ocal governments are important
contributors to the day-to-day
lives of the state's
for most of the citizens, it is their local elected
official--mayor, council chair, or council person--who
is seen on neighborhood streets, in local banks and
stores, and in churches within the community.
Carolina’s local governments, municipalities
and counties, provide a wide range of services to
their citizens. They provide water and sewer
services, operate libraries, provide EMS services
and law enforcement, to mention but a few.
Citizens call on their local elected officials to
help them with any number of problems ranging from
A to Z, for example, from annexation to zoning.
On almost a daily basis they handle compliments as
well as complaints.
the 21st century begins, the issues facing
local governments are becoming more complex.
Issues are increasingly interrelated and cannot be
addressed in a vacuum. For example, many local governments
are concerned about growth issues and the impact that
growth will have on their community. How does the
desire for growth impact land use? Should there be
conditions placed on development? What impact does
a viable recreation program have on juvenile crime
rates? While there is agreement on the need for local
government to help address these issues impacting
the citizens, there is disagreement often over what
government should do. And frequently,
no matter what decision local officials make, they
have made half of the people happy and the other half
this must be added the increasing financial responsibility
placed on local governments to continue to provide
the range and level of service the citizens have come
to expect. Given the current budget challenges
facing governments at all levels, it is likely that
this financial demand will only increase as both federal
and state funding decline.
these factors, who then are these local government
policy leaders and what are the issues with which
they are most concerned? Where do they come
from and why did they choose to become involved?
To answer these questions, and similar others, the
Institute for Public Service and Policy Research at
the University of South Carolina conducts a bi-annual
survey of local government council members across
the state. The survey is part of an ongoing
local government research project sponsored by the
Governmental Research and Service unit of the Institute.
The first such survey was conducted in 1995.
2001 South Carolina Elected Officials Survey was conducted
by the Institute's survey research unit. The survey
was conducted with a randomly selected sample of 427
municipal and county council members statewide.
Of the total, 311 (72.8%) were municipal officials
and 116 (27.2%) were county officials. The Municipal
Association of South Carolina and the South Carolina
Association of Counties provided telephone numbers
for these officials respectively. Telephone
interviews were conducted between November 13 and
December 20, 2001. The response rate for the
survey was 83%. Table 1 describes the characteristics
of those interviewed in the 2001 survey.
Characteristics of the Sample
or fewer members
to 7 members
or more members
PROFILE OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT COUNCIL MEMBERS
what extent do those who are elected to municipal
and county councils reflect the citizens they represent?
A series of questions were asked of each local official
responding to the survey in order to gain an overall
demographic picture of the make-up of local government
elected leadership in South Carolina.
age distribution of municipal and county officials
reflects a membership older than the rest of the state.
Statewide, over half (53.1%) of the population over
18 is between the ages of 18 and 44. Less than 20%
of the local elected officials are from this age range.
This age difference can best be seen when comparing
the 45 to 54 and 55 to 64 age groups. Combined,
these two categories represent just over 60% of the
elected officials yet they comprise only 30.7% of
the overall adult population. This is an increase
of almost 10% since the 1997 survey. In that survey,
those in the 45 to 64 age group represented 53.8%
of the local elected officials.
to the South Carolina Statistical Abstract 2001-2002,
slightly more than one-half of the state’s population
is female (51.4%). Almost 80% of local elected
officials are male. This percentage has remained
relatively stable since the 1997 survey was conducted.
percentage of women serving on municipal councils
(23.2%) is almost twice as large as that for county
B. Wilson, Williamsburg County Council Member,
asks a question during a question and answer session
at the South Carolina Association of Counties
16th Annual Mid-Year Conference. Photo and caption
by Stuart Morgan.
Carolina’s population is approximately 67% white,
30% African- American, and 3% “other.”
When compared with local elected officials, slightly
less than 75% are white, 24% are African-American,
and 1% other. As with sex, these percentages
have remained consistent since the 1997 survey.
there is greater minority representation on county
councils, the percentages of minority representation
on municipal and county councils are similar (23.3%
for municipalities and 29.3% for counties).
elected officials tend to have a higher level of education
than does the population as a whole. Statewide,
23.6% of the adult population has less than a high
school diploma. Among local elected officials,
less than 2% do not have a high school education.
When compared to 1997, the percentage of local elected
officials in this category has been reduced by half.
Local elected officials are consistent with the rest
of the state in terms of those with a high school
diploma and some college education. However,
more than twice as many of the local elected officials
have a college or advanced degree (45.4%) compared
to the state as a whole (20.4%).
elected officials who participated in these surveys
reported working in a wide range of occupations and
trades. Consistent with their educational attainment,
they tend to work in professional and managerial positions,
education, or own their own businesses. Just
fewer than 15% reported they worked in trades or “blue
collar” occupations. What is notable is
the increase in the number of local elected officials
who indicate that they are “retired.”
That number increased from under 25% in 1997 to 30.2%
in 2001. This is consistent with reported age
groups of these officials.
Profile -- 1997 and 2001 Elected Officials Surveys
and 2000 Statewide*
in each category)
than high school
Education (South Carolina Statistical Abstract
background do these local elected officials have in
government? How long have they served in office
and what prior experience do they bring to the office?
officials reported that they had been in office for
less than three years. This number decreased
from 22.9% in 1997 to 18.3% in 2001. The number of
elected officials who reported that they had between
three and five years experience also declined by 4%
during this same period. The greatest increase
in length of service can be seen in the number of
officials who have been in office for more than 10
years. Those in this category increased from
24.5% in 1997 to 31.1% in 2001.
only do these results indicate that once elected,
they are remaining in office longer, local elected
officials also report an increase in prior elected
or appointed governmental experience. There
was a 5% increase from 1997 to 2001 (from 22.3% to
27.2%) in the percentage reporting prior governmental
Government Officials' Experience
(Percentage in each category)
OF SERVICE ON COUNCIL
to 2 years
to 5 years
to 10 years
than 10 years
GOVERNMENTAL EXPERIENCE (Elected or Appointed)
FOR RUNNING FOR OFFICE
has been noted, the challenges facing local government
are increasing. Citizen demands and expectations
vary greatly. Once elected to municipal or county
council, significant time and energy must be devoted
to the office. Given these challenges, why does an
individual choose to offer for elected office?
local elected officials report that it is their desire
to serve, to contribute to their community that motivates
them to run for office. Table 4 reflects those
responses given most often. The primary reason
given for running in the 2001 study was community
service followed closely by being recruited.
In 1997 the primary reason was to improve the community.
Being recruited to run was also the second most frequently
given response in this year. As can be
seen in the responses in both 1997 and 2001, there
is a high degree of community spirit, pride, and involvement.
Those who run for local elected office want to make
a difference by actively contributing to the governance
of their community.
2001 survey was conducted in the climate of the post-911
environment. Responses given for the reason
for running are reported as stated by each individual
responding to the survey. It is interesting
to note that “community service” and “public
service” were reported more often in 2001 than
they were in 1997.)
Reason for Running for Office
in the area
something to offer
represent a particular group
one else was running
stay active in the community
something to offer
quality of life
to be involved
ISSUES FACING COUNCIL
the desire to serve the community is the reason for
seeking office, once elected there are a wide range
of issues that must be addressed by councils.
Respondents were given the opportunity to list the
top three issues they saw as needing to be addressed
by their council.
major issues listed have changed little since 1997.
As in the earlier study, both municipal and county
officials listed the same top issue areas —
growth and infrastructure needs. There appears
to be a common understanding that local government
must take an active role in growth for their community.
These two issues are closely related to each other.
Availability of adequate infrastructure has a significant
impact on a community’s ability to encourage
growth and development. The most significant
change occurred with budget and tax issues moved from
fifth in 1997 to the third most frequently mentioned
major issue facing council in 2001, with the percentage
who cited this issue more than doubling during this
the wide range of issues, how does council determine
the priority of each issue? Respondents were
asked the degree to which their council engaged in
long-range planning activities. Over 85% indicated
that they engage in a long-range planning session
at least once a year. (This percentage was consistent
for both counties and municipalities.) Of that
number, 50.1% indicated that they have multiple planning
sessions each year. Eleven percent indicated
that they never have such sessions.
Major Issues Facing Council
safety and crime
safety and crime
DIFFICULT ASPECTS OF THE JOB
important question asked of elected officials is what
they viewed as the most difficult aspect of their
job on council. The top responses mentioned
in 1997 remained the same in 2001. Meeting constituent
needs and demands remained the most difficult aspect,
being mentioned by just over 15%. It was followed
by communication and council relationships (both 8.0%).
Difficult Aspects of Job on Council
PRODUCTIVITY, LEADERSHIP, AND RELATIONSHIPS
90% of both municipal and county elected officials
felt that their council meetings were either very
or somewhat productive. As in 1997, two-thirds
(66.9%) indicated that leadership and direction on
council was determined by the issue being addressed.
The chair or mayor was viewed as the source of leadership
by one-quarter of the membership.
about teamwork on council, 86.3% felt that their council
worked together as a team. Overall, just over
12.5% felt that their council was divided on most
issues. Almost twice as many county council
members felt that their council was divided on most
issues than were municipal council members (18.1%
of county council members compared to 10.4% of municipal
council members). This may in part be explained by
the range of issues impacted by the greater geographic
diversity evident in county governments.
in 1997, the greatest sources of conflict and division
on councils were money, taxes, and financial issues.
This in part reflects a disagreement on the type and
level of services that should be provided by local
governments and how or who should pay for the services.
Source of Leadership on
depending on the issue
Top 5 Issues That Cause
Division on Council
and development issues
with other members
the Institute of Government for County Officials,
participants split into small groups to practice
their communication skills in a class on "Effective
Communications." Photo and caption by Stuart
focus of this profile has been on municipal and county
council members throughout South Carolina. A
number of conclusions can be reached about them as
are not representative of either the gender or racial
make-up of the state as a whole. Women are significantly
underrepresented among council members, while the
percentage of minorities is slightly higher in the
population than among government officials. There
has been little overall change since the 1997 survey.
are more highly educated than the general public.
They tend to work in professional and managerial
number of members who indicate they are retired
has increased between 1997 and 2001.
tenure in office has increased.
and municipal councils tend to be representative
of older age categories than the population of the
with citizen expectations and demands remains the
most difficult aspect of their job.
elected officials continue to be motivated by a
desire to serve their community.
issues facing local governments in South Carolina
remain infrastructure, growth management, and finances.
most council members view their council as a team,
there is division over funding and budgeting of
local government services.
governments in South Carolina, both municipalities
and counties, face similar problems. They remain
concerned about providing for and managing growth.
They remain concerned about funding local government
services. Citizens offer their time, energy,
and talents to the process of government in large
part based on their desire to contribute in some meaningful
way to the quality of life in their community.
The challenges will be to continue to encourage civic-minded
citizens to offer their time and talents to the political
process and to ensure that local government elected
officials both represent and are representative of
all the citizens of South Carolina.
Dennis Lambries, B.A., M.A., is a Research Associate
with the University of South Carolina's Institute
for Public Service and Policy Research. Mr.
Lambries holds a Master of Arts in American Government
and Public Policy from the University of South Carolina.
He has over 25 years experience in performance management,
curriculum design, long-range, and strategic planning
at the federal, state, and local level.Mr. Lambries has taught courses
in public administration, public policy, and American
government at the University of South Carolina.
He has designed and delivered training programs and
seminars on topics which include: staffing standards,
process reengineering, leadership, motivation, interpersonal
communication, ethics and ethical decision making,
building effective working relationships, local government
planning, and the roles and responsibilities of members
of boards and commissions. Mr. Lambries can be contacted
and captions reproduced by permission from County
Focus, Vol. 14, No. 1 and the South Carolina Association
of Counties. All rights reserved.
Richard D. Young, Editor in Chief Public Policy & Practice
Institute for Public Service and
University of South Carolina
Columbia, SC 29208
Phone: (803) 777-0453
Fax: (803) 777-4575