Municipal Association Executive Director Todd Glover, left, presents an Achievement Award trophy for the Communications Category to Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg during the 2022 Annual Meeting in Charleston. (download image)
The City of Charleston has received a Municipal Achievement Award for its public meeting engagement portal. The city won in the communications category. Twenty-four cities and towns submitted their projects and initiatives for consideration in the annual awards.
First occupied as City Hall in 1818, Charleston’s city hall has the second-oldest council chambers in continuous use in the nation. Although historic, the facility did not have enough space to facilitate to social distancing during the pandemic, limiting the capacity for public participation. The city needed to continue its meetings while still adhering to its ordinances, which require public participation, and promoting safety and transparency.
After a period of setting up virtual meetings manually, the Mayor’s Office of Innovation launched its own Public Meeting Engagement Portal. Through this system, residents can sign up to speak at meetings or submit comments on agenda items. The portal also allows city staff to create and manage meetings, and download speaker lists and comments in various formats.
After 17 months of virtual sessions, meetings returned to in-person formats. Even so, use of the portal has continued, providing a convenient way for residents to participate in public meetings without traveling to City Hall. The portal has expanded to serve 18 committees and commissions.
The portal enhanced public engagement as well. In 2019, before the portal’s development, Charleston City Council received 319 comments in person and by phone. From April 2020 to February 2022, council received 2,810 engagements.
Developed entirely with existing city resources, the portal receives continuous refinements. Planned enhancements include the ability for staff to create or modify meeting templates, IP address mapping to determine the approximate locations that comments come from and options for limiting the number of submissions from an IP address. The city plans to share this platform for other cities to adopt.
“Charleston created this portal to solve an immediate problem, but the effort succeeded in ways that go far beyond that initial need. The portal has encouraged more resident participation in council meetings than ever before, and is a model for other cities to emulate,” said Todd Glover, executive director for the Municipal Association.
These winning entries represent innovative projects undertaken by Municipal Association member cities and towns. Information and a video about the project are available on the Association’s website www.masc.sc (keyword: Achievement Awards).
The Municipal Association of SC initiated the Achievement Awards in 1987 to recognize and encourage innovations and excellence in local government.