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MEO Institute: 30 years of learning and serving

Councilmember Lessie B. Price of Aiken was among the early graduates of the South Carolina Municipal Elected Officials Institute of Government in July of 1989. She has since celebrated many milestones over the years with the Municipal Association of South Carolina, including cutting the ribbon at the Association's new building in January 2000 and serving as the Association's president in 1994.

City of Aiken councilmembers taking oath of office 
Aiken City Council members Ed Girardeau, Andrea Gregory, Lessie Price and Ed Woltz take the oath of office.
Photo: City of Aiken.

"As I reflect back on being a newly elected official, the value of getting that training helped me to get a jump start on issues," she said. "As I moved forward, the networking with other elected officials was also of critical value, and the Association leaders encouraged that."

The MEO Institute began in 1986 to provide elected officials with a knowledge base for establishing good public policy for their hometowns. Thirty years ago in 1988, the institute recognized its first class of graduates. Price graduated one year later in the second class.

With this year's recognition of 30 years of MEO Institute graduates, Price is the only elected official still in office today from the earliest classes. She credits her longevity in local government to being well-trained and well-informed.

"It gave me a head start with the initial training," said Price. "Then as I managed to get additional training over the years it was very enriching for me as I dealt with issues in many areas. I managed to not only build connections with the Association but with other elected leaders, as well."

The institute's training has changed over the years to meet the needs of South Carolina's city councilmembers and mayors. In the beginning, officials had to attend classes in person. The membership then asked for more frequent training. To meet this request, the Association worked with the 10 regional councils of governments and South Carolina ETV in 1996 to offer the classes via satellite. The sessions were broadcast simultaneously to all 10 regional locations.

First broadcast of Hometown Network produced at SCETV
In 1996, Mayor Wayne George of Mullins (now the current executive director of the Association), Councilmember Bob Galiano of Sumter, Howard Duvall, executive director of the Municipal Association and Councilmember Lessie Price of Aiken participated in the first broadcast of Hometown Network, which was produced at SCETV. The Municipal Elected Officials Institute had been in existence for 10 years before Hometown Network was launched in 1996.

In 2014, the Association launched the first on-demand courses online. Currently, five on-demand courses are available online 24/7.

"When you look at the amount of training that is currently offered by the Association, there has been tremendous growth," said Price. "My advice to newly elected officials would be that as soon as you are elected, you need to get into training as soon as possible and build alliances. Attend as many of these sessions as you can for development."

Annual Meeting recognition
The Association's Annual Meeting, July 19 – 22 on Hilton Head Island, will feature MEO Institute graduates and the program's accomplishments over the decades. Also, the eight cities that can count all sitting councilmembers as graduates will be recognized.

"I feel that I am better at elected public service having gone through the training. I feel good about my service," said Price. "As we work in government, there are so many vast changes taking place, and if you don't have this education, if you are not getting retooled with your training, then your whole focus will be lost. So the more training you have, whether it is on the local level, state level or even going to our national meeting, the more beneficial it will be to you, the more informed you will be as you serve the people in the communities that you represent."

Price said she's glad to know the original training she received long ago is still applicable today.

"What that means is, the earlier you get started, the more beneficial it is to have the training. Then as time changes, as things advance, you are constantly getting retrained every year or every so often."

Hit the ground running
From open records law to ethics to basic municipal meeting terminology, newly elected officials have an array of basics to master. The MEO Institute's free online course "The Five Basics of Effective Governing" provides foundational information about governance that guides elected officials during their first few months in office.

  • Understand your leadership role — Examine what makes a successful leader and how to represent everyone in your city or town.
  • Know your city — Look at all the different aspects of a city that each councilmember should know including staff, services, infrastructure and form of government.
  • Know your budget — Look at some of the basic requirements by state law that every councilmember should know.
  • Conduct effective meetings — Examine what makes an effective meeting and agenda procedures.
  • Understand the Freedom of Information Act and Ethics Act — Learn about FOIA and get a look at a conflict of interest scenario that highlights the Ethics Act.

On May 2, the Association will offer its first orientation session for newly elected officials.

Upcoming sessions
The Municipal Elected Officials Institute of Government offers in-person and online courses. Elected officials who complete 25 hours of the required coursework graduate from the institute and are eligible to participate in the Advanced Institute. The next in-person courses, held May 22 at the regional COG locations, will be "Municipal Governance and Policy" and the "Freedom of Information Act in S.C." The next Advanced MEO Institute sessions, held October 24 at the Columbia Marriott, will be "Advanced Budgeting and Finance" and "Advanced Leadership and Governance."

​Honoring S.C. city councils

The Municipal Elected Officials Institute of Government is launching its Honor Roll that will recognize municipalities each year that can count all members of their sitting council as graduates of the MEO Institute.

Also, the Association staff will visit a council meeting in each Honor Roll city to present a plaque recognizing the honor roll designation. Additional cities may be recognized at the Annual Meeting in July.

The 2018 MEOI Honor Roll cities recognized at Hometown Legislative Action Day: