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Columbia Business Monthly

City Education

By Eric Budds

South Carolina’s cities and towns are some of the most important economic engines driving the success of the state. These municipalities deliver the programs and services that support the concentrations of people and businesses that populate cities. Some of these services are easy to see—police, fire, water and sewer—while other equally important efforts are harder to perceive, like land use planning, construction design standards and arts and culture programs that help people connect to the places they live, work and recreate.  

The state’s economic future depends on local governments’ ability to be both effective and responsive. This ability is the responsibility of local elected officials and employees, but the skills they need for their public service sometimes differ from the skills they use in their personal and professional lives. 

More than 85 years ago, the Municipal Association of South Carolina made a commitment to offer services that give municipal officials and employees the knowledge, experience and tools for making the best public decisions for their city or town. 

Our state has more than 1,500 elected mayors and councilmembers representing 271 municipalities. With elections held throughout the year, elected officials are frequently holding office for the first time. The association’s introductory training course carries the title “You’ve Been Elected, Now What?” since it gives initial education on the critical issues of finance, legal compliance or government structure. 

Working at a more detailed level, our Municipal Elected Officials Institute of South Carolina graduated its first members in 1988. It continues to help officials gain knowledge that supports their roles as elected officials, like running city council meetings effectively, managing budgets and complying with the Freedom of Information Act, which is the backbone of governmental transparency in South Carolina. 

After we saw that officials were eager for more professional development even after they graduated from the Advanced Municipal Elected Officials Institute, we launched the Advanced Continuing Education track earlier this year. The track digs deeper and provides case studies in areas like the S.C. Ethics Act and parliamentary procedure. 

Job positions in municipalities often have specialized job responsibilities without direct comparison in the private sector. The Municipal Association offers support for 12 affiliate associations for municipal staff and elected officials to provide relevant and timely training tailored to these unique functions, and to create a community of peers that can network and share best practices. These groups cover a wide range of subject areas, from city court administration to business licensing, human resources, community development and utility billing, among others. Each has a board of directors elected from its own membership. 

The value of affiliate participation cannot be overstated, as each organization is creating more knowledgeable and confident officials and staff who have a network of peers who can support their success.

One of the affiliates is the S.C. Municipal Finance Officers, Clerks and Treasurers Association. It serves as a sponsor of the Municipal Clerks and Treasurers Institute, along with the Municipal Association and the College of Charleston’s Joseph P. Riley Jr. Center for Livable Communities. The institute is a three-year training program for all aspects of the jobs performed by city clerks and treasurers. It allows those who complete it to achieve the respected Certified Municipal Clerk designation of the International Institute of Municipal Clerks. 

Our work here extends across the state — in 2018, about 5,700 municipal officials and staff, representing 204 of the 271 cities and towns, participated in at least one of the Association’s meetings or events. 

City governments work to make things go right, whether that means ensuring that utility services continue without interruptions or ensuring that a city council meeting is managed correctly. The education and training mission of the Municipal Association is to help elected officials and municipal staff have the knowledge and skills to better serve the residents and businesses of South Carolina.