Thursday, February 15, 2018

Stay in the State House loop with social media reports

During the 2018 legislative session, officials in cities and towns can keep up with State House activities by following the Municipal Association's legislative team members who are live daily on Twitter. They are keeping local officials updated on what's happening in committee meetings, in the lobby, and in the House and Senate chambers.

This week, Scott Slatton (@ScottMuniSC) shared a series of tweets live from a House Education and Public Works committee meeting where members voted out the utility relocation bill. 

In a House Judiciary Criminal Laws subcommittee, Scott tweeted a shout-out to Rep. Gary Clary (@garyclarysc) who said that municipal courts should be included in the state's unified court system when it comes to indigent defense. Scott also reported on Tiger Wells (@TigerMuniSC) testifying before House subcommittee.
Melissa Carter (@MelissaMuniSC) shared Rep. Mandy Powers-Norell's (@MPowersNorrell) tweet about the importance of local government control related to the plastic bag ban bill.
Last week, the legislative team and lots of local officials' Twitter posts included live reports from sessions at Hometown Legislative Action Day and the Municipal Elected Officials Institute advocacy class.

Councilmember Jenn Hulehan (@Jenn4ward3) from Simpsonville kept her constituents on top of everything she learned with tweets from a State House tour and other HLAD sessions.  
One of the take-aways from the MEO Institute advocacy class
Melissa Carter retweeted Sen. Mike Fanning (@FanningforSenate) photos of visits he had with local officials in his district during HLAD.
Cayce Mayor Elise Partin (@elisepartin), president of the Municipal Association, made sure to keep her constituents stayed informed about what was happening during Hometown Legislative Action Day with lots of retweets from panel sessions, the MEO Institute graduation and Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers' (@HughWeathers) lunch speech.

Each week, the Association's legislative report, From the Dome to Your Dome, is shared frequently through the Association's and the lobbyists' Twitter accounts. With more than 5,000 followers between these four accounts, local officials, legislators, reporters, hometown residents, business leaders and partner organizations all over the state have the benefit of staying on top of issues important to cities and towns.

 Want to stay in the loop? Make sure to follow @MuniAssnSC, @TigerMuniSC, @MelissaMuniSC and @ScottMuniSC.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Celebrating 30 years of Municipal Elected Officials Institute graduates

A movie ticket was $3.50. The winter Olympics took place in Calgary, Canada, and The Wonder Years debuted on ABC-TV. This was 1988 - also the year that the Municipal Elected Officials Institute of Government graduated its first class.

Technology, transportation, downtown development and delivery of public services have changed substantially over the past 30 years. One thing that hasn't changed is the need for newly elected city council members to get the training they need in the complexities of local government.

This year, the Municipal Elected Officials Institute is celebrating 30 years of graduates.
First graduating class of the MEO Institute in 1988
For anyone elected to serve as a mayor or member of a city council in South Carolina, the Municipal Association of South Carolina offers a variety of training opportunities that give local elected leaders the tools they need to make a seamless transition from candidate to elected official. The Municipal Elected Officials Institute is a multi-faceted training program designed specifically for mayors and city councilmembers. The Advanced Institute is available to graduates seeking additional training.

More than 1,600 local officials have completed the MEO Institute since 1988. This year, there are eight cities with councils that can count 100 percent of their members as MEO Institute graduates:
  •  Blackville
  • Gray Court
  • Greer
  • Hampton
  • Hollywood
  • Inman
  • Pendleton
  • Wellford

“People who run for elected office have a real passion and love for their communities.But when campaigning turns to governing, it’s kind of like starting a new job,” said Cayce Mayor Elise Partin, president of the Municipal Association. Partin graduated from the Institute in 2010.

“Most of us come to our roles in municipal service from professions and walks of life that might not have trained us on the mechanics of local government. And that’s great, because of diversity of experiences makes us better leaders, but we need to be prepared to lead our cities and towns too."

Immediately upon election, mayors and councilmembers can enroll in a free online course that covers five basics of governing - effective leadership, the fundamentals of city services and forms of government, basic budget requirements, effective meeting and agenda procedures, and the Freedom of Information Act and Ethics Act. This course is available on-demand through the Municipal Association’s website.

Once sworn into office, mayors and councilmembers can enroll in the Municipal Elected Officials Institute. The entire curriculum of 14 classes can be completed in one year through a combination of two day-long sessions and five streamed or online classes. The Institute uses local government experts, attorneys, business leaders, higher education instructors, and municipal government and Municipal Association staff to teach the sessions.
Winter 2018 MEO Institute graduates who were recognized on Feb. 6
At the day-long sessions offered each February, topics include conducting public meetings, ethics and public accountability, planning and zoning, and business license administration.

The classes streamed to the councils of governments give local leaders a chance to get training three times a year without having to travel to Columbia. Plus they get the added advantage of networking and brainstorming time with peers in their region. To meet the goal of more flexibility in training, the online version of these classes are offered on-demand through the Municipal Association’s website.

During these streamed and online sessions, elected officials learn from leaders in both the private and public sectors about the importance of partnerships in economic development. They hear from staff with the Municipal Association and the SC Press Association about complying with the Freedom of Information Act. They learn how the three forms of government affect how a city is run and the mechanics and legalities of the municipal budget.

For graduates of the Municipal Elected Officials Institute, the Advanced Municipal Elected Officials Institute is available to give local officials more in-depth training on certain topics. Advanced Institute participants can choose between two advanced courses offered each winter and fall with the requirement of taking four of the six available classes to graduate. Launched in 2016, the Advanced Institute already has more than 150 graduates.
Advanced MEO Institute graduates were recogized on Feb. 6
Time availability to attend training can be an issue for elected officials who often have full-time jobs outside of their council responsibilities. “We know that municipal elected officials have many responsibilities and time commitments, so the time dedicated to training must be well spent," said Wayne George, executive director of the Municipal Association. 

George, mayor of Mullins, S.C. from 1988 - 2004 and a 1991 Institute graduate, was the first official from a city in Marion County to graduate from the Institute.
“We have tried to design a flexible training program that meets both the goals of gaining technical knowledge and sharing best practices with their peers in other cities,”  George said.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Changes to the Local Government Fund Considered

The Local Government Fund has been an important and stable source of local government revenue for almost 20 years. Since Fiscal Year 2010, the LGF has seen substantial reductions due to a shrinking state general fund and additional reductions imposed by the General Assembly.
In recent years, members of the General Assembly have been considering changes to the LGF and evaluating how the Local Government Fund is calculated for distribution to cities and counties.

Last fall, the Speaker of the House appointed an ad committee chaired by Rep. Leon Stavranakis to review the revenue needs of municipalities and counties, and modify the current funding methodology of the LGF. 

During its two meetings in late 2017, committee members heard testimony from Melissa Carter with the Municipal Association, other local government interests and Frank Rainwater, the state’s chief economist, to gather input about local government revenue and expenditure trends.

Last week, state budget hearings began with a Ways and Means subcommittee taking testimony about county and municipal requests for funding.

In the 2017 session, Rep. Russell Ott introduced H3099 that changes the formula to reflect the projected growth in the general fund.

Assuring the future of the LGF as a stable and reliable revenue source is one of the Municipal Association’s Advocacy Initiatives for 2018. At Hometown Legislative Action Day on February 6, hear from a panel of House members who will discuss proposals being considered to update the LGF formula.

Read From the Dome to your Home every Friday to keep up with the debate surrounding changes in the LGF. Learn more about the history of the LGF.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Meet the Municipal Association's new executive director

The new executive director of the Municipal Association of South Carolina is Wayne George, a former mayor, city councilmember and state legislator. The Association represents the state's 271 cities and towns, providing training, advocacy at the state and federal levels, and programs that give local officials the tools they need to provide quality services.

There's something unique about serving in local government, says George. Working to improve quality of life at the city and town level is just different because you can quickly see the positive results. 

George was mayor of Mullins for 16 years after serving on city council from 1980 to 1988. "Generally, you can see light at the end of the tunnel. At the state level, sometimes you can't see things progressing as you'd like it to."

But, of course, it's not easy making decisions that affect the lives of your next-door neighbors and the people you see at church, the grocery store and your children's school.

Local governments, George said, "are sometimes not completely understood by the general public. But we are the government that's closest to the people."

George succeeds Miriam Hair who retired in December after 32 years with the Association, the last nine as executive director.

"Wayne's background in local government, experience at the State House, organizational experience as a successful business owner, and years of involvement with the Municipal Association on staff and on the board made him the ideal candidate for executive director," said Cayce Mayor Elise Partin, who chairs the Association's board. "His dedication to the strength of local government, which increases the strength of our state, will continue the positive difference the Association makes."

Before joining the Association, George had a career in insurance after founding his own company. He also worked in the Municipal Association's Risk Management Services division and as a field service representative for the Association from 2004 to 2010. Later, George represented parts of Dillon, Horry and Marion counties in the S.C. House of Representatives for two terms after his election in 2012.

George is particularly attuned to the challenges that rural cities and towns in South Carolina face. In 2004, then-Gov. Mark Sanford named him Rural Innovator of the Year for his idea to locate the Florence-Darlington Technical College satellite campus to downtown Mullins, his downtown revitalization efforts, and his support for the preservation of historic properties.

George attended Coastal Carolina University on a basketball scholarship and earned bachelor's degrees from Coastal Carolina and from Morris College. He founded The George Agency, raised three sons with his wife, Helen, and served on the Coastal Carolina University Board of Trustees from 2006 – 2012.

George says he's particularly looking forward to getting reacquainted with the many municipal officials he has known for years and meeting the new ones. He'll be busy. The November elections brought substantial changes in city halls across the state.

Together, in the Appalachian, Catawba, Central Midlands and Upper Savannah councils of governments, 54 cities had general elections, council seats had a turnover rate of 41 percent and mayoral seats had a turnover rate of 43 percent — 29 percent of councilmembers did not seek re-election, while 25 percent of mayors did not run again.

In the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester, Lowcountry, Lower Savannah, Waccamaw, Santee Lynches and Pee Dee councils of government, 86 cities and towns had general elections, resulting in a turnover rate of 31 percent for council seats and 33 percent for mayoral seats — 18 percent of councilmembers and 25 percent of mayors did not seek re-election.

But getting to know the hundreds of new and veteran public officials alike — from city halls to the S.C. State House — and across other statewide organizations is likely to be a pleasure for George, who says he has always worked well with residents from diverse groups. He recalled the best advice he's ever received about working with others, words from his parents.

"Always be fair."