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.

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