Thursday, December 8, 2016

Focus on law enforcement advocacy initiatives

By Tigerron Wells, Government Affairs Liaison

Continuing our weekly City Connect review of the Municipal Association’s 2017 Advocacy Initiatives, I’m pleased to provide you with some background about two of our initiatives related to law enforcement in South Carolina.

Support reliable funding for the Criminal Justice Academy to provide improved training opportunities for law enforcement officers 

The Criminal Justice Academy provides basic training and certification for almost every law enforcement officer in the state. However, the Academy’s funding is dependent almost exclusively on revenue collected from state and local fines and fees.
CJA Director Jackie Swindler briefs mayors about training requirements and funding challenges
During a recent meeting of the Association of South Carolina Mayors held at the SC Criminal Justice Academy, mayors heard from the recently appointed CJA Director Jackie Swindler, former police chief in Newberry, about this funding challenge. He also discussed the importance of hiring good officer candidates and complying with requirements for timely officer registration with the Academy and firearms training within the days following hire.

Swindler talked with the mayors about the process for police departments to get new recruits into the Academy noting that the average wait time is 52 days from the date an officer is registered. This time can be significantly shorter if the department requests the officer be added to a waiting list at the time of registration.

The mayors got a chance to walk the Academy grounds and see some of the training that their officers must complete before being certified to serve the public and protect the peace.

Back in October, Swindler also spoke to a meeting of city managers. Read more in this blog post from the managers meeting that outlines in detail Swindler’s budget proposal for the Academy.

Another conversation about CJA funding has been taking place through a law enforcement stakeholder group organized by the Association’s Risk Management Services staff. This group has been mapping a path to encourage the legislative changes needed to reach these goals. 

Increase funding for body-worn cameras

After legislation passed in 2015 mandating the statewide roll-out of body-worn cameras in every law enforcement department or agency, we have learned that the money set aside over two years was woefully inadequate to fully fund a statewide roll-out. 

In fact, with a little more than half of eligible agencies submitting grant requests in 2016, funding requests still exceeded appropriated funds by more than $7 million. This October blog post outlines how body-worn camera grant funds in the 2016 state budget were allocated. 

Increased funding and a reliable funding source are critical to ensure all law enforcement agencies have access to grants to fund their local body cameras and the software and storage to go along with them.

So, to recap, providing reliable funding for the Criminal Justice Academy and adequate funding for body-worn cameras can both measurably improve the training, safety and overall quality of one of the most critical aspects of our criminal justice system.

Read about all five of the 2017 Advocacy Initiatives.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Proposal to change make-up of CTCs: No rehabilitation without representation

By Scott Slatton, legislative and public policy advocate
Last week's blog post by my colleague Casey Fields spotlighted the process of developing the Municipal Association's 2017 Advocacy Initiatives.
One of these initiatives is support for reliable road funding that helps cities and towns create and maintain economic development opportunities for our state. To help ensure road dollars flow to cities and towns, the Association supports the notion of more municipal representation on County Transportation Committees.

Over the last two years, the General Assembly has nearly tripled the amount of C Funds that are sent to each of the state’s 46 counties. C Funds are a portion of the state’s gas tax designated for local roads. County Transportation Committees (one in each county) oversee the use of C Funds. The Department of Transportation's website has lots of background about C Funds.

In some counties, the CTC and the towns in its county work well together to ensure those municipalities receive the road money they need to keep their roads in good shape. In many counties however, cities don’t receive C Funds at all, thereby putting those cities at an economic disadvantage.

To ensure cities and towns across the state have equitable access to C Funds, the Association advocates changing the law governing who is appointed to CTCs. At least one mayor, one city council member and one city employee within a county should be appointed to serve on each CTC in the state. This would guarantee that a municipal point of view is brought to each CTC and help reduce the municipal road funding disparity within some counties.

Roads are a critical part of economic development in our state. And sharing reliable road funding responsibly in each county will help all South Carolina residents.

Additional resources:
December 2016 Uptown article: Municipal Association releases 2017 Advocacy Initiatives
2015 Uptown article: background on the state of South Carolina roads

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Only seven Mondays until the 2017 session begins

By Casey Fields, manager for municipal advocacy
The campaigns are over and the election dust has settled. We can breathe a sigh of relief that the campaign commercials are over, and the mailers will no longer clog up our mailboxes. Now the real work begins for local officials. 

We have 18 new members in the House of Representatives and eight new members of the Senate. This is the largest freshman class in the Senate in recent memory. It's not too early to let our legislators know what the priorities for cities and towns will be in the 2017 session.

In the December issue of Uptown, municipal officials get an in-depth look at the 2017 Advocacy Initiatives for cities and towns. The front page article goes through five major challenges facing cities and towns with action items that would result in changing state law to meet those challenges. 

Blog posts over the next four weeks will describe each of the individual initiatives. In the meantime and moving forward, here’s what else we need to do.

On the Municipal Association's website, there is a sample proclamation councils can adopt in support of the 2017 advocacy initiatives. This sends a message from your council to your legislators that these priorities are ones that are important to your city. Download the Word document of the proclamation and send a copy back to me after your council passes it.

If you have new legislators, call them now if you haven’t already. Introduce yourself and your city. Exchange cell phone numbers and email addresses. Start the relationship. Don’t ask for anything. Just provide them information about your city and its vision for the future. Take them a copy of the proclamation supporting the Advocacy Initiatives. Thank them for representing you and your city.

If your legislator was re-elected, call to say “congratulations” on serving another term. Renew that relationship that is already there. Exchange cell phone numbers. Thank them for everything they do for your city and point them to the Association’s website for more information on the Advocacy Initiatives. The Association staff has printed cards you can give to your legislators outlining the initiatives or you can get a copy from the website.

Building positive relationships with legislators is the most important thing mayors and councilmembers can do to advance good legislation to help cities and towns be the economic drivers and centers of commerce for South Carolina. These relationships help stop bad legislation and pass good legislation. These relationships establish local elected leaders as the go-to source of municipal information. These relationships provide valuable information to legislators in Columbia about cities and towns. These relationships are the backbone of our grassroots network across the state. 

There's a quick list of the newly elected House members and Senate below. We'll have contact info and committee assignments for them in a blog post after the December 7 reorganization sessions. Stay tuned. 


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Investment in social capital pays dividends

For some police officers, raising social capital is as simple as not ticketing a resident for a minor infraction. Educating the offender about the local ordinance can sometimes be more helpful in the long run than fining him. 

Walterboro residents have no doubt benefited from town officials who put social capital in the bank. But recently those same residents got to read about social capital, too.

That’s because an Uptown column written by Walterboro mayor and Municipal Association President Bill Young was picked up by his hometown paper. As Mayor Young described it, social capital is “the value created by the networks that connect similar people and build bridges between diverse people.

Clemson Police Chief Jimmy Dixon described some of the same ideas in another Uptown article, Accumulating social capital for a rainy day.”

"It’s only a matter of time before bad things happen. We don’t want it to happen. We are a safe community, but we’re not immune to it," he said. "You want support so when the hard times hit, people know you’ll do everything humanly possible to solve it.”

Social capital can have other, unexpected benefits. For instance, cities and towns may discover that banking some social capital even helps with public safety recruitment efforts. 

"The way a particular agency treats people in the community every day—if they take time to talk to people and treat them with empathy—it pays dividends in a lot of different ways," said Jack Ryan with the Public Agency Training Council during at session at this summer's Annual Meeting.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Professional photos with a cell phone? You bet!

Have you ever wondered why photos taken from your cell phone just don't work sometimes for print or website use? Are the photos often grainy? Does your subject look like he's got turkey feathers growing from his head? These challenges and some easy fixes were the topic of a session at this week's training for Main Street South Carolina managers.

"When you're a one-man shop, like many Main Street programs are, you might also be the photographer for your newsletters, websites or social media," said Beppie LeGrand, Main Street SC's manager. 

Meredith Houck, the Association's website and creative services manager, outlined several tricks of the trade for better photographs using only a cell phone and a little technical know-how of the phone and photography basics.

"You want your photos to tell a story. Even the dreaded "grip and grin" photos can be made interesting with just a few tweaks to your composition or lighting," Meredith said.

 *    Avoid placing the subject of your photo in the direct center of the photo.

 *    Most smartphones cameras have a grid view. Once you enable this, you'll see that the screen has four lines that divide the frame into nine equal parts. By using the rule of thirds, your subject should be on one of the lines, preferably where these lines intersect.

 *    Be aware of the background of the photo. If the photo includes people, make sure nothing appears to be sticking out of their head from the background.

 *    Make sure your resolution is set to the highest setting. A high-resolution image allows you to take quality photos that can be used in printed pieces and websites. A high-resolution image can always be compressed if the original is too large. Low-resolution image are usually grainy and pixelated. Pixels cannot be created to increase the size of a low-resolution image.

 *    When emailing or uploading an image, make sure to send the original size of the image. Do not compress the image.

Get Meredith's handout with the full list of tips from the session and take a look at her Power Point presentation.

The group ventured out in downtown Columbia to practice what they had learned.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Cities paying it forward after the hurricane...stories of grace and gratitude

When it comes to showing South Carolina’s big heart and ability to help our neighbors, we don’t need to look any further than the devastated Pee Dee Town of Nichols.

There are lots of great stories of cities helping cities after the hurricane. These are just a few:

While Hurricane Matthew pounded the coast, many small inland towns were left reeling from the flooding. There are many stories of humility, grace and gratitude from these devastating events. One example is Edisto Beach Mayor Jane Darby who used Facebook through the storm recovery to keep residents and homeowners updated on the progress of cleaning up their island home.

But Mayor Darby didn’t forget there were other South Carolinians who continued to struggle. She used Facebook to help pay it forward to the Town of Nichols and let her followers know that almost everyone in Nichols lost their home and belongings to flooding. She wanted to help and posted this plea:

The mayor also shared Nichols’ Facebook album of photos showing the brown murky flood waters standing stagnant in homes and businesses.

When the emergency distribution center closed in Edisto Beach, the mayor and city officials sent the remainder of the supplies that had been donated to Edisto Beach to Nichols … a great story of paying it forward.

The City of Cayce also lent a helping hand to Nichols by sending public safety officers to help with search and rescue operations immediately after the storm hit.
Then, the Cayce Department of Public Safety and the North Charleston Police Department were two of many local law enforcement agencies that collected goods for people in Nichols.
Just yesterday, House Speaker Jay Lucas of Hartsville took a trip to Nichols to see the devastation first hand. Watch this WIS-TV news report and read this Florence Morning News story to get a snapshot of what Speaker Lucas saw on his visit.

The Speaker recognized a top priority right now is getting the city government back up and running so residents can be assured of police and fire protection. Speaker Lucas also pledged to be the town’s legislative voice to try and identify funding for rebuilding since its local representative has retired.
But that’s what we’re all about in South Carolina….paying it forward and helping out. These are just a few of the stories. Got more? We’d love to know about them.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Shout out after the storm ... "electric cities" chip in to help each other

It’s easy to write that disaster recovery plan but, when the hurricane strikes, the real proof of the plan’s worth becomes evident. That’s certainly the case with the mutual aid agreement among the state’s 21 “electric cities” that run their own electric utilities.

All 21 of these municipal utilities are members of the South Carolina Association of Municipal Power Systems. The original purpose of SCAMPS, when it was established in the 1980s, was to serve as a vehicle for mutual aid during emergencies. Today SCAMPS, as an affiliate of the Municipal Association, also provides training for its members and advocacy related to utility issues in the legislature.
These municipal-run utilities were established to provide a nonprofit, community-owned and locally controlled source of reliable electric power. Governance by an elected council or utility commission allows the policies and decisions affecting electric rates and system operations to be tailored to the specific needs and priorities of the local community.

A hallmark of public power is system reliability. The SCAMPS utilities participate in a mutual aid assistance compact which pledges the availability of equipment, manpower and resources in emergency situations to restore power in affected utilities.

Following Hurricane Matthew, six municipal utilities reported a combined total of approximately 25,000 customer outages resulting in an activation of the mutual aid system.

Jimmy Bagley, Rock Hill’s deputy city manager, has served for many years as the voluntary mutual aid director for SCAMPS members. During Hurricane Mathew, Jimmy led the mutual aid response by coordinating in-state and out-of-state resources.

Rock Hill’s Electric Utility Director Mike Jolly responded with the core team sent to Orangeburg which was the hardest hit SCAMPS utility. There were approximately 15,000 customers without power in Orangeburg.This WIS-TV story that ran on Friday features Mike and the crew’s work in Orangeburg.

In addition to Orangeburg, mutual aid resources were dispatched to Bennettsville and Georgetown. The mutual aid response involved approximately 140 people including 69 SCAMPS-member employees, 16 private utility or tree company employees, and 52 employees from out of state public power utilities from Alabama, Florida, North Carolina and Nebraska.
Roughly 117 people were deployed to Orangeburg, 13 to Bennettsville and nine to Georgetown. The majority of these crews worked from Saturday October 7, through Thursday, October 13. SCAMPS had a 100 percent participation rate in the response by the utilities that were not seriously affected by the storm and employed more than five lineman.

The Municipal Association also served as a clearinghouse for providing information to the SC Emergency Management Division each day regarding the progress of restoring power in the three hardest hit cities of Orangeburg, Georgetown and Bamberg. Eric Budds, the SCAMPS contact for the Municipal Association, stayed in daily contact with EMD to update outage information that the governor incorporated into her daily reports.

During the storm, utility directors were busy at work focusing on the outages. Read this Uptown article to learn more about what a utility director does on a usual daily basis.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Cities helping cities during the hurricane

It’s been quite a week for South Carolina cities hit hard by Hurricane Matthew. We’ve moved into the recovery period where cities are reaching out to help others in need. 

The first news block on the Association’s website has up-to-date information for cities regarding mutual aid requests, as well as documents from the state Department of Transportation related to debris cleanup.

Twenty-one cites in South Carolina run a municipal power system and are members of an affiliate organization of the Municipal Association called the SC Association of Municipal Power Systems. These utilities stay in close contact with one another whenever widespread power outages occur. Hurricane Matthew was no exception.

As soon as the governor declared a state of emergency on October 5, utilities in these electric cities outside of the target of the storm started getting resources ready to send lineman crews out to help out electric cities in parts of the state that needed it.
So maybe it's not an ice storm this week, but the Superman sentiment about linemen is true in any emergency
The electric cities hardest hit by the hurricane include Bennettsville, Orangeburg and Georgetown. Already Clinton, Camden and the Laurens Commission of Public Works have been helping Bennettsville. Meanwhile, Union, the Greer Commission of Public Works, Rock Hill, Abbeville, the Gaffney Board of Public Works and Easley Combined Utilities have been working in Orangeburg. Seneca crews have been helping out in Georgetown.

Utility directors are busy helping get the power back on today, but if you want to know more about what they do on a regular day, read this article from Uptown to learn about a utility director’s various responsibilities.

Monday, October 3, 2016

New leadership at Criminal Justice Academy lays out priorities

At last Friday’s fall forum for managers/administrators, the new director of the SC Criminal Justice Academy, Jackie Swindler, addressed more than 50 managers and administrators about some of the concerns and challenges he’s looking at in his new position.
Swindler has more than 40 years in law enforcement and is the former long-time chief of police for the City of Newberry. Most recently he was the law enforcement liaison for the SC Department of Social Services.

Here are five take-aways from Swindler’s conversation with the managers and administrators:

1 - The CJA is funded by fines and fees from tickets, but that could change. Swindler will be asking the Legislature for a permanent line item of funding instead. One of the Municipal Association’s 2017 advocacy initiatives lends support to this change to CJA’s funding stream.

2 - Training could be coming directly to police departments in their own cities. Swindler is requesting state funding to dispatch a mobile team to go into four regions of the state to do ongoing training at local departments.

3 - If the legislature approves this new CJA budget, Academy training for new officer certification will be increasing from 12 weeks to 15 weeks. What’s in the extra weeks? Increased diversity training and a focus or making sure officers don’t put themselves into situations where shooting a gun is the only line of defense.

“Those additional three weeks will be … all about where you position yourself, how you posture yourself, use of force, arrest, verbal judo, de-escalation, cultural diversity, prejudices, biases, all those things will be taught, Swindler said. "Most of our situations happen as the result of how we communicate and then how it escalates. If we are able to have the additional three weeks, those will be some really good hands-on weeks.”

4 - Psychological tests are important. Swindler is requesting in his budget enough money to be able to reimburse police departments for psychological tests they administer to job candidates. “You do the test, send us the invoice, and we’ll pay you. I strongly encourage you to use psychological (screenings),” he said. “I know it’s hard on some budgets to be able to do that. It’s being asked of us throughout the county. The public is saying, ‘please vet your officers.’”

5 - Remember to report new hires to the CJA within 72 hours. It’s the law, after all. “We got one in the same envelope that was the hire form and the fire form,” said Swindler.

Swindler recently participated in a law enforcement task force hosted by the Municipal Association where stakeholders came together to discuss many of these challenges. The task force will continue to meet throughout the fall.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

It’s what we do . . .

Last night, two members of the Municipal Association staff were in Summerville to make a presentation about the three forms of municipal government to the council and a group of 30 residents. Sure, maybe this is a topic that the average Joe on the street doesn’t give much thought to. But it’s a very important topic in the context of understanding the mechanics of local government.

Scott Slatton and Bill Taylor are both former city managers. Scott is one of the Association’s lobbyists and was manager in Woodruff and in NC before joining the Association. Bill was the city administrator in Cheraw for 29 years and has been a field services manager since 2010.

This deep background in municipal government operations gives them the insight and perspective to help city officials when they are navigating issues such as changing the form of government.

“It’s important for city officials and residents to have a full understanding of issues like forms of government and how it affects governance in the city,” Scott said. “The differences in the forms really boil down to who has the authority to do what. Understanding that ensures everyone stays in their lane.”

It’s also important for residents to understand their council’s form of government. (Get a list of all cities' form of government.)

“Understanding their city’s form of government empowers residents to be more effective in advocating for what they need from their elected officials,” Bill said. “This means knowing who to go to when a pothole needs filling and who to go to when a policy issue is up for discussion.”

This article in the Summerville Journal-Scene gives a good summary of the conversation at the meeting. 

This Summerville meeting was just another day at the office for Bill who covers half of the state as one of two field services managers for the Association. Each week, Bill and  Jeff Shacker take well over 50 calls, make more than 25 visits with local officials, attend numerous council meetings, facilitate planning retreats, and do training sessions for city officials on topics such as forms of government, running effective meetings and compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.

“We started the field services program back in 2007 so we could take the Association’s resources directly to city officials to help them with planning, training and governance,” said the Association’s Executive Director Miriam Hair. “Their time on the road not only gives city officials information, but it also helps Association staff to understand the challenges city officials face each day in providing city services to residents and businesses. By understanding these challenges, we can improve the resources offered to cities and towns.”

And for issues that don’t need front lines answers from Bill or Jeff, officials and city staff have easy access to information about just about any topic related to municipal government on the Association’s website. The search box in the top right corner of the site lets a visitor just type in a topic, and the site returns a list of resources available on the site.

Giving local officials the tools they need to do their jobs…it’s what we do.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Regional meetings wrap up...record crowds give input on advocacy initiatives

The Regional Advocacy Meetings wrapped up this week with the final session in Columbia. Over a period of five weeks, more than 330 officials from 109 cities joined 21 legislators at ten meetings. Record turnout!

The Association’s legislative committee meets on Wednesday, September 21. It will make recommendations to the Association’s board regarding the 2017 advocacy initiatives based on feedback from the RAMs, staff meetings with legislators and their staff, and discussions with partner organizations. These initiatives will be rolled out in early December as the blueprint for legislative action in the 2017 session.
Here’s a quick summary of some of what came out of the RAMs:
  • Officials got briefings on new requirements regarding prayer at public meetings and changes to the process for filing the Statement of Economic Interests. Read this post from week one of the RAMs to get details on what local officials need to do to comply with these two new laws.
  • Miriam gave a detailed update on progress from the 2016 session regarding business license legislation. 
  • Themes emerged from the dozens of pages of notes resulting from feedback from local officials: the state of SC roads, enclaves, funding for priority projects, law enforcement and fairness of funding distribution from County Transportation Committees. Read what Beaufort Sen. Tom Davis had to say about a municipal capital projects sales tax and turning over state roads to local governments. 
  • Several issues prompted lots of conversation. Read this post to find out more about discussions on enclave annexation legislation and the idea of a municipal capital projects sales tax. 
  • Other questions that came up multiple times included the Zika threat and how to access funding through the Rural Infrastructure Authority. Read more about those in this post.
It’s not too late to provide input on the 2017 advocacy initiatives. Contact anyone on the legislative team with your ideas by noon on Tuesday, September 20.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Hartsville...South Carolina's newest All-America City winner

By Mary Catherine Farrell, assistant to the city manager, Hartsville

This has been a milestone year for the City of Hartsville. In June, a delegation of community members traveled many miles to Denver, CO to represent our city in its quest for the All-America City Award. This trip was the culmination of many late nights of practices and weeks of preparation: a ten-minute live presentation to a panel of judges, followed by ten minutes of questions and answers.
You may be thinking, “A 10 minute presentation? Easy!” Rest assured, figuring out how to creatively give voice to an entire city’s story in just 10 minutes is no simple task, especially because Hartsville has so much to share.

The road to Denver began in fall of 2015, when, at the urging of Councilman Johnny Andrews, city staff convened a host of key stakeholders to begin assessing our strengths and determine whether they aligned with the year’s focus, “Ensuring All Children Are Healthy and Supported to Succeed in School and Life.” Turns out Hartsville does a lot to help its children, both through direct services and through community-wide efforts to improve quality of life.

In March 2016, city staff used the feedback provided to develop an application that highlighted some of our exciting efforts: 1) Partners for Unparalleled Local Scholastic Excellence (PULSE), 2) youth-centric programs funded by local Byerly Foundation (Cypress Adventures Program, Police Youth Academy, integrated playground equipment, Durant Children's Center, and Darlington County First Steps’ recent Diva Den initiative), and 3) the Historic Butler District Neighborhood Revitalization.

In April, we received the news that we had been selected as one of 20 finalists. We then had roughly two months to figure out how to bring our application to life, who would represent our community, and how we were going to get them and all of our stuff across the country. Our community truly rose to the occasion to support our delegates. Local businesses (Sonoco) and the Byerly and Coker foundations generously funded the trip.

Our delegates tirelessly worked through late night rehearsals to refine and perfect the presentation. So many individuals and organizations worked hard to get the group to Denver, but the MVPs were our youth delegates. Our talented, passionate, amazing teens were truly the driving force of our group both on and off stage. 
They won the hearts of other cities as they mixed and mingled with the other youth delegates, even leading impromptu music sessions throughout the conference. They then stole the show with their incredible performance during the presentation and heartfelt, honest answers during the Q&A period that followed.

Since 1949, the All-America City Award has recognized cities that demonstrate innovation, inclusiveness, impact, civic engagement and cross-sector collaboration in overcoming challenges. The problems Hartsville has faced are the same problems faced by thousands of cities across the country.

It is how our community has responded to these challenges that is so far from common. We are not perfect. We are still grappling with issues of racial tension, child death, poverty, and the list goes on. But we work hard to unite in the face of tragedy, rather than to allow these things to divide us further.
This recognition has special significance for us for two reasons: 1) Hartsville was the smallest of the 20 finalist cities (up against giants like Las Vegas and San Antonio), and 2) this marks the 20th anniversary of our first All-America City win in 1996. 

We are so grateful for the efforts and passion of our predecessors, and have learned much from the wisdom of those involved in community betterment efforts then.

Finally, as much as we loved meeting and learning from our larger counterparts, this experience was a wonderful reminder that you don’t have to a big city to do big things. We are Hartsville, and we truly are a small town with a BIG heart! 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Roads, grants and a new affiliate for building officials...topics at Regional Advocacy Meetings this week

Darlington, Beaufort and Greenwood hosted this week’s Regional Advocacy Meetings where close to 100 local officials from 46 cities talked about issues and heard from local legislators.

One topic that bubbled up again this week is the idea of requiring that County Transportation Committees include municipal representation (the law current says only “fair” representation). In the 2016 session, language the Municipal Association proposed got into a House transportation bill that would have required at least three municipal officials sit on every CTC. This idea got very positive feedback from officials as a way for cities to have a better shot at getting their fair share of transportation dollars distributed through the CTCs.

At the Pee Dee area meeting at the Darlington Raceway, officials from several rural cities and towns noted the difficulty in finding funding for recreation projects. A representative from U.S. Sen. Tim Scott’s office was at the meeting and pointed out there are National Parks Service grants available to fund recreation projects related to preserving the history of civil rights. The grant deadline is Oct. 14. PRT also has funding available through the Park and Recreation Development Fund.

The topic of e-commerce and its effect on hometown businesses came up this week. Congress could consider a bill before the end of the 2016 session that would ensure online businesses are remitting the same sales taxes as brick-and-mortar businesses. Miriam noted that Sen. Graham has expressed support for this legislation while Sen. Scott is still considering his position.

Sen. Tom Davis of Beaufort and Rep. Bill Bowers of Hampton joined the group of officials meeting at Beaufort City Hall. 

Sen. Davis was encouraging in his response to the idea of a municipal capital project sales tax intended for infrastructure. He noted his strong belief in pushing government power and accountability down as much as possible. “I would support anything to give you more flexibility,” said the Beaufort senator, noting the municipal capital project sales tax idea would have to include a referendum and sunset provision in order for him to support it.

Sen. Davis also shared his thoughts about devolving some state roads to local governments. He said that in South Carolina 63 percent of the roads are state-owned, while the national average is 18 percent. Turning over some state roads to local governments would have to be optional and accompanied by a long-term stable funding source, he said.

Rep. Bowers discussed his strong support for changing the make-up of representation on the SC Department of Transportation Commission. He said Congressional districts are too political, and district lines need to make “more geographic sense.”

In Greenwood, Miriam updated officials on the Association’s 13th affiliate organization, the Building Officials Association of SC. She noted that, by bringing BOASC under the umbrella of the Municipal Association, there can be uniform training for building officials statewide. Get more details about BOASC.

Sen. Floyd Nicholson joined officials in Greenwood. As former mayor of Greenwood and past president of the Municipal Association, the senator praised the gathered officials for their work on the “front lines of government.” He strongly encouraged everyone to build relationships with their legislators and make it an ongoing process rather than just making contact when action is needed on a bill. This is a familiar theme every legislator attending the RAMs has mentioned.

Read this article from the Greenwood Index Journal to get a summary of the conversations at the meeting.

Next week, Mauldin hosts the RAM for the cities in the Appalachian Regional Council of Governments area. Register and get directions.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Status update on body camera funding

The SC General Assembly passed legislation at the end of the 2015 session that required law enforcement agencies to have body cameras. Agencies had until April 2016 to submit an application for body camera funding. The new camera mandate won’t apply until the General Assembly fully funds cameras for all agencies.

Between the FY15 and FY16 state budgets, the General Assembly appropriated a total of $5.8 million toward the $14 million in requests for body cameras made by 168 out of the 300 eligible law enforcement agencies in South Carolina.

The Public Safety Coordinating Council created an initial matrix that would ensure fairness among all the agencies making requests. First, the Criminal Justice Academy determined the number of certified officers in each agency (before the applications for funding were received).

Then, based on the numbers from the Academy, the PSCC set caps for the cameras at $600 each. It also created four tiers and established a formula percentage for each one (up to $600 max on each camera):
•    Tier 1 – Agencies with 1-24 officers/PSCC would fund 100 percent for the cost of the cameras selected
•    Tier 2 – Agencies with 25-50 officers/ PSCC would fund 100 percent
•    Tier 3 – Agencies with 51-149 officers/ PSCC would fund 75 percent
•    Tier 4 – Agencies with 150 officers or more/PSCC would fund 50 percent

After the applications came in and this formula was applied, the PSCC decided to use the leftover money to fund storage. It covered the storage cost requests for the Tiers 1, 2 and 3 agencies, but it was unable to do so for Tier 4.

The new law also required the state’s Law Enforcement Training Council to develop body camera policy guidelines for local law enforcement agencies. From these guidelines, agencies were required to create their own local body camera policies. 

Get background and more information about body cameras in these Uptown articles from November 2014 and October 2015. Read about the funding from the 2015-16 state budget

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Common themes emerging from Regional Advocacy Meetings

Week two of the Regional Advocacy Meetings wrapped up at the Clyburn Intermodal Transportation Center in Sumter for cities in the Santee Lynches COG.The building is former abandoned warehouse now serving as the headquarters for the Santee-Wateree Transportation Authority. There’s an interesting article in Architect magazine about the facility’s restoration.
The City of Blackville hosted officials from the Lower Savannah COG cities at the Blackville Community Center. This building is another example of creative reuse of an old building - a former gymnasium built in the 1930s. More than 65 officials from 18 cities participated in this week’s meetings.

City park next to the Blackville Community Center
We’re beginning to see a pattern in many of the legislative issues that officials are offering up as challenges in their cities and towns: roads, enclaves, funding for priority projects, law enforcement, and upkeep of stormwater drains and ditches, to name a few.
When asked about whether enclave annexation would be an issue in 2017, Scott Slatton, one of the Association’s lobbyists, noted that Rep. Mary Tinkler introduced H4834 in 2016. This bill would have allowed  cities to annex by ordinance pockets of land that are less than 25 acres and have been completely surrounded by the city for at least five years.

Late in the 2016 session, a House subcommittee approved the bill, but it was too late in the session for further action. “Since Rep. Tinkler is retiring, another legislator would have to take on sponsorship and leadership on this issue in the next session,” Scott said when asked about the possibility of the bill getting introduced in 2017. He encouraged local officials to talk with their delegation members about their interest in championing this bill.

Senators Kevin Johnson and Thomas McElveen met with the officials assembled in Sumter to give their perspective on State House issues coming up in 2017. Senator McElveen explained why he strongly supported changes in the structure of the SC Department of Transportation last session, noting nothing new can happen if the agency continues to be governed the way it has been in the past.

Senator Johnson was encouraging about the idea of a municipal capital project sales tax that officials discussed. “A referendum could certainly make this idea more acceptable to some who may otherwise oppose it as a tax increase,” he said.

Both senators voiced strong support for the Local Government Fund as well as other municipal issues.

During the discussion part of the agenda, local officials at both meetings discussed a variety of issues including the Zika threat, accessing funding through the Rural Infrastructure Authority, zoning issues related to “tiny houses,” and funding for stormwater and wastewater needs. (Click the links for more detail about these issues.)

Last week’s blog post touched on the new laws concerning public prayer and ethics filings along with a court case regarding executive session and the Freedom of Information Act.

Next week, we head to Darlington, Beaufort and Greenwood. Learn more and register.