Friday, August 29, 2014

More online training now available

By Urica Floyd, Municipal Association’s Staff Associate for Distance Learning  

Designing and developing online training for municipal officials is a multifaceted process. As we at the Municipal Association began to create the on-demand training for the Municipal Elected Officials Institute of Government, we took into consideration many factors including officials’ comfort level with technology and their access to technology. 

Some of the questions we had to think about were “How will the elected officials navigate and find information?” and “How can we build an experience for the elected officials that they can interact with meaningfully?”

We believe we have answered those questions with the four online courses now available through MEOI. Having these classes available on-demand 24/7 gives elected officials yet another way to access the MEOI sessions without having to travel or wait for the classes held annually at the regional Councils of Government offices.

Councilmember Jan Wiles from Holly Hill recently told us, “I just finished the online course “Forms of Municipal Government.” It was wonderful! First of all, it was the most interesting material so far. But being able to replay parts is a huge plus! A big thanks for having this on demand.”

Over the past year, the Municipal Association has rolled out online versions of four of the five classes offered at the COGs for the MEO Institute – “Basic Budgeting and Municipal Finance,” “Forms of Municipal Government,” and “Municipal Economic Development.” The fourth course, “Municipal Governance and Policy,” premiered this month (read the press release here). The fifth course, “The Freedom of Information Act in SC,” will go live mid-December.

The next in-person training at the COGs, “Municipal Economic Development” and “Forms of Municipal Government,” will be held Thursday, September 18, from 6 – 9 p.m. You can get the full schedule and register here.

For newly elected officials, the free, non-credit class, “The Five Basics of Effective Governing” provides basic information about municipal governance that will be helpful during the first few months in office.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Cities Must Use the Uniform Traffic Ticket

By Tigerron Wells, Municipal Association’s Government Affairs Liaison

At a recent Municipal Court Administration Association meeting, I had the chance to talk with its members about municipal traffic ordinances. I noted we know this for sure: All law enforcement officers in South Carolina must use Uniform Traffic Tickets when issuing traffic offense citations on South Carolina highways.

The potential penalties for intentionally violating this requirement include a misdemeanor conviction, a fine of up to $1500, and six months in jail for each nonuniform ticket issued. These are not consequences that we want to see any local or law enforcement officials suffer, so we thought it important to draw attention to the current state of the law given the attention legislators gave this issue during the recent legislative session. There is a section in the Municipal Court Handbook on page 20 regarding traffic violations and UTTs. 

On the related question of local governments passing traffic ordinances addressing speeding at all, the issue is in some ways more uncertain. You see, the Uniform Traffic Act expressly authorizes local authorities to regulate the speed of vehicles in public parks. But beyond that provision, there is no express authorization for local governments to regulate speed. 

The UTA clearly states that municipalities may adopt municipal traffic ordinances that do not conflict with the provisions of the UTA. So the question becomes: “What constitutes a conflict?"

Following the negative media attention that one local traffic ordinance drew in late 2013, the Municipal Association sought a legal opinion on the matter from municipal attorney Danny Crowe of the Crowe Lafave law firm.

Crow noted that a court's analysis of the question would likely consider the following:

1) whether the ordinance regulates traffic in a way that is already regulated by the UTA without express statutory authorization,

2) whether the local ordinance imposes greater or lesser penalties than the UTA, and

3) whether the local ordinance imposes a civil fine as opposed to criminal penalties of the UTA.

In situations when a court affirmatively answers some or all of these questions, the ordinance would most probably be deemed void as conflicting with state law.

Now, as acknowledged previously, there are a number of questions that remain up in the air, and South Carolina courts have not yet been presented with an opportunity to weigh in on this conflict question definitively. However, we are seeing growing consensus based on recent legal opinions against local traffic ordinances that duplicate state traffic laws but carry different penalties.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

We better see you at the Regional Advocacy Meetings!

By Casey Fields, Municipal Association's Manager for Municipal Advocacy

You know the Association's legislative team doesn’t have the chance to get out of Columbia and visit cities like our field services staff does. So when we can come to your hometown and visit you for a change, we jump at the chance. It’s great to see everyone, catch up on family, sample some of your best local food and talk shop.

For nine years, the Association’s legislative team has taken to the road in search of the best fried chicken, tastiest barbeque and most delicious banana pudding. No, I’m not setting up the next installment of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on the Food Network. I’m talking about the Regional Advocacy Meetings. My favorite time of the year.

We can’t do our job at the State House unless we know what you are experiencing in your hometowns. What are residents and business owners complaining about? What do you hear about at the grocery store? At church? Can we work together and fix it through legislation? And I say work together, because it takes hometown voices and direct lobbying working simultaneously to get it done.

The Regional Advocacy Meetings are the first step in the Association’s process of gathering proactive legislative initiatives to tackle for the upcoming session. Your ideas and suggestions are wrapped up into a presentation to the Association’s legislative committee and then sent to the Association’s board of directors. This gives us a road map to follow during the session.

This year, we have invited legislators to join us for lunch at the Regional Advocacy Meetings. This is a new addition to the usual agenda, but we’ve heard so many times from you that we should invite them, so here we go. We’ve had a great response so far from legislators excited to eat lunch and share their priorities with us.

After you read this, go ahead and register for a Regional Advocacy Meeting.
You can check the schedule and RSVP here. The meetings  start in Greenwood on September 18 and run through October 8 in Rock Hill with one in each COG region of the state. Come to the one most convenient for you. The meetings are free, but we do need to know if you’re coming so we can make sure to have enough food and handouts.

After you register, then call your Senators and House members  and encourage them to attend, too. All legislators have received a letter of invitation from the Association's president, Anderson Mayor Terence Roberts.
We can’t wait to see all of you on the road!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Clicks and Bricks...Supporting Hometown Businesses

These days, small businesses and downtown retailers often struggle to compete in a world where a growing number of consumers do their shopping online. Small retailers, in particular, are facing increasing competitive challenges because out-of-state online companies aren’t collecting sales tax at the point of sale leading consumers to believe goods are cheaper when purchased online.

But competition from out-of-state online retailers doesn’t have to be the death of our hometown retail businesses. We can look at this challenge from two perspectives.

First is focusing on the role that officials in our cities and towns can play in helping local retailers better harness the power of the Internet and social media to boost their businesses.

At the July Annual Meeting, three successful downtown business owners from Laurens and Newberry discussed with Main Street SC’s director strategies they are using to re-think their business models to remain relevant in the world where clicks and bricks merge. Read the Uptown article about this session and take a look at the session presentation.

Second is leveling the tax playing field to ensure these local businesses don’t remain at a competitive disadvantage relative to out-of-state online retailers. The Marketplace and Internet Tax Fairness Act is working its way through Congress. This legislation requires online retailers to collect sales taxes the same way our hometown brick and mortar businesses do and does not create new taxes or increase existing ones.

The bill was introduced in the U. S. Senate recently, and time is short to see it pass before the end of this session of Congress. This legislation is similar to the Marketplace Fairness Act that passed the Senate last year supported by Senator Graham. 

Our senators need to hear from local officials and businesses that passage of this legislation is critical to helping our local businesses overcome this competitive disadvantage.

Friday, August 1, 2014

So far so good…but hurricane season has a ways to go

By Cindy Martellini, Claims Manager, Municipal Association's Risk Management Services

Hurricane season begins every year on June 1 and ends on November 30, and we are fast approaching the peak hurricane season for the East Coast.

If a major hurricane makes landfall, there will be damage, no doubt. The good news is technological advances now make it possible for forecasters to provide warnings of a potential landfall through modern hurricane forecasting tools.

Pre-landfall preparation will decrease the impact of a major storm and might prevent damage altogether following a minor hurricane.

  • Secure all outside items such as chairs, planters, trash cans, pallets, and signage. High winds can result in unsecured items becoming flying objects that can sustain or cause damage.
  • Secure windows and doors. Removable awnings can be put away to prevent damage. Move interior items away from areas with known roof leaks. 
  • Move property or contents in low-lying areas. 
  • Move important paperwork, computers and equipment, and other items to a safe location. Cover computers, files, and other electronic equipment and move these items away from windows and from the floor. Unplug electrical equipment and appliances
  • Contact the SC Municipal Insurance Risk and Financing Fund or your insurance carrier as soon as possible after landfall to submit claims even if you don't know the extent of the loss.
  • Secure any damaged property after a loss to prevent further loss. If property must be disposed of, document the loss by photographs and lists.
  • Download the SC Emergency Management Division’s Hurricane Guide to help prepare your city.

With a little luck and some advance preparation, South Carolina cities and towns have a good chance of reaching the end of hurricane season with as little storm damage as possible!