Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Statement of Economic Interests Due - Sunday at Noon!!

Don't wait until the last minute! There's a big ethics filing deadline looming on Sunday, March 30, at noon! 

The deadline to submit the annual Statement of Economic Interests to the Ethics Commission changed from April 15 to March 30 with the passage of S2 last year. Link to the forms and information you need from the Ethics Commission here. If you have questions about completing the form and submitting it online, contact the Ethics Commission at 803.253.4192.

The Commission's User's Guide to help you complete the form is here. The law is here, and a summary of the law is here.
In municipal government, all elected officials, the city manager/administrator, the chief financial officer and the chief procurement officer must file this form by Sunday at noon. 

This issue of reporting gifts can be particularly confusing. There is conflict in state law regarding this, and the State Ethics Commission staff advises public officials and employees who file a Statement of Economic Interests to disclose anything of value received as a result of their public office or position. Link here for a detailed explanation about the right way to report gifts. 

There is a series of articles in Uptown that can give officials more background on the filing of income, benefits and property ownership.

Also, remember that the Municipal Elected Officials Institute Session B offered every February covers ethics and public responsibility. The Municipal Clerk Treasurer's Institute also includes a session on ethics in its Year 3 curriculum.

Ethics is really more than just not doing something wrong. Read this insightful column that examines what it means to be an ethical leader. Good food for thought as we complete the required ethics forms this week.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Planning and Zoning and Licensing, Oh My!

We've all heard the old adage of "you've got to plan the work in order to work the plan." One of the most important roles for local elected officials is planning for the long-range growth in the community.

Council will set the vision for the type of growth the city should pursue. Then, planning staff and a variety of volunteer boards are responsible for different parts of implementation.

While the arrangement for every city is determined by its council, cities could have a planning and zoning staff, a planning commission, a board of zoning appeals and an architectural review board. It's easy to get all of these roles and  responsibilities confused, so take a look at this simple graphic that illustrates the relationship among all the players. Also read about a day in the life of a zoning director.

There are many approaches a city can take to  make sure  development regulations attract investment, rather than push it toward competitors. Learn about a new approach called form-based codes that can expedite the development process, provide predictability to private and public entities, support creation of high-value development, and allow flexibility as the community grows.

In 2003, the General Assembly amended the South Carolina Comprehensive Planning Act by adding orientation and continuing education requirements for planning and zoning officials (both staff and commission members). Learn where these officials can get this training and find out what's required each year.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Friday Rewind

On Thursday, the Association of SC Mayors hosted a parliamentary procedure training for for its members in cities with population of less than 5,000. Fifteen mayors spent the day with a certified parliamentarian learning specifics of motions, rules of procedure and more. The day wrapped up with a mock council meeting led by Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols and several Association staff members serving as councilmembers acting out the good, the bad and the ugly of council proceedings with coaching from the instructor. All agreed it was a great training session. The next session is May 13 for ASCM members in cities above 5,000 in population.

Big news for cities and towns at the General Assembly this week was seeing the Dilapidated Buildings Act get out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senators Martin, Hutto, Coleman, McElveen and Johnson led a lively debate on the bill that ended with a 15-7 vote. Read more in this week's From the Dome to Your Home.

As of today, 28 cities and two counties have signed on to accept the new statewide standardized business license application. This new application will help streamline the process in particular for transient businesses that work in multiple jurisdictions. Read the press release  and previous blog post about this new business-friendly practice.

This week has been observed as Sunshine Week around the country. Take a look at the variety of resources on the Association's website that answer questions about FOIA and other transparency issues. 

Also, read this Columbia Business Monthly article to learn what several South Carolina cities are doing to increase transparency  and read the shout out to the Association's FOIA training programs in this article by the Press Association's director, Bill Rogers.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Cities Collaborating to Make Business Licensing Easier

For a business owner, few things can be more frustrating than paperwork. And sometimes government paperwork can become an impediment to getting a job done, especially in the arena of business licensing.

South Carolina cities and towns are taking steps to make a dent in some of the paperwork complexity by offering a standardized business license form. The Municipal Association has worked with its Business License Officials Association, the state Chamber of Commerce and a number of other local chambers of commerce and business organizations to create this standardized business license application especially to help transient businesses like contractors, landscapers and caterers that work across multiple government jurisdictions.

This application was introduced in early March. Click here for the latest updated list as more cities are added. While using the standardized application is entirely voluntary, some cities are completely replacing their existing form while others will accept the standard form and their existing form. Read more about this new application form in the March Uptown.

In addition to this new business licensing application, read about how several cities have already been working toward solutions to make the licensing process easier. From discounts on business license fees on anniversary dates to better information flow to centralized filing, Greenville, Lexington, Anderson, Columbia and Sumter are responding to customer needs and making their communities more business friendly.

Business licensing is a complex profession involving knowledge of the law, finance and a good dose of customer service. Did you know there are multiple levels of accreditation that business license officials can receive, and there is a professional association just for these folks? You can learn more about what the day in the life of a business license administrator involves here. 

Get the press release about this new application here.

Monday, March 17, 2014

It's Sunshine Week!

The week of March 16 - 22 is Sunshine Week, and that's a good time for local officials to make a special focus on openness and transparency in government. 

Too often, we see only the violations of the Freedom of Information Act reported in the news when it's far more frequent that officials in our cities and towns are doing the right thing for the right reason to keep their residents informed about what's going on with their government. Read this month's Columbia Business Monthly to find out about some transparency best practices Cayce, Camden, Ridgeway and Columbia put in place.

The SC Press Association's guide to FOIA is probably the best resource around to help local officials stay within the law. It's got great examples and easy-to-understand interpretations of each section of the law. The Municipal Association also has a comprehensive compilation of resources about FOIA and open government on its website.

Local officials can learn more about FOIA at the next session of the Municipal Elected Officials Institute coming up on May 15 at the ten regional councils of governments. Learn more and register here.

Also, Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom offers space on his website for cities and towns to post their online financial information. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Friday Rewind

The U.S. Senate gave final passage on Thursday to H3370, the House version of the Homeowners Flood Insurance Affordability Act that halts the drastic increases in flood insurance rates due to the Biggert-Waters Act. Shout out to Senators Graham and Scott along with Representatives Clyburn, Rice and Sanford for their support of this legislation in the House and Senate.

The legislature finished the state budget on Wednesday afternoon with a little positive movement on the Local Government Fund and passage of several provisos affecting cities and towns. Read this week's From the Dome to Your Home to learn more.

Help the Association gather information requested by Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter to stop to litter in SC. She is seeking information about litter hotspots in our cities and towns. Take a second to send us your list here or just email the info to Tiger Wells at

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Local officials take to Capitol Hill

A group of municipal officials were on Capitol Hill today to talk with SC delegation members about the Marketplace Fairness Act, the Homeowners Flood Insurance Affordability Act and the threat to the municipal bond tax exemption.


Sen. Graham voted for the Marketplace Fairness Act when it passed the Senate last year, and he told the group that final passage is critical to saving the state's downtowns from unfair out-of-state online competition. The House version of the legislation is scheduled for a hearing in the Juduciary committee this Wednesday. The group also met with Rep. Gowdy's staff about MFA because he serves on Judiciary. 

The group met with Sen. Scott's staff and they heard from the group about the same issues as discussed with Sen. Graham. The Senator's chief of staff is a former city councilmember from Colorado so he was well aware of local government challenges. 

The Senator's staff briefed the officials about the Senator's Opportunity Agenda and asked the group to let him know if they are aware of good apprentice programs in SC that could be duplicated on a larger scale. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Friday Rewind

This week, the Homeowners Flood Insurance Accountability Act passed the U.S. House. The legislation is intended to ease the burden of increased flood insurance rates due to the 2012 Biggert-Waters Act. Representatives Clyburn, Rice and Sanford voted in favor of the bill which must now be reconciled with the Senate version. A delegation of local officials will be in Washington next week to discuss this and other federal issues with our Members of Congress. 

The latest issue of Cities Mean Business magazine is out, and you can find it as an insert in the spring issue of SC Biz magazine on newsstands now. Cities Mean Business is the Municipal Association’s biannual publication that focuses on the relationship between cities and the businesses located in them. 

The House begins the budget debate next week. Make sure to read this week's From the Dome to Your Home for the latest on this week's State House activity.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Budgets are more than dollars and cents

With the Local GovernmentFund and other financial issues at the forefront at the State House during the budget debate, city officials with July fiscal year budgets are starting work on their 2014-2015 municipal budgets.

Municipal budgets really communicate more than just the dollars and cents of money in and money out. A good budget should also communicate the council’s vision for the city and how that vision will be carried out. Read more about tying vision to budget in this Uptown article.

Council, regardless of the form of government, has the responsibility by state law to pass a balanced annual budget as well as contract for an audit. For mayors and councilmembers new to municipal budgeting, these can be overwhelming processes, even if elected officials have private sector business and budgeting experience.

For officials new to local government or those who just want a refresher on the budget process, the Municipal Elected Officials Institute will be offering its Basic Budgeting and Municipal Finance session on Thursday, March 20. The deadline to register is March 10. The MEO classes will be streamed live to the ten regional Councils of Government. Find out more here.

Read what several mayors had to say about this MEO training in a recent article in Columbia Business Monthly magazine.