Thursday, February 11, 2016

Cities Mean Business magazine hot off the press

Listen to the podcast with City Manager Charlie Barrineau about Greenwood's first craft brewery featured in this issue of Cities Mean Business.

The latest issue of the Association’s Cities Mean Business magazine just came out and it features  stories about successes in ten cities and towns, plus a message from Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt.

Hitt reinforces the theme he has brought to local officials many times – collaboration at all levels of government leads to increased economic growth.

Breweries and food trucks have landed in many South Carolina cities with a huge splash of success. Find out what Greenwood, Rock Hill and North Charleston are doing to encourage the growth of this exploding economic sector. Listen to a podcast interview with Greenwood's city manager talking about the success of Good Times Brewing.

North Charleston, Columbia and Bennettsville are featured in an article focusing on business-friendly practices that go beyond creating an online billing portal or shortened wait time in a line. Front lines staff who deal directly with businesses talk about their philosophy of solving problems with a business-friendly attitude that achieves the goals of the city and the business owner.

Getting people around your town efficiently is important for both residents and visitors. Newberry, Camden and Travelers Rest have put in place strategic wayfinding plans that incorporate parking, business development, branding and tourism.

The magazine will be inserted in the spring issue of SC Biz magazine, distributed to legislators and state policy makers, and mailed to more than 500 business leaders around the state.

The Association partners with SC Biz twice a year to publish Cities Mean Business as a way to celebrate cities' successes and illustrate the importance of cities to the state's economic growth.

If you missed the issue from last summer, read it here. Stories featured entrepreneurs happy with the cities where they chose to locate, city art and the booming young professional organizations in cities of all sizes.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Collaboration, a tornado and local's what happened at Hometown Legislative Action Day

Link directly to the City Quick Connect podcasts.

Hometown Legislative Action Day and the Municipal Elected Officials Institute brought a big crowd of more than 600 local officials to Columbia this week.

Tuesday’s MEO Institute sessions were almost at capacity with close to 300 officials attending both the basic and advanced institute sessions. Listen to a podcast with Greer Mayor Rick Danner who was interviewed right after the MEO Institute session he led on intergovernmental relations.

Two senators and three House members gave participants a sense of what to expect during the rest of the session focusing especially on infrastructure, the Local Government Fund and business licensing. Joining Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols who facilitated the panel were Representatives Laurie Funderburk, Jenny Horne and Todd Rutherford along with Senators Greg Hembree and Joel Lourie.

The legislators had diverse opinions on tax policy and where to get the money to fund maintenance for the state’s crumbling infrastructure. Senator Greg Hembree (R-Horry) said he supports raising the gas tax and reducing the income tax noting South Carolina has the third lowest gas tax in the country.

Senator Joel Lourie (D-Richland) said he didn’t believe the income tax reduction was necessary. “Nobody comes up and talks to me about their tax bracket, they talk to me about their potholes,” said Lourie. “I can’t support funding tax relief while we are not funding needs already there.”

Following the legislative discussion, Cayce Mayor Elise Partin moderated a panel consisting of executives from three associations the Municipal Association partners with frequently to discuss the importance of collaboration on legislative issues.  

Ted Pitts, president and CEO of the SC Chamber of Commerce; Bill Rogers, executive director of the SC Press Association; and Bill Ross, executive director of SC Fix Our Roads discussed issues important to their organizations and reiterated the value of working together.

When asked to talk about the partnership between the Chamber and Municipal Association in working on business licensing legislation, Pitts said, “It’s important to first look at what we can agree on that will be good for business and good for local government. I’m very encouraged with where we are on this business licensing issue right now.” (listen to Pitts' January podcast interview about business licensing)

At lunch, Education Superintendent Molly Spearman talked with officials about ways schools and city governments need to work together. The point that resonated with many in attendance was the idea of cities using their summer recreation programs to work with schools to help students retain over the summer what they learned last year in school.

After lunch, tornado warnings and driving rain didn’t stop our city officials from making the trek down Main Street to the State House to talk with their legislators. The bad weather did force cancellation of the downtown Columbia tour.

A high point of the day was the new format of the legislative reception. With a theme of “Taste of South Carolina,” the reception offered favorites like boiled peanut hummas, chicken and waffles, a grits bar and pecan pie. Five craft breweries from around the state offered samplings of their beer.

Click the links below to get more information on topics covered at Hometown Legislative Action Day.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Bill to clear blight carried over in Senate committee

Listen to the City Quick Connect podcast for an interview with Scott Slatton about this hearing.

A bill resulting from one of the Association’s five advocacy initiatives was on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s agenda this week.

The Dilapidated Buildings Act is the solution proposed to the challenge of “clear blight” in the Association’s advocacy initiatives. As the Association staff has gathered input from local officials in recent years regarding challenges they face, dilapidated buildings have consistently been a priority for cities of all sizes.

For example the staff heard stories of dilapidated buildings such as a commercial structure owned by a defunct non-profit, a shopping center with a long-gone absentee owner and a property owned by multiple heirs of the original owner…all had fallen into disrepair and had become public safety and public health hazards.

In many cases, a city may have exhausted all of its options to abate the nuisance buildings and the only option remained demolition. However, demolition is expensive, and the city rarely recoups its costs to tear down the structure. At that point, the only option is to leave the structure standing as a public nuisance.

The DBA gives councils an additional tool by allowing the city to petition the circuit court to appoint a receiver who would then bring the building back to a safe condition. The legislation is very specific in ensuring property rights of the owner are protected. At the same time, it allows cities to do what’s in the best interest for surrounding property owners and neighbors.

At this week’s hearing, Senator Kevin Johnson (former mayor of Manning and past president of the Association) made a motion to carry over the bill so that concerns several senators had raised could be ironed out. Stay tuned for more as this bill continues to be debated this session.

Listen to what Scott Slatton, the Association’s legislative and public policy advocate, had to say about the hearing in this week’s City Quick Connect podcast. Keep up with what Scott is covering at the State House by following him on Twitter @ScottSlatton.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Senate subcommittee works on FOIA bill

Listen to this week's City Quick Connect podcast interview with Tiger Wells regarding this hearing.

Changes to the Freedom of Information Act were on the agenda of a Senate subcommittee this week. 

H3191 passed the House during the 2015 session and is now starting its way through the Senate. Read more here about changes to FOIA during the 2015 session regarding the process for amending a meeting agenda after a meeting begins.

Charleston Sen. Chip Campsen
This week, a Senate Judiciary subcommittee considered the House-passed bill to establish an Office of Freedom of Information Act Review within the Administrative Law Court. 

This new body would act as an intermediary if a government body believes a FOIA request is unreasonable or if a requester believes a government body isn’t complying with the law. 

H3191 also addresses fees governments can charge for filling FOIA requests and changes the amount of time a government body has to respond to a request.

The Association’s Tiger Wells, government affairs liaison, has been involved with a working group of legislators and other stakeholders to address concerns that had been raised regarding the bill after it passed the House. Senators decided not to report the bill out of subcommittee this week so this group could continue working to tackle issues raised during the meeting.

The subcommittee is chaired by Senator Chip Campsen with Senators Gerald Malloy, Lee Bright, Karl Allen and Tom Young serving as members.

Listen to the City Quick Connect podcast for an interview with Tiger about what happened at the subcommittee hearing.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Get a front row seat at the Local Government Fund budget hearing

It’s the first week of the new legislative session and that means subcommittees of the House Ways and Means committee are starting to work on their budget recommendations.

The budget process generally takes the entire session to complete. The budget originates in the House and then goes to the Senate. Typically, House subcommittees start work in early January with recommendations going to the full committee in mid-February. The budget gets to the full House the week of March 7 then heads to the Senate where the process repeats.

One budget issue the Association closely follows every year is the Local Government Fund. On Tuesday, the Ways and Means subcommittee on Legislative, Executive and Local Government had its first meeting of the year taking testimony about the Local Government Fund.

Representative Bill Herbkersman (R-Beaufort) is the chairman of the subcommittee. Representative Bill Whitmire (R-Oconee) is a returning member. He is joined by Representatives Deborah Long (R-Lancaster) and Garry Smith (R-Greenville) who are new to the committee.

It’s at the subcommittee level where committee members hear testimony from state agency representatives and other organizations interested in budget items such as the Local Government Fund. Subcommittee hearings are typically the one chance interested parties have to give testimony on budget items.

These meetings are usually fairly informal. This week’s hearing took place in one of the small meeting rooms rather than the large committee room giving it a more relaxed and intimate feel.

Since 2010, the Local Government Fund has been stuck in a pattern of being underfunded following the recession. For FY 16 for cities and towns, the legislature appropriated $14 million less than promised under state law. Read more about the history of the Local Government Fund here.

On January 12, Melissa Carter, the Association’s research and legislative liaison, appeared before the subcommittee to make the case for full funding of the Local Government Fund. She requested the Ways and Means committee increase the FY 17 Local Government Fund base funding to the level required by law.

Melissa went on detail the local government challenges from the floods in October. She requested the subcommittee consider funding the 25 percent match to FEMA and establish a fund for local governments to use for un-reimbursable flood damage expenses.

Hear more about what happened at the hearing in a City Quick Connect podcast interview with Melissa recorded after the hearing.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Ready, Set, Go! Be Prepared for the 2016 Legislative Session

It’s the first week of the new year meaning the impending start to a new legislative session! As usual, that has brought a flurry of pre-filed bills. All 77 affecting municipal government are now in the Association’s legislative tracking system.

A new session means a fresh look for the weekly report, From the Dome to Your Home, and the launch of our new podcast, City Quick Connect.

It’s also time to gear up for the 2016 Hometown Legislative Action Day on February 3. This is the time local officials gather in Columbia to learn about issues and how to advocate on behalf of residents and businesses in their cities and towns.
Instead of a keynote address this year, a keynote panel of leaders from three high-profile state associations will share their organizations’ legislative priorities and discuss how their issues align with issues important to cities and towns. 

Panelists include Bill Rogers, executive director of the SC Press Association; Bill Ross, executive director of SC Fix Our Roads; and Ted Pitts, president of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce. Cayce Mayor Elise Partin will facilitate the panel.

In the inaugural edition of the Municipal Association’s new podcast, City Quick Connect, Pitts gives a look at the Chamber’s legislative priorities and discusses the importance of the Chamber and the Municipal Association working together on the upcoming business license legislation.

In this January Uptown article, Rogers talks about the long-standing relationship between the Municipal Association and the Press Association when working on legislative issues. He cites trust and a common belief in open government as the backbone of this relationship.

In addition to the traditional legislative panel, update on advocacy initiatives, visit to the State House and delegates’ lunch with State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, HLAD will feature a mobile tour of downtown Columbia. Participants will board a bus and learn about what the City of Columbia is doing to attract students, young professionals and new businesses to its downtown corridor.

Afternoon break-out sessions give attendees diverse options including a panel of police chiefs discussing law enforcement in today’s challenging environment.

A second panel features owners of a South Carolina-based craft brewery and a food truck discussing with representatives from their hometowns the economic development value of these budding industries in the state. Later, craft breweries from around the state will be showcased at the evening legislative reception where guests can taste and compare beers from these breweries.

The “Taste of SC” theme of the reception will let guests sample new twists on lots of South Carolina favorites such as boiled peanut hummus, warm collard dip, and fried chicken with mini waffles with peach sauce. Guests will also be able to vote on their favorite type of BBQ sauce. It’s a different twist on the legislative reception and will certainly be a fun time!

The deadline to get a hotel room at the conference rate at the Columbia Marriott is January 10. The meeting registration deadline is January 18. Register and reserve a room here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Improvements on the way for the weekly legislative report

By Casey Fields, Manager for Municipal Advocacy
The second half of the 2015-2016 legislative session begins on January 12 with several new faces in the House and Senate, a couple of new committee appointments and new issues to consider. 

Something else new? We are making some upgrades to our weekly legislative report, From the Dome to your Home, and adding a podcast. Look for a Dome on December 18 to roll out the new look!

Because of the  Municipal Association’s new responsive design website, we’ve been able to update the look and feel of the weekly report: 
  • Easier to access and read on your smart phone or tablet.
  • More links to get you to much more in-depth information on individual bills and issues.
  • Several ways to find out what’s happened each week in committees and on the floor. 
  • Less time scrolling down and more time reading and taking action.

Here’s how it will look different. First, the whole text of the Dome will no longer be in the text of an email, so less scrolling on your device. On Fridays during the legislative session before noon, you will get an email with new graphics that gives you a broad summary and a link to the full Dome report on the website.

Click on the email link, and it will take you directly to the whole weekly report on Municipal Association’s new responsive design website. Here you will find what you always have enjoyed - a synopsis of the big issues of the week along with summaries of committee hearings.

It will be a much easier way to find what you are looking for!

A new way you can stay in the loop with legislative happenings is by listening to our new podcast, City Quick Connect. This “we promise it will always be less than six minutes” audio broadcast will be linked from the Dome.

Typically it will be a quick interview with one of our legislative staff about a committee hearing that week, a legislator with interest in one of our bills or someone who has expertise in legislative topics of interest to our members.

My girl needed a makeover – she’s had the same look for nine years now. It was time. Especially with our new responsive design website and its compatibility with smart phones and tablets, it made sense to incorporate the legislative report into a format that helps our members get more information in a more convenient way.

Take advantage of the changes in the Dome, especially those additional tools in our tracking system. Study bills, leave your comments and provide feedback. Always, if there is a bill that you need us to follow for your individual municipality, don’t hesitate to tell us.

Happy New Legislative Year! Keep your ringer on, your ears on the podcast, and your eyes on the email. We will be calling. If you have any questions or need help navigating the new look, email or call at 803.933.1256.