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Consensus Building and Civil Discourse

In recent years, the polarization, anger and communication breakdowns seen in the national political landscape have grown more apparent at the local level. Public meetings have in some cases become the sites of emotionally charged accusations, working relationships between some elected officials have deteriorated to the point of dysfunction, and social media outlets have become places for animosity and falsehoods.   
Responding to this difficult environment, the Municipal Association of SC board of directors identified the promotion of civility as a key goal for 2022 and beyond. During Hometown Legislative Action Day in February, the Association invited Matt Lehrman, co-founder and managing director of Social Prosperity Partners, to talk about how to pursue the difficult public conversations that can defuse conflict. 
Matt Lehrman of Social Prosperity partners will return to South Carolina for the 
Municipal Association’s Annual Meeting to discuss conflict reduction.
Lehrman will return to the Association’s Annual Meeting in Charleston. He will lead group exercises during a preconference session on July 14, and on July 15, he will deliver the keynote address, exploring ways for leaders to gather consensus around their town’s and city’s highest aspirations and how an openness to opportunity serves as the foundation for community pride, civility and prosperity.  
Earlier this year, Lehrman joined the Association’s City Quick Connect podcast for a wide-ranging talk on the increasingly pervasive problem of incivility in public spheres. 
Civility, he noted, “starts with basic courtesy, basic respect for other people,” and also involves maintaining a focus on agreed-upon community values, like collaboration or responsiveness. He added that well-developed personal skills provide a backbone for civility, such as the willingness and ability to have meaningful conversations about problems, despite the common temptation to provide one-way communication about how the city will fix a problem.
Doing so, he said, “doesn’t force us into an us-versus-them relationship, where people come in and they want to yell at the mayor and the councilmembers because they feel unheard, they feel disrespected. We have an adversarial form of government. We are allowed to petition our government, and we are allowed to be angry if our government is not listening to us … But there are structures that we can put in place where it’s not an us-versus-them, it’s where we … bring residents together to talk amongst themselves, to share ideas, to share aspirations.”
Lehrman routinely hosts community discussion sessions. 
“In all of my facilitation,” he said, “I have never found a group of people that couldn’t find something to agree on. It might be one word or one concept out of everything, but if we can find the one thing that we agree on, we can build on that.” 
Additional Annual Meeting preconference opportunities
The 2022 Annual Meeting will take place July 13 – 17 at the Charleston Place Hotel. The preconference sessions on July 14 all require preregistration. Here are the other preconference sessions: 
Storytelling with Storyville Social – Downtown development technical assistance program Main Street South Carolina has partnered with Storyville Social to create training on how economic development programs can build engaging social media content that puts a human face on local businesses. This session will discuss the training’s processes and results. 
Sustainability and resilience mobile tour – At a time when many local governments are confronting rising sea levels, flooding and other consequences of climate change, the City of Charleston and the Town of James Island are working to address the threats. Learn about some of these projects. 
First-timers lunch – Designed for municipal officials and staff, this program provides helpful information so that first-time attendees can get the most out of their Annual Meeting experience.

Registering for the Annual Meeting

All cities and towns will use the Municipal Association’s online registration process for reserving spots at the meeting and booking hotel rooms. The Association’s drawing on May 24 will establish a registration appointment time for each city and town who registered for the drawing. During these half-hour appointments, which will take place from Tuesday, June 7 – Thursday, June 9, Association staff will assist the designated representative of each municipality in registering all attending officials from that city. June 13 will be the deadline for all hotel reservations, and July 1 will be the deadline for registering for the Annual Meeting itself.