Leadership Charleston Explores the Interface of Government and Politics

Written by Leadership Charleston Class of 2021 participant Dr. Jennifer Baez, Principal for Charleston County School District

On December 17th, the Leadership Charleston class attended a session Local Government Day: The Interface of Government and Politics. There were several key presenters, legislators and government representatives who informed the group regarding the challenges that come with governing and trying to create change in the Charleston area.

The morning session addressed the general decline of trust the community has in the federal government compared to local government. It was explained through several examples and scenarios that the lack of trust not only creates conflicts among local leaders and their constituents, but also creates gridlock since the state receives their power to govern from the federal government. Another important issue discussed was the inner workings of how tax revenue is generated, how it is controlled by the state legislature and how the mandates mostly come from the federal government, which causes misalignment in what is needed and what can get funded. A second issue addressed at length was the unclear lines of jurisdiction, which have created a general anti-growth mentality in the Charleston area. This mentality coupled with fewer revenue options and a devolution of mandates, has created limitations, challenges and frustrations around the lack of funds to support the needs of the community. 

The next sessions of the day focused on building relationships with the community you represent and working with the legislators that are in office. The highlights of the sessions were:

  • The importance of educating elected officials on community issues
  • Maintaining clear lines of advocacy versus lobbying, and
  • Using messaging strategies such as advertising, focus groups and surveying to maintain open lines of communication.

A great discussion was also held regarding how to restore morality back into public leadership roles with the hope of increasing trust among and transparency with the community. 

Other topics discussed were based on explaining the challenges around zoning, preserving ecosystems and affordable housing. Connecting infrastructure to transit issues was also a topic of much discussion. Mayor Tecklenberg hosted a session focused on affordable housing versus addressing homelessness, how to make the permitting process easier and more fair to facilitate the construction of affordable housing and how to collaborate with neighboring cities and counties to change state laws that hinder change and progress. 

Overall, although direction and funding come from the federal government, the decisions of local government are what impact daily lives the most. Thus, the group learned the importance of first getting to know how a system truly works, to stay informed of the issues and to ensure you know your role within the issue or space in order to advocate for positive change. Lastly, one of the most valuable reinforcements learned was on how to work with legislators and the community through the power of listening. Every presenter in one way or another touched on really listening to the community, its constituents, and being an open listener in order to get input and ideas from the people the issues directly affects. 

Written by Leadership Charleston Class of 2021 participant Dr. Jennifer Baez, Principal for Charleston County School District

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