Political Subdivisions

It might be interesting to do a breakdown of how nations are divided into subordinate units, in view of questions about town boundaries, smallest cities, and so on, that have shown up here over the past few months.

The United States is, of course, divided into fifty states, 13 of which came together in an indissoluble union to create the nation, and the other 37 of which have been admitted as equals by act of the Congress which they created. Each state (with one or two exceptions) is subdivided into counties, within which lie municipalities – and the terminology for these varies. The U.S. also has an autonomous “commonwealth,” a capital district (D.C.), and several small territories under its domain.

The United Kingdom was formed by the merger of the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland, with most of Ireland breaking off as a separate nation in 1922. It too is broken down into counties with municipal governments.

Canada is comprised of ten provinces and three territories, with at least some provinces having counties and municipal governments.

Australia is likewise made up of six states and two territories, with a few outlying islands having territorial relationship to it. I don’t know the composition of Australia’s sub-state government structure.

In New York, the entire state is broken into 62 counties, five of which are parts of the City of New York. Counties have elected local governments, and are broken down into towns (akin to townships in the Midwest) which have local governments. Cities lie within counties but are not included within towns; villages are legally constituted municipalities within towns. Cities, towns, and villages all have elected local governments.

In North Carolina, counties have local governments, and have cities and towns lying within them with elected local governments. “Towns” in N.C. parlance are equivalent to villages in New York. Townships do exist in North Carolina, as a consequence of Reconstruction, but they are merely lines on the map subdividing counties, for convenience in assessing, land title, census taking, reapportionment, etc., and have no separate legal existence.

Cities in Virginia, along with about six cities elsewhere, do not lie within counties in a legal sense, but are separate local governments. AFAIK the other cities which are not within counties include Carson City NV, St. Louis MO, and Baltimore MD. (And there are St. Louis and Baltimore Counties which include suburbs of those cities but not the cities themselves.) In some cases, city and county are coterminous, and often have a unified government exercising both city and county functions; these include Indianapolis IN, Nashville TN, and San Francisco CA.

There are areas called “counties’” and “parishes” in some, if not all, the Australian states, but they have no significance except for surveying and legal definitions of property.

Within the states and the Northern Territory, there are local government areas, usually called “cities”, “municipalities” or “shires”. The boundaries are set by the state government, and can be varied by ordinary legislation, for various reasons, including rationalisation of services and purey partisan reasons.

An example of the partisanship: The boundaries of the City of Sydney get changed from time to time, to try to set the boundaries so that the city council will be controlled by the same party as the state of New South Wales, but that does not always work. The Labor government recently enlarged the boundaries of the City of Sydney, takin into it the former City of South Sydney, which had been set up by a previous Liberal state government to take areas of Labor voters out of Sydney. However, it didn’t quite work: in the last local government elections, the citizens of the new City of Sydney elected an independent Lord Mayor.

In one of the US territories the OP mentions, Puerto Rico, there is only one level of internal subdivision, the municipality. There are 78, ranging in land area from 5 sq. miles to 130 sq. miles; and in population from 1800 to 434000. Most include both rural and urban areas, with the municipal seat based on usually the older-established town/conurbation within that particular territory.

Ohio is similar to New York, but there are a few important differences:

[ul][li]In Ohio, towns are called “townships”.[/li][li]New York towns have far more self-governance powers than Ohio townships.[/li][li]Ohio cities have more authority to annex parts of townships than do New York cities.[/li][li]New York villages are essentially an overlay onto a town, much like cities are parts of counties. Ohio villages can either be a New York-style overlay onto a township, or completely independent of the underlying township.[/li][/ul]

The proposed merger of Buffalo and Erie County may change the structure of local governance quite a bit in New York. The City of Buffalo would literally disappear as an incorporated city, its governance (and that of a few other suburbs) merged into that of Erie County. However, the towns would remain independent. There would be new “urban services districts” that would control land use, fire protection (volunteer everywhere in Erie County except in the City of Buffalo, and two other small cities in Erie County) and other services that are still not offered on a countywide basis.

There are two coterminous city-counties in Colorado; Denver, and one of its suburbs, Broomfield.

Could someone from the UK eleborate on the levels of local government? I seem to read a lot about the relationship between national and local government in the UK but not much about which subdivisions are politically relevant (have an elected council).

Here’s the structure for Germany:

a) 13 non-city-states Länder (6 of which joined in 1990; East Berlin joined with West Berlin); with parliament and state government
aa) state districts (Regierungsbezirke), only administrative districts without legal personality, administration reports to state government, no elected council.
aaa) counties (Landkreise), 438 in all. With elected council
aaaa) (optional) super-municipialities (various names depending on state), executing administrative functions for small member municipialities. With elected council. Municipialities large enough to support their own full-scale administrations are not members of super-municipialities.
aaaaa) Municipialities (Gemeinden), about 14,000 in all. With elected councils.
aaaaaa) (optional) sub-municipialities, usually formerly independent villages that merged and got to keep an elected council with reduced competencies as a sop to local pride.
aab) county-free cities, i.e. largish cities that are directly part of the state. Elected council.
aaba) (optional) sub-municipialities, same as in aaaaaa). Elected councils.

b) 2 city-states: Hamburg and Berlin. Are state and city. State parliament is city council; state chief executive is mayor.
ba) districts with elected councils.

c) State of Bremen
ca) City of Bremen
cb) City of Bremerhaven

So there are 2 to 5 layers governed by elected bodies. Administrative competency is at the level of the municipiality by default.

In Illinois (and in many other states), there are lots of these miscellaneous types of “governmental agencies and instumentalities and political subdivisions,” organized for all sorts of things–hospital districts, school districts, bond financing authorities, library systems, park districts, water and sewer authorities (and, one of my personal favorites, mosquito abatement districts). Those in charge of these “things” are sometimes appointed and sometimes elected; some such entities have the power to levy taxes while others rely on user fees or allocations of tax funds from other entities for their budgets.

Municipal law is something that tends to vary a lot from state to state. In Illinois (and possibly in NY but not in OH, based solely on the description of powers described in elmwood’s post), counties and municipalites may elect “home rule” authority, which allows these entities [in greatly summarized form] to do anything they are not prohibited from doing by the state constitution or a specific statute.

Thus, there is in the US no uniformity in the number or type of local boards and political subdivisions which may reach into your pocket and proclaim their intent to help you.:slight_smile:

There’s central government, based in London. Then there’s the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (although I’m not quite sure how devolved the last two actually are). Within England there’s also county councils and also local town councils.

There’s been talk of creating regional governments in England, so the North West of England would have it’s own small government (although what powers it would have I’m not sure), but the vote was postponed, officially due to problems in postal voting systems that would be used, but many suspect due to Labour realising they’d lose the referendum.

Cuba is divided into 14 provinces of 169 municipalities, and one special municipality (the Isla de la Juventud). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuba

From the Encarta (http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761569844_4/Cuba.html#s124):

It would actually be an extremely democratic system, if the Communist Party weren’t pulling all the strings.

France is divided into 26 regions, subdivided into 100 departments, further subdivided into 342 arrondissements. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/France And then, below that, more than 36,000 communes. From the Encarta (http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761568934_6/France.html):

All that, in a country not much larger than Texas!

You know, I kind of wish we had something like that here. As a resident of the City of Tampa, I have political representation in the city government and the government of Hillsborough County – both of which are, you know, kind of big. I could make an appointment to meet with my city council member or county commissioner, probably, on an area of concern – but no guarantee I’d be listened to, being one of so many constituents. Maybe if the county were divided into “communes” or political organized neighborhoods, there would be a more approachable conduit between me and the higher levels of government.