Greater Columbia Business Monthly — March 2011
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Quarterly Update
Reba Hull Campbell

Cities and Towns Making Our State Stronger

Back in the 1930s, a group of South Carolina mayors from around the state saw the need to form an organization of cities and towns to bring local issues to the General Assembly with one voice. They also wanted a venue for local elected leaders to share ideas to meet local challenges.

In 1939, the Municipal Association of South Carolina grew out of this seed of an idea. Fast forward 70-plus years, and the mission of the current-day Municipal Association remains the same, but the programs and services have expanded to meet the needs of today’s mayors and councilmembers.

With a membership that includes all 270 incorporated cities and towns in the state, the Municipal Association of S.C. serves the 5000+ elected officials and staff members in cities — from Columbia with more than 100,000 residents to Jenkinsville with just over 50.

One theme voiced frequently among local elected leaders is the challenges facing cities and towns in providing the quality of life and services their residents and businesses demand. In today’s tough fiscal times, that idea becomes even more focused as local leaders are faced with declining revenues, while at the same time, they must keep their eyes on the long-term goals of keeping residents safe, encouraging business growth and providing the core services residents and businesses expect.

To help local leaders meet these long-term and short-range goals, the Municipal Association is focused on advocacy, education and sharing ideas through programs that give cities and towns a way to collectively meet challenges and provide services more efficiently and effectively.

Education programs
The expertise that mayors and councilmembers bring to their positions is as diverse as the cities and towns they serve. A common thread that holds true almost everywhere, however, is very few people who are elected to local public office start with a proficiency in local government finance, a background in public works, a knowledge of economic development or an expertise in municipal law. Instead, people generally run for office based on a broader vision of serving their community, creating jobs and improving the local quality of life.

But gaining insight into the practical hands-on side of running a city or town is critical for a mayor or councilmember to be a strategic policy-maker. While staff members generally have responsibility for the day-to-day operations of a city government, the elected members of council must have a broad understanding of their responsibilities in order to make good long-range public policy. The Municipal Association offers a variety of educational and networking opportunities that give both elected officials and city professional staff the tools they need to govern effectively.

Because of local elected leaders’ diverse backgrounds, the Association’s educational programs are flexible in their offerings and timing. Distance learning options and traditional classroom opportunities are available throughout the year for the Association’s Municipal Elected Officials’ Institute.

Knowing there’s a growing interest among elected officials in taking courses on their own time, the Association will introduce a series of online learning options this year to reach more local officials whose schedules keep them from attending classes at a specific time and location.

But it’s not just elected officials in city government who are interested in training. The Association also provides close to 100 sessions annually for professional staff in cities and towns. From human resources staff to municipal attorneys and finance officers to community development professionals, the Association keeps up with the trends in these professions and offers ongoing education, certification programs and seminars. These educational offerings help staff to stay on top of issues such as federal accounting requirements, new state laws, economic development initiatives and HR practices.

Investing in this education for elected officials and staff pays off in many ways. Councils and staff will have the expertise to align long-range planning with short-term financial resources to ensure fiscal responsibility and accountability to their residents. They will understand the tools available to help businesses locate and thrive in their city. And they will manage growth and development based on the quality of life their community wants.

Another important role of the Association is advocating for state and federal policies that will help cities develop into stronger centers of commerce with the positive quality of life that businesses and residents are seeking. As the voice for cities and towns at the State House and on Capitol Hill, the Municipal Association advocates for strong cities by focusing on priorities that will allow local leaders the flexibility to make local decisions.

Each year, the state’s cities and towns put forth a legislative agenda through the Association that outlines priorities based on broad input from all across the state. During the 2011-2012 legislative session, these priorities include proposals for changes in state law that increase flexibility for local leaders to make decisions locally based on what their residents need in their community. View the legislative agenda at (keyword: legislative agenda).

Beyond front lines work at the State House and on Capitol Hill, the Association’s advocacy program also includes active grassroots involvement by mayors and councilmembers all over the state who share information with their state and federal representatives about how proposed legislation can affect local communities. Local elected officials share common interests and a common constituency base with their state legislators and Members of Congress. The Association serves as a conduit to “connect the dots” among elected officials at all levels of government.

This grassroots outreach is paired with the Association’s goal of developing partnerships with statewide business, government and education organizations that share the same goals of growing the state’s economy. Through this broad base of partners, local officials open up more opportunities to work toward local, state and federal policy that will bring jobs, encourage local business growth and improve the quality of life in cities and towns.

Training, advocacy and networking through the Municipal Association during these tough economic times gives local leaders the chance to share ideas on creating efficiencies and collaborate on solutions that will last well into the future.

For additional information about the programs and services of the Municipal Association of SC, visit