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