"No Constitutional Right to Local Self-Government"

Extremely interesting Slate article:

Apparently even if you do live in a place with its own established local government you may be subject to rule from elsewhere – the article gives several examples of cities in receivership and of communities “swallowed up” by neighboring larger ones.

Somehow they never mentioned this in any of my civics classes.

Interesting analysis of the Michigan Bill that inspired all this. It points out some hyperbole and misconceptions about the bill, but clearly thinks it is Not A Good Idea:

By the way, putting these specifics in might nudge this into Great Debates territory. Or (I hope not) the Pit.

I’m kind of shocked this comes as a surprise to anyone. Cities and towns aren’t mentioned in the Constitution, so the state can do whatever it wants without the bounds of its own Constitution.

Canada’s the same thing. In the last 15 years the government of Ontario has merged a variety of towns and cities into bigger cities for various reasons. The cities complain, and are told to suck it up, because they exist at the pleasure of the provincial government.

I’m kind of shocked that you’re shocked. That might be, indeed, the proper interpretation of the Constitution, but unless it’s your business to look into such things, you probably didn’t consider it. In high school, we spent several weeks going through the entire Constitution to understand it, and I certainly never considered this aspect. And it definitely wasn’t pointed out. People pretty much take their sovereignty for granted – “No taxation without representation” and all. Which turns out, on close examination, not to be true on the local level.

The US Constitution just was not designed to deal with the question, other than the fairly open-ended provision for a republican form of government for the states. The place to look is in the individual state constitutions. In the absence of some establishment in the state constitution towns, cities, counties and townships would appear to be wholly creatures of state statute, as is evidenced by frequent fight over home rule and taxing power.

On this note, remember that no man’s life, liberty or property is secure while the state legislature is in session.

Here’s a current example in my neck of the woods:


This will come as no surprise to anybody in my state of Illinois. As long as I’ve been alive, people have been bitching about how Illinois has more units of local government than any other state.

We have 102 counties, 1,291 municipalities, 1,431 townships (worthless), 3,145 school districts, and 4,079 special purpose districts covering parks, libraries, fire, sanitation, drainage, mosquito abatement, and God knows what else. Each requires its own elections and independent administration.

All and sundry understand that the legislature could abolish, consolidate, or reorganize these at any time. The problem isn’t that they can’t but that they won’t. Every district benefits administrators and their policial patrons, who care more about maintaining it than taxpayers care about abolishing it.

Cities can declare bankruptcy, which puts them under the direction of a federal judge.

My NYC neighborhood is run by a corporation. We keep voting on stuff and sending it in to the state capitol on the off-chance that somebody cares. http://www.rioc.com/

I think this is fairly common knowledge for anyone interested in constitutional issues. It certainly wasn’t a surprise to me, though I don’t expect everyone around to know all about the intricacies of municipal incorporation.

States establish and abolish municipalities fairly regularly. Sometimes this requires a referendum because home-rule protections are built in to the state’s own constitution. But of course that constitution can be changed to eliminate them. It’s not a federal issue, generally. (You might be able to make a federal case out of a state action that you could prove was deliberately done to disenfranchise voters, though.)

Hah. You think you’ve got problems? New Jersey, which is considerably smaller, has 2,485 school districts, but only 566 municipalities, including boroughs, cities, towns, townships, and villages.

I voted with my feet and moved to Pennsylvania. Which may or may not have been a mistake, given the extraordinarily conservative turn the state legislature is taking. I wish Vermont & New Hampshire weren’t so damned cold in the winter, and so lacking in the type of work I do.

The smallest of which has a population of 5 people, and it’s own 3 member elected commision to govern it.

Boy, I’ll bet the other two of 'em really bitch about it, too. “Ooh, Mister High-and-Mighty Non-Partisan Commissioner, I don’t suppose you could to see to it your dirty underwear gets picked up off the floor anytime this week, hmmm?”