Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Civility Makes the Difference

From contentious city council meetings to personal attacks on social media, the idea of keeping things civil in local government has grown more difficult over the years. For that reason, the Municipal Association of South Carolina’s board of directors identified restoring civility in local government as a top priority for the Association’s ongoing work. 

Civility is a key theme among the Association’s speakers, workshops and other materials, all aimed at helping local leaders listen, learn and deescalate heated situations. The Association’s website now offers a variety of civility resources, from articles to podcasts and a civility pledge. 

Municipal Association President and Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon described the willingness of cities and towns to restore civility, to “take a pledge to treat each other and the community with respect and civility,” as something that can drive municipal government success, and even economic development success. Association Executive Director Todd Glover, in a recent opinion column, expressed hope that “our local governments can lead the way in repairing our broken discourse. We can chart a course back to governing without malice. We can disagree without being disagreeable.” 

Civility resolution 

The Association created a sample resolution for city and town councils to use when formally pledging to practice and promote civility. The resolution notes that debate and self-expression “are fundamental rights and essential components of democratic self-governance,” and provides a pledge for the members of council to “recognize their special role in modeling open, free and vigorous debate while maintaining the highest standards of civility, honesty and mutual respect.” There is also a branded version of the sample resolution that can be displayed at city hall. 

Personal pledge 

The civility pledge is also available in a short form that municipalities can use as a reminder at the top of meeting agendas, or as something to review at the beginning of meetings, to emphasize the importance of civil behavior for everyone present. Here’s the pledge: 

“I pledge to build a stronger and more prosperous community by advocating for civil engagement, respecting others and their viewpoints, and finding solutions for the betterment of my city or town.” 

Pillars of Civility 

Other elements of the Association’s project are the Pillars of Civility, a list of key ideas for elected officials and staff to use when making local government as effective, inclusive and courteous as possible. The pillars can be useful to jumpstart conversations about civility. 

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Learn about the 2022 Achievement Award winners

Each year at the Annual Meeting of the Municipal Association of SC, videos highlighting the year’s Achievement Award recipients are unveiled to share the success stories of each winner. This year, eight cities and towns across the state won awards for projects ranging from stormwater management to mental health awareness for law enforcement officers. 

The videos are now available to be seen and shared. These videos represent the hard work and dedication of the cities and towns of South Carolina and the projects they take on to make their municipalities better for the residents.

Here are the winners in each of the categories. 

In the Town of Edisto Beach, the town took on the creation of a Master Park and Recreation Plan, bringing its strategies for its parks, trails and beach access points into one comprehensive document. The process to create the Master Park and Recreation Plan included more than 600 responses from its residents to a survey and more than 250 participants in an online mapping exercise. 

The City of Hardeeville also focused on recreation, building the town’s new 38,000-square-foot recreation center to serve a number of community needs. The facility has a collegiate-sized basketball court with seating for 1,000 spectators, racquetball courts, an indoor walking track, classrooms and a rentable community room to serve as the hub for Hardeeville’s parks and recreation activities. 

Flooding had a great impact on the City of Beaufort’s Mossy Oaks neighborhood, which is home to more than 1,500 homes. Heavy rains and storm surges would bring incredible amounts of water to the neighborhood, which flooded three times in an 11-month span. The city created a multijurisdictional task force to address the issues, which brought improved drainage pipes at corrected elevations and tidal flap gates to control water flow into the marsh. Since the improvements, no flooding events have impacted the area. 

The City of Charleston faced a major issue in implementing social distancing for city council meetings during the pandemic – its facility was built in 1818 and didn’t have enough space to allow for much public participation. Rather than turning to a virtual meeting platform, the city launched its own Public Meeting Engagement Portal, allowing residents to sign up to speak at meetings or submit comments on agenda items. This platform increased public engagement rapidly and is still in use although in-person meetings have retuned. 

The City of Florence created a Food, Artisan and Warehouse District to link its downtown with surrounding neighborhoods. The area, which was considered a food desert, has helped to reduce food insecurity in the area and preserves the historic warehouse architecture with its usage. The success of the area has led to significant investment for the City Center Market from the city, the Palmetto Housing Authority and the SC Community Loan Fund. 

The police department in the Town of Bluffton sought new methodology in dealing with the stigma’s police officers face around mental health, creating a program to get its officers assistance in dealing with the stresses and exposures of the job. With increased training for officers and their families, sabbaticals for eligible participants and free counseling, the program has helped in officer retention and recruitment. 

With COVID-19 vaccines more readily available in early 2021, the City of Rock Hill answered a call brought about by the Piedmont Medical Center. The hospital was unable to provide large-scale vaccinations, leading Rock Hill Mayor John Gettys to take the charge head-on for the city to establish a vaccine clinic. In 59 days of operation, the clinic administered more than 50,000 shots and was praised for its efficiency and customer service. 

The City of Aiken is home to the largest privately-owned urban forest in the nation – the 21,000-acre Hitchcock Woods. The woods have faced persistent challenges of erosion, water contamination and wildlife habitat loss as a result of stormwater running from Aiken’s downtown area. To combat this, Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon appointed a task force to develop a comprehensive stormwater plan to tackle the problem. A new monitoring and adaptive control system, costing nearly $16 million, is in place to help alleviate the issues facing Hitchcock Woods. 

The 2022 awards had 16 other entries illustrating a variety of innovative efforts, from an employee-driven mural project in Conway to the new Community Development Department in Abbeville. Learn about those efforts here.