Thursday, July 28, 2022

Civility, Association Successes Highlighted at 2022 Annual Meeting

The Municipal Association of SC 2022 Annual Meeting focused on several of the Association’s priorities, especially restoring civility to local government as well as city-led economic development. 

Reviewing the past year 

Delegates from across the state’s cities and towns elected Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon as the new president of the Municipal Association of SC during the 2022 Annual Meeting. 

In accepting the presidency (audio available here), Osbon recalled his election as mayor in 2015, and wanting to learn more about municipal governance. 

“I knew I wanted to learn more about the Municipal Association and get involved in the many education and training opportunities that they offer us. I was impressed,” he said. “And when you elected me to the board of directors, I learned even more about the services of the Association and what it offers to our cities and towns. It's this level of service and added value that I want to continue and even expand in this upcoming year.” 

He also called attention to the Association’s expansion of its federal advocacy efforts. In the past year, he has joined Association staff in Washington, D.C., to meet with the state’s U.S. senators and representatives to build positive relationships. 

“It’s this spirit of cooperation with other stakeholders where we have seen so many legislative successes this year,” he said. 

The Association’s advocacy team used its Annual Meeting session to review the new makeup of the General Assembly, the outcome of the 2021-22 legislative session and the municipalities’ advocacy efforts (audio available here). 

Rock Hill Councilmember Kathy Pender, the Association’s outgoing president, also called attention to the Association’s accomplishments in the past year (audio available here), including collaborating with local and state officials on American Rescue Plan funding, and the addition of a new Association field services manager to help answer local questions. 

Association Executive Director Todd Glover called attention to some of the Association’s initiatives relating to the other major priorities (audio available here). This included workforce development, where the upcoming Build the Bench program will aim to increase the number of qualified city managers and administrators available in South Carolina. 

The economic development priority includes numerous projects, like the Recruitment Training Program, through which 26 cities and towns so far have learned the steps to successfully pull in new businesses to locate in their community. The City Connect Market, meanwhile, is a cooperative purchasing program that plugs into a nationwide network and allows South Carolina’s municipalities to use the purchasing power of more than 700 other governments. An upcoming initiative, We Shop SC, will provide an e-commerce platform for all Main Street South Carolina communities, through which local businesses can pay a small monthly fee to sell their products online. 

Civility. Respect. Solutions. 
Glover introduced some of the individual features of the Association-wide civility initiative. This includes the civility pledge, crafted both in a longer form that councils can use in a resolution, and a short personal pledge that can be used in contexts like meeting agendas. Find the text of the civility pledges and other resources here

“We have to get to a point where we can disagree without being disagreeable. That if we’re on opposite sides of an issue, that we're not enemies,” he said. “We have to restore vision to our communities and get everyone behind that vision.” 

Matt Lehrman, co-founder and managing director of Social Prosperity Partners, served as the keynote speaker, discussing not only how to build productive conversations in government instead of conflict, but even how to engage with stakeholders who are less engaged with the process (
audio available here). 

When officials create meaningful connections with their constituents, they can help everyone achieve more, Lehrman said, because “where people work together courageously, their potential is unlimited.” 

Kathy Pender’s address focused on civility as well, noting that leaders in every part of the state have faced incivility and a lack of respect in council meetings and community interactions, she said. 

“Even when it’s tough and frustrating, keep listening and talking with your colleagues and your residents. Don’t become one of those elected officials who only respond to their friends and the like-minded. Be willing to learn from one another. Our communities, our towns, our cities deserve that, and they will be stronger as we get better at engaging others in meaningful dialogues,” she said. 

Annual Meeting podcasts 
City Quick Connect
podcast regulars Casey Fields and Scott Slatton set up a recording booth in the lobby of the Annual Meeting to discuss civility and professional development with various guests and presenters. They recorded episodes on both Thursday and on Friday

Achievement Award videos 
During each Annual Meeting, the Association recognizes superior and innovative efforts in local government with the Achievement Awards. See the videos highlighting this year’s winners, from Edisto Beach’s first-ever master recreation plan to Aiken’s downtown stormwater relief project.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

National Award Nomination Shows Downtown Florence’s Vision and Commitment to Transformation

by Jenny Boulware, Main Street SC Manager 

In 2022, the Downtown Florence program became one of eight Great American Main Street Award semifinalists — an extraordinary achievement and a major validation of the work that the City of Florence has been putting into its downtown for years. This award, known as GAMSA, is considered the highest honor in downtown management.

Downtown Florence is one of five accredited Main Street programs in the Main Street South Carolina network. Because they became a semifinalist in their very first year of applying, showing how much they exemplify the Main Street Approach for transforming downtowns and neighborhood business districts, it’s worth celebrating how they got here. 

As recently as the 1990s, Florence’s downtown was a significant example of decay and neglect, despite the strength of the area’s economy and the many efforts over the decades to improve this historic core. The renewed efforts to transform the district in the 2000s and 2010s met with an understandable amount of skepticism. This time, the city picked up traction, and the successes went well beyond infrastructure upgrades, events and beautification. The last decade has seen new hotels and apartments come to the area, alongside new performing arts centers and a museum, with more on the way. 

The Kress Corner development in downtown Florence, seen before and after redevelopment. Photos: City of Florence. 

Main Street SC stresses the importance of tracking data to demonstrate economic value, and Florence is a program that uses dedicated software for this. In 2021 alone, Downtown Florence counted $24.8 million in public and private investment, alongside 15 new businesses and 94 new jobs. 

We are fortunate to have the insights of Florence’s Development Manager Hannah Davis at our Main Street SC conferences. Most recently, she spoke at our retreat in Greenwood on the value of Main Street accreditation. She noted that it’s not simply an achievement to add to the resume — it can become something that economic development officials can leverage to “help you land developers in your town, create jobs, generate buzz, help your organization apply for grants,” and more. 

Hannah is also known for enthusiastically preaching the value of the Main Street Approach — not just as a box to check so that a downtown district can be a Main Street community, but rather as a proven framework that really can transform a community when local leadership commits to it. This means having a board that reflects the true diversity of the district to give meaningful leadership and direction, a full-time program manager for large districts and a part-time manager for small districts, a dedicated budget, and a concrete transformation strategy and work plans. 

The building that now houses the Carolina Bank headquarters in downtown Florence, seen before and after its redevelopment. The new top floor resembles the original top floor, which was removed later in the building’s history. Photos: City of Florence. 

As part of their GAMSA application, Downtown Florence created a video dramatically illustrating the community's transformation, full of business owners’ perspectives. Winning GAMSA in the first year is unheard of, and Florence was no exception, but I know they will not rest until they make it happen. 

While Florence reapplies for GAMSA, it’s worth remembering that it is only one of many Main Street SC communities, operating at different levels of readiness. We have many programs making amazing achievements around the state. Learn more about what the Main Street SC programs are doing by following us on social media.