trend moves from the tourism-based or larger communities to cities of all sizes. From considering parking regulations to discussing density concerns, city officials are talking about all the implications of this new trend.

Get a preview of a July Uptown article on this topic here.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Telling great stories of SC cities and towns

By Reba Campbell, deputy executive director

Part of what we do at the Municipal Association is tell the stories about the great things going on in cities of all sizes around the state. Among the many ways we share these stories is through our monthly Uptown newsletter. It’s 16 pages chock full of feature stories, best practices, kudos and training topics of interest to elected officials and city staff. 

Often we learn about these success stories from reading local newspapers. So, it was really nice this week when we could turn the tables when a local newspaper used Uptown as the source for a column. 

The Greenwood Index Journal ran an editorial praising the Greenwood County cities for several important economic development successes. Two articles that were in the May issue of Uptown prompted the editorial. It’s nice to see Uptown’s reach go beyond our audience of municipal officials!

Uptown has been around since 1975 and was preceded by SC City that launched in 1959. It’s gone from a simple typeset black-and-white publication to a full-color professionally written and designed newsletter that is painstakingly and strategically planned and published 11 times annually. It is mailed to more than 4,000 municipal officials, legislators and news media the first week of each month. Or…if you’d rather have it delivered online, we do that too.

Many of you know Uptown’s long-time editor, Mary Brantner, retired at the end of May after serving in this role for 28 years. She was the meticulous editor, talented writer, master planner, thorough researcher and patient cat herder who kept the process of planning, writing, editing and distributing Uptown on time and on budget. Over the years, she worked on more than 300 issues that included somewhere near 7,000 articles. That’s a lot of words! 

We congratulate Mary on her well-deserved retirement, and welcome to our staff Sarita Chourey, who has taken over as editor of Uptown. Sarita has a journalism background having served as the bureau chief and State House reporter/blogger for several South Carolina newspapers. She covered city issues for many years and will bring a unique perspective to our content going forward.

Often the best Uptown story ideas are those we get from local officials,so please share your successes with Sarita! We particularly like to include articles in Uptown about projects, programs and services in cities that meet a universal challenge or that can be duplicated in other cities.

The June Uptown should have already arrived in your mailbox. Or you can read it online now here. If you’d like to get the e-version in addition to, or in place of, the paper version, just go to your member home page from the Municipal Association website and change your subscription options in the top right corner of the page.

Happy reading!