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Local government in the
United States refers to governmental
jurisdictions below the level of the state. Most states have at least
two tiers of local government: counties and municipalities. In some
states, counties are divided into townships. There are several
different types of jurisdictions at the municipal level, including the
city, town, borough, and village. The types and nature of these
municipal entities vary from state to state.
Many rural areas and even some suburban areas of many states have
no municipal government below the county level. In other places
consolidated city-county jurisdictions exist, in which city and county
functions are managed by a single municipal government. In places like
New England, towns are the primary unit of local government and
counties have no governmental function but exist in a purely
perfunctory capacity (e.g. for census data).
In addition to general-purpose local governments, there may be local
or regional special-purpose local governments, such as school
districts and districts for fire protection, sanitary sewer service,
public transportation, public libraries, or water resource management.
Such special purpose districts often encompass areas in multiple
municipalities. According to the US Census Bureau's data collected in
2012, there were 89,004 local government units in the United States.
This data shows a decline from 89,476 units since the last census of
local governments performed in 2007.
2.1 County governments
Town or township governments
2.3 Municipal governments
2.4 Special-purpose local governments
2.4.1 School districts
3 Councils or associations of governments
4 Dillon's Rule
5 Governing bodies
6 Indian reservations
7 Census of local government
8 Examples in individual states
8.3 District of Columbia
8.8 North Carolina
8.12 Other states
9 See also
11 Further reading
12 External links
When North America was settled by Europeans from the 17th century
onward, there was initially little control from governments back in
Europe. Many settlements began as shareholder or stockholder
business enterprises, and while the king of Britain had technical
sovereignty, in most instances "full governmental authority was vested
in the company itself." Settlers had to fend for themselves;
compact towns sprung up based as legal corporations in what has been
described as "pure democracy":
The people, owing to the necessity of guarding against the Indians and
wild animals, and to their desire to attend the same church, settled
in small, compact communities, or townships, which they called towns.
The town was a legal corporation, was the political unit, and was
represented in the General Court. It was a democracy of the purest
type. Several times a year the adult males met in town meeting to
discuss public questions, to lay taxes, to make local laws, and to
elect officers. The chief officers were the "selectmen," from three to
nine in number, who should have the general management of the public
business; the town clerk, treasurer, constables, assessors, and
overseers of the poor. To this day the town government continues in a
large measure in some parts of New England.––historian Henry
William Elson writing in 1904.
Propertied men voted; in no colonies was there universal suffrage.
The founding of the
Massachusetts Bay Colony
Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629 by a group of
Puritans led by
John Winthrop came with the understanding that the
enterprise was to be "based in the new world rather than in
London." Small towns in
Massachusetts were compared to city-states
in a somewhat oligarchic form, but an oligarchy based on "perceived
virtue" rather than wealth or birth. The notion of self-government
became accepted in the colonies, although it wasn't totally free from
challenges; in the 1670s, the
Lords of Trade and Plantations
Lords of Trade and Plantations (a royal
committee regulating mercantile trade in the colonies) tried to annul
Massachusetts Bay charter, but by 1691, the
New England colonies
had reinstalled their previous governments.
Voting was established as a precedent early on; in fact, one of the
first things that Jamestown settlers did was conduct an election.
Typically, voters were white males described as "property owners" aged
twenty-one and older, but sometimes the restrictions were greater, and
in practice, persons able to participate in elections were few.
Women were prevented from voting (although there were a few
African-Americans were excluded. The colonists
never thought of themselves as subservient but rather as having a
loose association with authorities in London. Representative
government sprung up spontaneously in various colonies, and during the
colonial years, it was recognized and ratified by later charters.
But the colonial assemblies passed few bills and did not conduct much
business, but dealt with a narrow range of issues, and legislative
sessions lasted weeks (occasionally longer), and most legislators
could not afford to neglect work for extended periods; so wealthier
people tended to predominate in local legislatures. Office holders
tended to serve from a sense of duty and prestige, and not for
Campaigning by candidates was different from today's. There were no
mass media or advertising. Candidates talked with voters in person,
walking a line between undue familiarity and aloofness. Prospective
officeholders were expected to be at the polls on election day and
made a point to greet all voters. Failure to appear or to be civil to
all could be disastrous. In some areas, candidates offered voters food
and drink, evenhandedly giving "treats" to opponents as well as
Rules and orders for the regulation of the corporation when met in
Common Council, Philadelphia, circa 1800–1809
Taxes were generally based on real estate since it was fixed in place,
plainly visible, and its value was generally well known, and revenue
could be allocated to the government unit where the property was
After the American Revolution, the electorate chose the governing
councils in almost every American municipality, and state governments
began issuing municipal charters. During the 19th century, many
municipalities were granted charters by the state governments and
became technically municipal corporations. Townships and county
governments and city councils shared much of the responsibility for
decision-making which varied from state to state. As the United
States grew in size and complexity, decision-making authority for
issues such as business regulation, taxation, environmental regulation
moved to state governments and the national government, while local
governments retained control over such matters as zoning issues,
property taxes, and public parks. The concept of
"zoning" originated in the U.S. during the 1920s, according to one
source, in which state law gave certain townships or other local
governing bodies authority to decide how land was used; a typical
zoning ordinance has a map of a parcel of land attached with a
statement specifying how that land can be used, how buildings can be
laid out, and so forth.
Zoning legitimacy was upheld by the
Supreme Court in its Euclid v. Ambler decision.
The Tenth Amendment to the
United States Constitution
United States Constitution makes local
government a matter of state rather than federal law, with special
cases for territories and the District of Columbia. As a result, the
states have adopted a wide variety of systems of local government. The
United States Census Bureau
United States Census Bureau conducts the Census of Governments every
five years to compile statistics on government organization, public
employment, and government finances. The categories of local
government established in this Census of Governments is a convenient
basis for understanding local government in the United States. The
categories are as follows:
Special-Purpose Local Governments
Main article: County (United States)
County governments are organized local governments authorized in state
constitutions and statutes. Counties and county-equivalents form the
first-tier administrative division of the states.
All the states are divided into counties or county-equivalents for
administrative purposes, although not all counties or
county-equivalents have an organized county government. County
government has been eliminated throughout
Connecticut and Rhode
Island, as well as in parts of Massachusetts. The Unorganized Borough
Alaska also does not operate under a county level government.
Additionally, a number of independent cities and consolidated
city-counties operate under municipal governments that serve the
functions of both city and county.
In areas lacking a county government, services are provided either by
lower level townships or municipalities, or the state.
Town or township governments
Main article: Civil township
Town or township governments are organized local governments
authorized in the state constitutions and statutes of 20 Northeastern
and Midwestern states, established to provide general government
for a defined area, generally based on the geographic subdivision of a
county. Depending on state law and local circumstance, a township may
or may not be incorporated, and the degree of authority over local
government services may vary greatly.
Towns in the six
New England states and townships in
New Jersey and
Pennsylvania are included in this category by the Census Bureau,
despite the fact that they are legally municipal corporations, since
their structure has no necessary relation to concentration of
population, which is typical of municipalities elsewhere in the
United States. In particular, towns in
New England have considerably
more power than most townships elsewhere and often function as legally
equivalent to cities, typically exercising the full range of powers
that are divided between counties, townships, and cities in other
An additional dimension that distinguishes township governments from
municipalities is the historical circumstance surrounding their
formation. For example,[clarification needed] towns in
New England are
also defined by a tradition of local government presided over by town
meetings — assemblies open to all voters to express their opinions
on public policy.
The term "town" is also used for a local level of government in New
York and Wisconsin. The terms "town" and "township" are used
interchangeably in Minnesota.
Main articles: Municipality, City, Town, Village (United States), and
Borough (United States)
Municipal governments are organized local governments authorized in
state constitutions and statutes, established to provide general
government for a defined area, generally corresponding to a population
center rather than one of a set of areas into which a county is
divided. The category includes those governments designated as cities,
boroughs (except in Alaska), towns (except in
Wisconsin), and villages. This concept corresponds roughly to the
"incorporated places" that are recognized in Census Bureau reporting
of population and housing statistics, although the Census Bureau
New England towns from their statistics for this category,
and the count of municipal governments excludes places that are
Municipalities range in size from the very small (e.g., the village of
Monowi, Nebraska, with only 1 resident), to the very large (e.g., New
York City, with about 8.5 million people), and this is reflected in
the range of types of municipal governments that exist in different
In most states, county and municipal governments exist side-by-side.
There are exceptions to this, however. In some states, a city can,
either by separating from its county or counties or by merging with
one or more counties, become independent of any separately functioning
county government and function both as a county and as a city.
Depending on the state, such a city is known as either an independent
city or a consolidated city-county. Such a jurisdiction constitutes a
county-equivalent and is analogous to a unitary authority in other
countries. In Connecticut, Rhode Island, and parts of Massachusetts,
counties exist only to designate boundaries for such state-level
functions as park districts or judicial offices (Massachusetts).
Municipal governments are usually administratively divided into
several departments, depending on the size of the city.
Special-purpose local governments
Main article: School district
School districts are organized local entities providing public
elementary and secondary education which, under state law, have
sufficient administrative and fiscal autonomy to qualify as separate
governments. The category excludes dependent public school systems of
county, municipal, township, or state governments (e.g., school
Special district (United States)
Special districts are all organized local entities other than the four
categories listed above, authorized by state law to provide designated
functions as established in the district's charter or other founding
document, and with sufficient administrative and fiscal autonomy to
qualify as separate governments; known by a variety of titles,
including districts, authorities, boards, commissions, etc., as
specified in the enabling state legislation. A special district may
serve areas of multiple states if established by an interstate
Special districts are widely popular, have enjoyed
"phenomenal growth" and "nearly tripled in number" from 1957 to
Councils or associations of governments
Main article: Council of governments
It is common for residents of major U.S. metropolitan areas to live
under six or more layers of special districts as well as a town or
city, and a county or township. In turn, a typical metro area
often consists of several counties, several dozen towns or cities, and
a hundred (or more) special districts. In one state, California, the
fragmentation problem became so bad that in 1963 the California
Legislature created Local Agency Formation Commissions in 57 of the
state's 58 counties; that is, government agencies to supervise the
orderly formation and development of other government agencies. One
effect of all this complexity is that victims of government negligence
occasionally sue the wrong entity and do not realize their error until
the statute of limitations has run against them.
Because efforts at direct consolidation have proven futile, U.S. local
government entities often form "councils of governments",
"metropolitan regional councils", or "associations of governments".
These organizations serve as regional planning agencies and as forums
for debating issues of regional importance, but are generally
powerless relative to their individual members. Since the late
1990s, "a movement, frequently called 'New Regionalism', accepts the
futility of seeking consolidated regional governments and aims instead
for regional structures that do not supplant local governments."
Unlike the relationship of federalism that exists between the U.S.
government and the states (in which power is shared), municipal
governments have no power except what is granted to them by their
states. This legal doctrine, called Dillon's Rule, was established by
John Forrest Dillon
John Forrest Dillon in 1872 and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court
in Hunter v. Pittsburgh, 207 U.S. 161 (1907), which upheld the power
Pennsylvania to consolidate the city of Allegheny into the city of
Pittsburgh, despite the wishes of the majority of Allegheny residents.
In effect, state governments can place whatever restrictions they
choose on their municipalities (including merging municipalities,
controlling them directly, or abolishing them outright), as long as
such rules don't violate the state's constitution. However, Dillon's
Rule does not apply in all states of the United States, because some
state constitutions provide specific rights for municipalities and
State constitutions which allow counties or municipalities to enact
ordinances without the legislature's permission are said to provide
home rule authority. New Jersey, for example, provides for home
A state which is a
Dillon's Rule state, but which also allows for home
rule in specified circumstances, applies
Dillon's Rule to matters or
governmental units where home rule is not specifically authorized.
The nature of both county and municipal government varies not only
between states, but also between different counties and municipalities
within them. Local voters are generally free to choose the basic
framework of government from a selection established by state law.
In most cases both counties and municipalities have a governing
council, governing in conjunction with a mayor or president.
Alternatively, the institution may be of the council–manager
government form, run by a city manager under direction of the city
council. In the past the municipal commission was also common.
The ICMA has classified local governments into five common forms:
mayor–council, council–manager, commission, town meeting, and
representative town meeting.
In addition to elections for a council or mayor, elections are often
also held for positions such as local judges, the sheriff,
prosecutors, and other offices.
While their territory nominally falls within the boundaries of
individual states, Indian reservations actually function outside of
state control. The reservation is usually controlled by an elected
tribal council which provides local services.
Census of local government
A census of all local governments in the country is performed every 5
years by the
United States Census Bureau, in accordance with 13 USC
Governments in the United States
(not including insular areas)
Municipal (city, town, village...) *
Township (in some states called Town) **
(utility, fire, police, library, etc.)
* note: Municipalities are any incorporated places, such as cities,
towns, villages, boroughs, etc.
New England towns and towns in New York and
classified as civil townships for census purposes.
Examples in individual states
The following sections provide details of the operation of local
government in a selection of states, by way of example of the variety
that exists across the country.
Main article: Administrative divisions of Alaska
Alaska calls its county equivalents "boroughs", functioning similar to
counties in the Lower 48; however, unlike any other state, not all of
Alaska is subdivided into county-equivalent boroughs. Owing to the
state's low population density, most of the land is contained in what
the state terms the
Unorganized Borough which, as the name implies,
has no intermediate borough government of its own, but is administered
directly by the state government. Many of Alaska's boroughs are
consolidated city-borough governments; other cities exist both within
organized boroughs and the Unorganized Borough.
Main article: Local government in California
California has several different and overlapping forms of local
government. Cities, counties, and the one consolidated city-county can
make ordinances (local laws), including the establishment and
enforcement of civil and criminal penalties.
A city council meeting in Fullerton, California
The entire state is subdivided into 58 counties (e.g., Los Angeles
County). The only type of municipal entity is the city (e.g., Los
Angeles), although cities may either operate under "general law" or a
California has never had villages, never
really used townships (they were for surveying and judicial purposes
only), and allows cities to call themselves "towns" if they wish, but
the name "town" is purely cosmetic with no legal effect. As a result,
California has several towns with large populations in the tens of
thousands and several cities that are home to only a few hundred
California cities are granted broad plenary powers under the
California Constitution to assert jurisdiction over just about
anything, and they cannot be abolished or merged without the consent
of a majority of their inhabitants. For example,
Los Angeles runs its
own water and power utilities and its own elevator inspection
department, while practically all other cities rely upon private
utilities and the state elevator inspectors.
San Francisco is unique
in that it is the only consolidated city-county in the state.
The city of Lakewood pioneered the Lakewood Plan, a contract under
which a city reimburses a county for performing services which are
more efficiently performed on a countywide basis. Such contracts have
become very popular throughout
California and many other states, as
they enable city governments to concentrate on particular local
concerns like zoning. A city which contracts out most of its services,
particularly law enforcement, is known as a contract city.
There are also thousands of "special districts", which are areas with
a defined territory in which a specific service is provided, such as
schools or fire stations. These entities lack plenary power to enact
laws, but do have the power to promulgate administrative regulations
that often carry the force of law within land directly controlled by
such districts. Many special districts, particularly those created to
provide public transportation or education, have their own police
departments (e.g. Bay Area Rapid Transit District/
BART Police and Los
Angeles Unified School District/
Los Angeles School Police Department).
District of Columbia
District of Columbia
District of Columbia home rule
District of Columbia
District of Columbia is unique within the
United States in that it
is under the direct authority of the U.S. Congress, rather than
forming part of any state. Actual government has been delegated under
District of Columbia
District of Columbia Home Rule Act to a city council which
effectively also has the powers given to county or state governments
in other areas. Under the act, the Council of the District of Columbia
has the power to write laws, as a state's legislature would, moving
the bill to the mayor to sign into law. Following this, the United
States Congress has the power to overturn the law.
The state of Georgia is divided into 159 counties (the largest number
of any state other than Texas), each of which has had home rule since
at least 1980. This means that Georgia's counties not only act as
units of state government, but also in much the same way as
All municipalities are classed as a "city", regardless of population
size. For an area to be incorporated as a city, special legislation
has to be passed by the General Assembly (state legislature);
typically the legislation requires a referendum amongst local voters
to approve incorporation, to be passed by a simple majority. This most
recently happened in 2005 and 2006 in several communities near
Atlanta. Sandy Springs, a city of 85,000 bordering the north side of
Atlanta, incorporated in December 2005. One year later, Johns Creek
(62,000) and Milton (20,000) incorporated, which meant that the
entirety of north Fulton County was now municipalized. The General
Assembly also approved a plan that would potentially establish two new
cities in the remaining unincorporated portions of Fulton County south
of Atlanta: South Fulton and Chattahoochee Hills. Chattahoochee Hills
voted to incorporate in December 2007; South Fulton voted against
incorporation, and is the only remaining unincorporated portion of
City charters may be revoked either by the legislature or by a simple
majority referendum of the city's residents; the latter last happened
in 2004, in Lithia Springs. Revocation by the legislature last
occurred in 1995, when dozens of cities were eliminated en masse for
not having active governments, or even for not offering at least three
municipal services required of all cities.
New cities may not incorporate land less than 3 miles (4.8 km)
from an existing city without approval from the General Assembly. The
body approved all of the recent and upcoming creations of new cities
in Fulton County.
Four areas have a "consolidated city-county" government: Columbus,
since 1971; Athens, since 1991; Augusta, since 1996; and Macon, which
was approved by voters in 2012.
Hawaii is the only
U.S. state that has no incorporated municipalities.
Instead it has four counties and the "consolidated city-county" of
Honolulu. All communities are considered to be census-designated
places, with the exact boundaries being decided upon by co-operative
agreement between the Governor's office and the U.S. Census Bureau.
Kalawao County is the second smallest county in the United States, and
is often considered part of Maui County.
In Louisiana, counties are called parishes; likewise, the county seat
is known as the parish seat. The difference in nomenclature does not
reflect a fundamental difference in the nature of government, but is
rather a reflection of the state's unique status as a former French
and Spanish colony (although a small number of other states once had
Maryland has 23 counties. The State Constitution charters the
Baltimore as an independent city, which is the functional equivalent
of a county, and is separate from any county — e.g., there is also a
Baltimore County, but its county seat is in Towson, not in the
Baltimore. Other than Baltimore, all cities are the same, and there is
no difference between a municipality called a city or a town. Cities
and towns are chartered by the legislature.
Main article: North Carolina Councils of Government
North Carolina has 100 counties, the seventh highest number in the
North Carolina Councils of Government (or the Regional Councils of
Government) are voluntary associations of county and municipal
governments, established by the North Carolina General Assembly in
1972 that serve as an avenue for local governments across North
Carolina to discuss issues that are particular to their region. In
banding together at the regional level, the voice of one community
becomes the voice of many, thus providing a better opportunity for
those issues to be addressed. Today the majority of citizens and local
governments in North Carolina are represented by regional councils,
making them an increasingly important facet of local government
Today North Carolina calls itself home to 16 regional councils of
government. Regional councils in North Carolina are committed to
working together. In 2010 the seventeen regional councils existing at
that time signed an inter-regional cooperative agreement that
established a policy to enhance their value by sharing member
resources and capacity to deliver services to the state of North
Carolina. This agreement also endorses regional councils, to carry out
activities in regions outside their boundaries with consent when those
services are to benefit the region and the state. Regional boundaries
correspond to county borders, with each council being made up of both
county and municipal governments. Although the number of regional
councils in North Carolina has decreased over the years, the number of
citizens served by the councils continues to rise. As of 2007, it is
reported that the number of local governments served by regional
councils in North Carolina has increased by 16% since 1994. Throughout
this same time period the number of citizens served by regional
councils has increased by 35% or approximately 2.3 million. This
equates to 92% of local governments and 97% of all North Carolina
citizens being represented by regional councils as of July 1, 2007.
Main article: Local government in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania has 67 counties. With the exception of
Allegheny County, counties are governed by three to seven county
commissioners who are elected every four years; the district attorney,
county treasurer, sheriff, and certain classes of judge ("judges of
election") are also elected separately.
Philadelphia has been a
consolidated city-county since 1854 and has had a consolidated
city-county government since 1952. Allegheny County has had a
council/chief executive government since 2001, while still retaining
its townships, boroughs and cities.
Each county is divided into municipal corporations, which can be one
of four types: cities, boroughs, townships, and incorporated towns.
The Commonwealth does not contain any unincorporated land that is not
served by a local government. However, the US Postal Service has given
names to places within townships that are not incorporated separately.
For instance King of Prussia is a census-designated place, having no
local government of its own. It is rather contained within Upper
Merion Township, governed by Upper Merion's supervisors, and
considered to be a part of the township.
Townships are divided into two classes, depending on their population
size and density. Townships of the "First Class" have a board made up
of five to fifteen commissioners who are elected either at-large or
for a particular ward to four-year terms, while those of the "Second
Class" have a board of three to five supervisors who are elected
at-large to six-year terms. Some townships have adopted a home rule
charter which allows them to choose their form of government. One
example is Upper Darby Township, in Delaware County, which has chosen
to have a "mayor-council" system similar to that of a borough.
Pennsylvania are governed by a "mayor-council" system in
which the mayor has only a few powers (usually that of overseeing the
municipal police department, if the borough has one), while the
borough council has very broad appointment and oversight. The council
president, who is elected by the majority party every two years, is
equivalent to the leader of a council in the United Kingdom; his or
her powers operate within boundaries set by the state constitution and
the borough's charter. A small minority of the boroughs have dropped
the mayor-council system in favor of the council-manager system, in
which the council appoints a borough manager to oversee the day-to-day
operations of the borough. As in the case of townships, a number of
boroughs have adopted home rule charters; one example is State
College, which retains the mayor-council system that it had as a
Bloomsburg is the Commonwealth's only incorporated town; McCandless
Township in Allegheny County calls itself a town, but it officially
remains a township with a home rule charter.
Pennsylvania are divided into four classes: Class 1, Class
2, Class 2A, and Class 3. Class 3 cities, which are the smallest, have
either a mayor-council system or a council-manager system like that of
a borough, although the mayor or city manager has more oversight and
duties compared to their borough counterparts.
Pittsburgh and Scranton
are the state's only Class 2 and Class 2A cities respectively, and
have mayors with some veto power, but are otherwise still governed
mostly by their city councils.
Philadelphia is the Commonwealth's only Class 1 city. It has a
government similar to that of the Commonwealth itself, with a mayor
with strong appointment and veto powers and a 17-member city council
that has both law-making and confirmation powers. Certain types of
legislation that can be passed by the city government require state
legislation before coming into force. Unlike the other cities in
Philadelphia city government also has oversight of
county government, and as such controls the budget for the district
attorney, sheriff, and other county offices that have been retained
from the county's one-time separate existence; these offices are
elected for separately than those for the city government proper.
Main article: Administrative divisions of Texas
Texas has 254 counties, the most of any state.
Each county is governed by a five-member Commissioners Court, which
consists of a county judge (elected at-large) and four commissioners
(elected from single-member precincts). The county judge has no veto
authority over the decisions of the court; s/he has one vote along
with the other commissioners. In smaller counties, the county judge
also performs judicial functions, while in larger counties his/her
role is limited to the court. Elections are held on a partisan basis.
Counties have no home rule authority; their authority is strictly
limited by the State. They operate in areas which are considered
"unincorporated" (those parts not within the territory of a city;
Texas does not have townships) unless the city has contracted with the
county for essential services. In plain English,
Texas counties merely
exist to deliver specific types of services at the local level as
prescribed by state law, but cannot enact or enforce local ordinances.
As one textbook produced for use in
Texas schools has openly
Texas counties are prone to inefficient operations and
are vulnerable to corruption, for several reasons. First, most of
them do not have a merit system but operate on a spoils system, so
that many county employees obtain their positions through loyalty to a
particular political party and commissioner rather than whether they
actually have the skills and experience appropriate to their
positions. Second, most counties have not centralized purchasing
into a single procurement department which would be able to seek
quantity discounts and carefully scrutinize bids and contract awards
for unusual patterns. Third, in 90 percent of
Texas counties, each
commissioner is individually responsible for planning and executing
their own road construction and maintenance program for their own
precinct, which results in poor coordination and duplicate
All incorporated municipalities are technically considered cities,
even though the municipality may refer to itself as a town or village.
Cities may be either general law or home rule. Once a city reaches
5,000 in population, it may submit a ballot petition to create a "city
charter" and operate under home rule status (they will maintain that
status even if the population falls under 5,000) and may choose its
own form of government (weak or strong mayor-council, commission,
council-manager). Otherwise the city operates under general law; those
cities have only those powers authorized by the State. Annexation
policies are highly dependent on whether the city is general law
(annexation can only occur with the consent of the landowners) or home
rule (no consent is required, but if the city fails to provide
essential services, the landowners can petition for de-annexation),
and city boundaries can cross county ones. The city council can be
elected either at-large or from single-member districts (Houston uses
a two-layer single-member district structure), or a mixture of the
two. Ballots are on a nonpartisan basis (though, generally, the
political affiliation of the candidates is commonly known).
With the exception of the Stafford Municipal School District, all
1,000+ school districts in
Texas are "independent" school districts.
State law requires seven trustees, which can be elected either
at-large or from single-member districts. Ballots are non-partisan.
Texas Education Agency (TEA) has state authority to order closure
and consolidation of school districts, generally for repeated failing
performance; the former Wilmer-Hutchins Independent School District
was an example of a failing district closed by TEA.
In addition, state law allows the creation of special districts, such
as hospital districts or water supply districts.
Texas does not provide for independent cities nor for consolidated
city-county governments. However, local governments are free to enter
into "interlocal agreements" with other ones, primarily for efficiency
purposes. (A common example is for cities and school districts in a
county to contract with the county for property tax collection; thus,
each resident receives only one property bill.)
Main article: Administrative divisions of Virginia
Virginia is divided into 95 counties and 38 cities. All cities are
independent cities, which mean that they are separate from, and
independent of, any county they may be near or within. Cities in
Virginia thus are the equivalent of counties, as they have no higher
local government intervening between them and the state government.
The equivalent in
Virginia to what would normally be an incorporated
city in any other state, e.g. a municipality subordinate to a county,
is a town. For example, there is a County of Fairfax as well as a
City of Fairfax, which technically is not part of
Fairfax County even though the
City of Fairfax is the county seat of
Fairfax County. Within Fairfax County, however, is the incorporated
town of Vienna, which is part of Fairfax County. Similar names do not
necessarily reflect relationships; Franklin County is far from the
city of Franklin, while Charles
City is an unincorporated community in
City County, and there is no city of Charles.
Local government in Connecticut
Administrative divisions of Massachusetts
Local government in New Hampshire
Local government in New Jersey
Local government in New Mexico
Administrative divisions of New York
Administrative divisions of Wisconsin
Urban politics in the United States
^ a b c "HISTORY OF BRITISH COLONIAL AMERICA". History World.
2010-06-16. Retrieved 2010-06-16. In 1629 a Puritan group secures from
the king a charter to trade with America, as the
Company. Led by John Winthrop, a fleet of eleven vessels sets sail for
Massachusetts in 1630. The ships carry 700 settlers, 240 cows and 60
horses. Winthrop also has on board the royal charter of the company.
The enterprise is to be based in the new world rather than in London.
This device is used to justify a claim later passionately maintained
by the new colony - that it is an independent political entity,
entirely responsible for its own affairs. In 1630 Winthrop selects
Boston as the site of the first settlement, and two years later the
town is formally declared to be the capital of the colony.
^ a b c d e f g U.S. Census Bureau. 2012 Census of Governments
^ a b "Emergence of Colonial Government".
United States History.
2010-06-16. Retrieved 2010-06-16. In all phases of colonial
development, a striking feature was the lack of controlling influence
by the English government. All colonies except Georgia emerged as
companies of shareholders, or as feudal proprietorships stemming from
charters granted by the Crown. The fact that the king had transferred
his immediate sovereignty over the New World settlements to stock
companies and proprietors did not, of course, mean that the colonists
in America were necessarily free of outside control. Under the terms
Virginia Company charter, for example, full governmental
authority was vested in the company itself. Nevertheless, the crown
expected that the company would be resident in England. Inhabitants of
Virginia, then, would have no more voice in their government than if
the king himself had retained absolute rule.
^ Henry William Elson (1904). "Colonial Government". MacMillan
Company. Retrieved 2010-06-16. In methods of local government the
colonies were much less uniform than in the general government. As
stated in our account of Massachusetts, the old parish of England
became the town in New England. ...
^ Henry William Elson (1904). "Colonial Government". MacMillan
Company. Retrieved 2010-06-16. In no colony was universal suffrage to
^ a b "Emergence of Colonial Government".
United States History.
2010-06-16. Retrieved 2010-06-16. For their part, the colonies had
never thought of themselves as subservient. Rather, they considered
themselves chiefly as commonwealths or states, much like England
itself, having only a loose association with the authorities in
London. In one way or another, exclusive rule from the outside
^ a b c d e f Ed Crews (Spring 2007). "Voting in Early America".
history.org. Retrieved 2010-06-16. Among the first things the
Jamestown voyagers did when they set up English America's first
permanent settlement was conduct an election. Nearly as soon as they
landed—April 26, 1607, by their calendar—the commanders of the 105
colonists unsealed a box containing a secret list of seven men picked
in England to be the colony's council and from among whom the
councilors were to pick a president.
^ Henry William Elson (1904). "Colonial Government". MacMillan
Company. Retrieved 2010-06-16. The system of representative government
was allowed, but not required, by the early charters. But after it had
sprung up spontaneously in various colonies, it was recognized and
ratified by the later charters, as in those of
Connecticut and Rhode
Island, and the second charter of Massachusetts, though it was not
mentioned in the New York grant. The franchise came to be restricted
by some property qualifications in all the colonies, in most by their
own act, as by
Virginia in 1670, or by charter, as in Massachusetts,
^ Glenn W. Fisher (2010-02-01). "History of Property Taxes in the
United States". EH.net (Economic History Association). Retrieved
2010-06-16. The property tax, especially the real estate tax, was
ideally suited to such a situation.
Real estate had a fixed location,
it was visible, and its value was generally well known. Revenue could
easily be allocated to the governmental unit in which the property was
^ a b c "Political Dictionary: local government". answers.com.
2010-06-16. Retrieved 2010-06-16. Both county governments and towns
were significant, sharing responsibility for local rule. In the middle
colonies and in Maryland and
Virginia as well, the colonial governors
granted municipal charters to the most prominent communities, endowing
them with the powers and privileges of a municipal corporation.
Although in some of these municipalities the governing council was
elected ... By the 1790s the electorate chose the governing council in
every American municipality. Moreover, the state legislatures
succeeded to the sovereign prerogative of the royal governors and
thenceforth granted municipal charters. During the nineteenth century,
thousands of communities became municipal corporations. Irritated by
the many petitions for incorporation burdening each legislative
session, nineteenth-century state legislatures enacted general
municipal incorporation laws that permitted communities to incorporate
simply by petitioning the county authorities.
^ a b "Getting a Grip on
useful-community-development.org. 2010-06-16. Retrieved 2010-06-16.
Zoning is a concept that originated in the
United States in the 1920s.
State law often gives certain townships, municipal governments, county
governments, or groups of governments acting together the power to
^ Osborne M. Reynolds, Jr., Local Government Law, 3rd ed. (St. Paul:
West, 2009), 30.
^ Reynolds, 24.
^ Reynolds, 31.
^ Reynolds, 31-32.
^ Reynolds, 33.
^ Spencer v. Merced County Office of Education, 59 Cal. App. 4th 1429
^ Reynolds, 53.
^ Reynolds, 55.
^ Adrian, Charles R. and Fine, Michael R. (1991) State and Local
Politics Lyceum Books/Nelson Hall Publishers, Chicago, page 83,
^ Allen, J. Michael, III and Hinds, Jamison W. (2001) "Alabama
Constitutional Reform". Alabama Law Review 53: pp. 1-30, pages 7-8
^ "The provisions of this Constitution and of any law concerning
municipal corporations formed for local government, or concerning
counties, shall be liberally construed in their favor. The powers of
counties and such municipal corporations shall include not only those
granted in express terms but also those of necessary or fair
implication, or incident to the powers expressly conferred, or
essential thereto, and not inconsistent with or prohibited by this
Constitution or by law." Constitution of the State of New Jersey
Archived 2009-06-30 at the Wayback Machine., Article IV, Section VII
^ a b c d Charldean Newell, David Forrest Prindle, and James W.
Texas Politics, 11th ed. (Boston: Cengage
Learning, 2011), 376-381.
Jon C. Teaford (2009). "Local Government". In Michael Kazin. Princeton
Encyclopedia of American Political History. Princeton University
Press. pp. 488?–491. ISBN 1-4008-3356-6.
Check list of books and pamphlets on municipal government. Chicago
Public Library. 1911.
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