Friday, December 1, 2017

Six more Tuesdays until the legislature reconvenes

By Casey Fields, manager for municipal advocacy

Only six more Tuesdays until the South Carolina General Assembly reconvenes for the second half of the 2017-2018 legislative session on January 9, 2018. During the summer and fall – even more so than in recent memory - legislators have been in and out of Columbia attending Senate and House hearings. 

Discussions on the V.C. Summer nuclear plant collapse have taken center stage. Other House subcommittees have held meetings on law enforcement and elections, and the House Ways and Means Local Government Fund Ad Hoc Study Committee has met twice.

For the 2018 session, the Municipal Association Legislative Committee and board of directors, with input from municipal officials who attended the Regional Advocacy Meetings, adopted the 2018 advocacy initiatives tackling issues from blight and business licensing to the Local Government Fund and enclave annexation.

Over the course of the Regional Advocacy Meetings in August and September, more than 300 municipal officials voiced their concerns about local issues. The cover story in the December Uptown outlines the 2018 advocacy initiatives in detail under the broader topics of encourage business growth and development, provide quality services, increase funding for law enforcement, expand funding sources for infrastructure, and reduce blight. Each broad topic is explained and then broken down into action items that specify legislative action that can help solve the broader issue.

We will be successful with these advocacy initiatives only if we work together.. There are several ways local officials can stay informed about issues at the State House impacting cities and towns.

Read the Friday From the Dome to Your Home for updates about what happened at State House that week, the Monday Uptown Update for any breaking news over the weekend and the monthly Uptown for in depth background on issues. Check with the legislative tracking system for specific bills and committee action and communicate with your legislative team at the Municipal Association regularly.

You all know how to do it. In fact, history shows that you are very good at it. Let’s work together this year to support positive, proactive legislation that helps local officials govern better, more efficiently, and provide better and more services to residents. Of course, we will also have to oppose legislation that harms cities and towns, and will fight furiously when that happens.

I look forward to working together to make cities and towns even better.


Monday, November 20, 2017

When you get George’s mail (but your name’s not George)

Have you ever bought a house? The amount of paperwork, headaches and hoops you go through all seem worth it in the end when you have the keys in your hand and walk through your front door. Then you check your mailbox, and you keep getting George’s mail. But George doesn’t live here anymore. George is long gone. So you write “return to sender, recipient no longer at this address” on the envelopes and pop them back in the mail.

It’s the same way for that election you just won or the job you just landed with your city or town. You don’t want George’s mail, either. So how do you get your information updated with the Municipal Association?

The Association has an extensive database where we house all of our contact information on local officials and municipal staff. The information is provided by elected officials and city staff creating a profile through our website (Member Login) or by municipal clerks updating and verifying the information annually through our online system called the Municipal Information Dashboard.

Every year around this time, municipal clerks (or their designee) are asked to review, update and verify their city's information, such as staff titles and changes in elected leadership, through the MID. 

How does that help you? 
  •  You no longer receive George’s mail. You are the proud occupant of your new role, so information meant for you goes to you, and your name is on it. 
  • When your role with the city is accurately recorded in the database, you receive information targeted specifically to your position.
  • The Association can send you information on training opportunities, registration information, and legal updates and background information on legislation important to local government. 
  • The database also houses information to be used in the online and print versions of the 2018 Municipal Officials and Legislative Directory, which provides easy access to key city demographic and contact information and names of elected officials and key municipal personnel
Municipal clerks received an email and letter in early November asking them to make updates by November 22 using the MID. While the MID can be accessed and updated throughout the year, it is important to update the information in November in preparation for the printed edition of the 2018 Municipal Officials and Legislative Directory.

To protect the integrity of the data, the ability to see, certify and change the municipality's information is restricted to the city clerk or a designated representative. For cities without a clerk, or if someone else should be designated to update the information, contact Ashleigh Hair at ahair@masc.sc or 803.933.1288.

The Municipal Association does not share or sell email addresses provided by local officials.


Friday, November 10, 2017

Mayors voice concerns about provisions of federal tax reform package impacting cities

In a letter to the state’s Congressional delegation, more than 40 South Carolina mayors voiced their concern about a number of the proposals in the tax reform package being debated on Capitol Hill this week.

While noting the importance of proposal not including the elimination of the deduction on municipal bond interest, the mayors, representing cities as large as Columbia and as small as Ulmer, pointed to six proposals in the package that would be universally harmful to the state’s cities and towns:


•    Eliminating the deduction for state income and local and state sales taxes;
•    Limiting the deduction for city and county property taxes above $10,000;
•    Eliminating the New Markets Tax Credit, the Historic Preservation Tax Credit and the Work Opportunity Tax Credit;
•    Eliminating advance refunding of municipal bonds, effective December 31, 2017;
•    Eliminating Clean Renewable Energy Bonds, Energy Conservation Bonds, Qualified Zone Academy Bonds, Build America Bonds and other tax credit bonds effective December 31, 2017; and
•    Eliminating private activity bonds, effective December 31, 2017.

In the letter, the mayors told delegation members “We recognize that our federal tax code is complex and in need of simplification. However we have serious concerns about Congress reducing the flexibility of a variety of funding options local officials must have in order to raise the revenues needed to meet our communities’ needs.”

Debate on the tax reform package will continue next week.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Congressional tax reform harmful to cities: Package on a very aggressive timeline

The tax reform package released in Congress on November 2 could be devastating to local governments, and it’s on a fast track. 

This proposal would cap local property tax deductions, eliminate key credits like the Historic Tax Credit, and eliminate the state and local sales and income deductions. The House leadership plans to begin hearings on this bill on Monday. 

Get details on the plan.

According to the National League of Cities, there is an aggressive timeline to get the bill through the House and Senate by the end of the year. It’s all hands on deck time for members of the South Carolina delegation to hear from local leaders about the huge impact this tax proposal would have on our cities and towns.

Proposed timeline

In the House: The Ways and Means Committee is expected to start considering tax reform Monday, November 6. The meeting is scheduled to last more than one day to accommodate member statements, amendments considered and voted, and then the vote to report the bill to the full House.

If the Ways and Means Committee approves tax reform legislation as anticipated, the full House is expected to consider the bill the week of Nov. 13.

In the Senate: The Senate Finance Committee is expected to consider its version of tax reform legislation the week of Nov. 13.

The Senate version is expected to have notable changes to the House version, likely being more "moderate" on several tax provisions and policy than the House bill. If the Senate committee approves the bill the week of Nov. 13, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he expects the full Senate to consider the bill before Thanksgiving.

If this time frame holds, that would leave December for the House and Senate to reconcile differences between the bills, and significant differences are expected. The goal would be to send a final tax reform bill to the president by the end of the calendar year.

Congressman Tom Rice is on the House Ways and Means Committee. Senator Tim Scott is on the Senate Finance Committee. Both of them need to hear from South Carolina leaders!

Questions: Contact Reba Campbell at rcampbell@masc.sc

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Ten cities receive economic developoment grants

Ten cities and towns across the state have received a Hometown Economic Development Grant from the Municipal Association of South Carolina.  

Cities ranging in population from 500 to 37,000 received grants. Anderson, Belton, Estill, Johnston, Lancaster, Landrum, McClellenville, Pickens, Spartanburg and West Columbia are this year’s grant recipients. 

The grants are to support economic development projects that will make a positive impact on the quality of life in their communities. The grant program also promotes and recognizes innovation in economic development practices.
 

Each municipality will receive $25,000 to implement a project ranging from community master plans and retail recruitment to downtown revitalization and tourism development.

The Municipal Association board of directors created this grant program two years ago to fund projects that will produce measurable results, can be maintained over time and illustrate best practices that can be replicated in other cities. Projects funded by the first round of grants awarded last year are already showing results.

Cities and towns receiving the grant must provide matching funds. Matching amounts, determined by a city’s population, will range from 5 percent to 15 percent of the grant award. Cities can use in-kind contributions or other grant funds as their match. Fifty-three municipalities applied for the grants.

An awards committee of former and current local government and state agency professionals evaluated the grant applications. Cities and towns receiving a grant must submit reports about the progress and successes of each grant-funded project and provide financial details of how the grant funds were used.

“These grants will help our cities and towns continue to strengthen their economic development efforts to attract and retain businesses in their downtowns and neighborhoods,” said Miriam Hair, executive director of the Municipal Association.


Get details about the projects and local contact information.

Friday, October 20, 2017

A snapshot of the state's growing drug epidemic



“There wasn’t a crack problem until there was a crack supply.” That somber statement led off SLED Major Frank O’Neal’s extensive presentation at the Municipal Association’s fall forum for city managers and administrators.

O’Neal briefed the managers on the growing epidemic of drug use in South Carolina. “Price, availability and tolerance have increased prescription drug use,” he said.

Highlights of O’Neal’s presentation included:

 ·       Examples of “pizza style" delivery of heroin where a user calls a dealer and the drug is dispatched for delivery as easily as ordering a pizza.


·       It’s impossible for law enforcement and policy makers to stay on top of all the variations of news drugs flooding the market.

·       Gathering data about where the drug incidents are occurring is critical because law enforcement can’t deploy resources without knowing exactly where the problems are.

·       A $6,000 - $7,000 investment in heroin creates revenue upwards of $80,000. This is a lucrative business.

·       Ninety-two percent of heroin users first use marijuana.

·       Fifty-seven percent of people who use heroin first used opioids.

·       Eighty percent of new heroin abusers were prescription drug users.

·       Availability of heroin increasing because of a reliable low-cost supply coming from Mexico.

“The number one thing we can do to combat this epidemic is educate our kids,” O’Neal stressed at the end of his presentation. “If we are quiet, this epidemic won't go away.”

Get O’Neal’s Power Point presentation that includes more details about the increasing problem of drug use in South Carolina.




Monday, October 16, 2017

SCORE . . . Recycle, Reuse, Reformat for Maximum Impact

By Reba Hull Campbell, Deputy Executive Director (from presentations to the 2017 Connect Conference by SCPRSA and IABC-SC on November 3, 2017 and the International City/County Management Conference in San Antonio, TX on October 24, 2017)

We hear a lot these days about the need to “tell our story” of the value of our local communities to residents and businesses. This is especially true as the proliferation of fake news – or maybe it’s just “news” that’s not grounded in truth or accountability has often hijacked our ability to do just that.

But, if we’re strategic in our thinking, we can get around this onslaught of “fake news” by taking our stories directly to our residents, customers and others interested in the success of our communities. 

The same internet that allows the spread of fake news can also allow the spread of our stories. Let’s use it for the good.

We used to hear about the old adage of the “rule of seven” in advertising. Someone must read or hear something seven times before remembering or taking action. In today’s world, that seven times has likely doubled.


According to a Pew Research Center report, our brains just aren’t wired to keep up with this rapid pace of information flow caused by technology. Unfortunately this article also points to many reasons why the proliferation of “fake news” will only get worse.

So how do we cope?

Let’s take our stories (or content) and SCORE using Strategic Content Organized for Reuse to Engage.

The SCORE strategy involves reusing, recycling and reformatting content to tell your story in a deeper, more engaging way to make new topically-connected content from different parts of the organization’s storehouses of content.


SCORE involves going directly to your audience rather than depending on others to tell your story.

This means more than just posting links to new website content in a weekly email or adding a paragraph at the end of a print magazine article about where to find more detail on the website.

It’s about strategically involving the entire organization in getting the maximum impact from existing content.


Tips for a successful SCORE strategy:


1 – Prioritize SCORE as an organization-wide strategy.
This process must address both long-range goals and short-range targets of opportunity for all outreach and communication with your important audiences. It’s not just a function of a communications department.


2 - Audit all the platforms (or communications tools) you have available to your organization. Make a simple spreadsheet that lays out all the ways the organization has to communicate – anything that communicates your message and your brand to your target audiences. Think beyond just print and digital and beyond traditional communications tools.



3 - Brainstorm with people all over your organization, not just the communications staff. You will probably be surprised to find how many platforms your organization uses that you may be overlooking. Are there staff members who regularly visit with or interact by phone with your customers? What are the information entry points into the organization (receptionist, front line workers, voice mail prompts)? What other organizations does the staff interact with that help (or could help) get the message out? For members of the communications team, this process also has the added benefit of increasing the visibility of the communications staff throughout the organization as a problem-solving, boundary spanning team.

4 – Identify the content you are pushing out over these platforms. This isn’t about creating more or new content  . . . it’s about leveraging the most and best use out of what already exists. Does the organization publish an article once in a newsletter and never reference that content again? Does its online newsletter link to new website content when it’s posted with the hope people find it after that? How can the content that is similar in topic be re-used to information out in another way?


5 - Integrate the SCORE strategy into all outreach efforts. An editorial calendar can be another page of the spreadsheet that inventories all of the organization’s platforms. Use the calendar to plan how content will be used. 

For example, a newsletter article may be reformatted into a shorter, more conversational blog post with a podcast attached. The article can be posted on the website with links to other site content related to the topic. Copies of the article can be used as training materials at a conference and condensed into a Power Point format. Content from the article can be reformatted into an editorial in the local newspaper from your organization’s leadership that would then reference back to the deeper content on your website.

The SCORE strategy is intended to be an ongoing process that’s constantly changing based on the content an organization has available to it. Being flexible and on the look-out for new content all the time are key.


What you do with your content after you create it is what really matters.


That’s what the SCORE strategy is all about.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

It’s Public Power Week – Thank a lineman

It’s Public Power Week – Thank a lineman.

When power goes out, your first thought will likely go to what’s in the fridge that could go bad, or maybe how hot or cold the house will get if the power’s off for long.

During a weather emergency, it can be easy to overlook the hundreds of highly trained men and women who are ready to be out in the elements. When we are safe in our homes during a storm, the linemen are out in the field while the utility directors and staff back at home base are also using their training and expertise to get power back on.

The week of October 1 is recognized as Public Power Week. In South Carolina, 170,000 residential and business customers in 21 cities and towns receive their power from municipal power systems range from in size from 360 to 37,000 customers.


This article from this month's issue of Uptown illustrates how municipal public power systems bring value to their communities.

All 21 municipal power systems are members of an affiliate organization of the Municipal Association called the South Carolina Association of Municipal Power Systems. SCAMPS was founded more than
38 years ago to provide mutual aid to fellow cities in times of emergency in situations like we have experienced recently with Irma. SCAMPS has now grown to also include training and advocacy.

We know what these utility workers have to do in an emergency. Want to know more about what a utility director does on a regular day? Read this article from Uptown to get a sense of the variety of responsibilities a utility director has.

Linemen are also important players in the utility business. Each year, SCAMPS sponsors a lineman training event and competition for member cities. Read more about the various events in this Uptown article.

 
This blog post from the week after Irma tells the story of several SCAMPS member-utilities that sent crews to Georgia and Florida (scroll to the bottom of the post). 


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

FOIA in flux: Topic at upcoming MFOCTA meeting

By Tiger Wells, government affairs liaison

They say in life, change is the only constant. When it comes to the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act, the last few years have certainly proven that statement true.

There is a lot to review - whether observing the back and forth between the S.C. Supreme Court and General Assembly on issues related to meeting agendas, witnessing the fallout resulting from public bodies that have handled executive sessions improperly, or participating in the educational blitz that resulted from the legislature’s recent overhaul of FOIA related to fee schedules and such.

In 2014, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that agendas are not required for regularly scheduled local government meetings. That opinion, however was immediately undone by the S.C. General Assembly in 2015. 

Not only did the General Assembly pass legislation expressly requiring an agenda for such meetings, but it also laid out how agendas may be amended within 24 hours of a meeting.

In 2015, 2016 and 2017, South Carolina courts reprimanded local governing bodies for either entering executive session improperly by failing to announce the specific purpose for the executive session, or for improperly taking action after executive session without giving the public notice of such action. In those cases, municipalities and counties paid penalties ranging from just north of $13,000 to somewhere in the realm of $40,000. Costly lessons for sure.

Finally, in 2017, everyone following events at the State House witnessed the culmination of several years of work by legislators, the S.C. Press Association, the Municipal Association and various other stakeholder organizations and individuals with the passage of a significant FOIA overhaul in H.3352. This legislation introduced a number of changes regarding S.C. public bodies’ handling of public business.

Along with the changes made to FOIA, the legislation included expanded protections for personal information through changes to the Family Privacy Protection Act. The Municipal Association specifically addressed best practices for handling FOIA requests for information that could be used for commercial solicitation through educational conference calls and follow-up correspondence specifically addressing the issue of commercial solicitation.

From new fee schedule requirements to expanded protection against burdensome, vague, repetitive and otherwise improper FOIA requests, there was plenty in this legislation for advocates of efficient and effective government and transparency.

In response to these recent changes, the S.C. Press Association has updated its FOIA handbook.

It is said that sunlight is the best disinfectant. In the context of conducting the public’s business, this statement is widely accepted by government leaders as true. Perhaps more importantly, it has come to be expected and appreciated by the public itself. 


The October meeting of the Municipal Finance Officers and Clerk Treasurers Association in Spartanburg will feature attorneys Lawrence Flynn and C.D. Rhodes presenting a timely guide through all of the FOIA flux mentioned above. Registration deadline is Friday, October 6.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Social media helps local leaders during Irma

This week’s hurricane reminds us all about the importance of planning and preparation. But it’s not just about evacuation plans, inventory of sandbags and public safety readiness.

The ability to communicate effectively in an emergency can mean the difference between a smooth process and a disastrous one.

This week’s earlier blog post showcases how Bluffton and Edisto Beach effectively used social media as part of their emergency communications plans. An article in the January issue of Uptown, showcased Mount Pleasant and North Charleston’s social media use last year during Hurricane Matthew.



Back in June, members of the SC Association of Municipal Power Systems participated in a session at their annual meeting that gave step by step plans for incorporating social media into emergency preparedness planning. Get the handout.

Still a little intimidated about hashtags? Don’t quite understand the difference between Twitter and Facebook? Not sure how to grow your base of fans and friends? Take a look at this glossary the SCAMPS members got during their session this summer that outlines what all this means.


Here are a few tips on integrating social media into your emergency preparedness plans:


•    Remind followers and friends to adjust their settings to receive a notification when new information is posted.

•    Plan ahead. Setting up social media accounts on the fly during an emergency can be counter-productive.

•    Get training on equipment. Even if you’re just using a cell phone for Facebook Live broadcasts, make sure the phone has a fully charged battery. Check the lighting to make sure everyone who needs to be seen in the video is well lit. Run a quick sound check to make sure the audio of the person speaking is clear and the ambient sound doesn’t overwhelm the speaker.

•    Ensure everyone who needs access to the sites has it. The middle of a hurricane isn’t the time to be searching out passwords or debating who has access.

•    Be consistent. Scheduling Facebook Live briefings in advance to help drive traffic.

•    Work with other officials involved with the emergency to share and retweet posts. There’s no need for everyone to be creating the same content. Leverage other information sources to share.

•    Put one person in charge of managing the social media. This doesn’t mean one person has to do it all, but one person needs to be aware of what’s going out and what’s being planned at all times to avoid duplication and ensure accuracy.

•    Keep equipment charged at all times. Make use of the small portable USB chargers. The middle of a Facebook Live briefing isn’t the time to lose the phone’s charge.



Get more social media resources on the Association's website.