Thursday, September 08, 2011

Politics beyond the Beltway 9/8: State vs. Local Sovereignty

It's amazing how much you can cram into one fifty-minute lecture but Prof never ceases to amaze us. Of course my philosophy is that it's not the quantity of information that matters but the quality. Prof's lectures never fail to both inspire and at times, amuse us. While Prof touched on certain points, I am going to elaborate on those points through a little research on my own. May I just add that Prof's bow tie was particularly awesome today. Apparently he wears a different one to class every day and never wears the same one twice!

Author's Note: Sending a big shout-out to Margaret who knows who she is and who is hopefully reading this. She inspired me because even with our age difference, we seem to think alike in our view of politics. We both share the common sense view of things. Our conversation the other day was both refreshing and enlightening and I am looking forward to more.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand, today we discussed state and local government sovereignty. Now while the US Constitution is not clear on the boundaries of federal and state government, there is no doubt as to the boundaries of state and local government. It's very clear. The state has total and complete authority over local governments. There are approximately 90,000 local governments in the United States and they all exist at the whim of the State. Local governments exist not for the convenience of the people but for the convenience of the state. In a sense, the State giveth, the State taketh away. There is no "right" to local government. States grant cities their charters and the powers in those charters are the extent of the power of local government. As Prof puts it, "local government is legally and constitutionally totally dependent upon the state."  Understand that local government exists because the state allows it to.

In our discussion of state preeminence over local governments, we discussed the 1868 case known as "Dillon's Rule" or Clinton v. Cedar Rapids and the Missouri River Railroad  in which Judge John Forrest Dillon ruled, "Municipal corporations owe their origin to, and derive their powers and rights wholly from, the legislature. It breathes into them the breath of life, without which they cannot exist. As it creates, so may it destroy. If it may destroy, it may abridge and control."

Dillon's rule makes these three points:
  1. Local government has only the powers explicitly granted in their charter.
  2. If whatever the issue is, is necessarily and fairly implied, the city can do it
    1. An example of this is the charter grants the local gov't the power to create a fire department, that is explicit. However the charter does not have to list every single thing the local government is allowed to do to create that fire department. As such point #2 would include things like procuring land for the fire department, procuring equipment and hiring personnel.
  3. If there is a dispute over or if it is not clear as to whether or not local government can carry out any particular duty, and that duty does not meet the above two points, then it is explicitly denied. 

There are of course a few exceptions, and this brings us to "Home Rule". Home Rule is basically the ability of a city to create their own charter and enact laws within that charter such as codes, ordinaces, resolutions, without having to seek state approval. The city is also allowed to make changes as necessary as the city grows. In carrying out Home Rule however, the laws a city enacts cannot conflict with state or federal laws.  

The Florida legislature adopted the "Home Rule Powers Act" in 1973. Article VIII, section 2(b) of the Florida Constitution states,

“Municipalities shall have governmental, corporate and proprietary powers to enable them to conduct municipal government, perform municipal functions and render municipal services, and may exercise power for municipal purposes except as otherwise provided by law.”  

The root of Home Rule comes from the need for local governments to be able to govern without the cronyism and corruption that takes place at the state level. For example, during the Progressive Era at the beginning of the 20th century. The Progressive movement was especially important because it was an era of grassroots organizations and reform. Individuals tired of the cronyism and corruption were spurred into action to fight poor working conditions, class warfare, low wages, lack of women's voting rights and the problem of rapid development and industrialization and a whole host of other problems.Those who called themselves progressives sought to clean up the corruption at all government levels. Much of the reform came at the local level by electing individuals into local government who considered themselves reformists.  The best way to clean up the government was to start at the most basic level which was of course local and then work upwards. The thought was that if a charter could be written locally, and approved by the local citizens, it would be absent of the corruption which so prevailed at the higher levels. This ability to write one's own city charter empowered the people and made their elected representatives accountable. 

And so there's a bit about state & local sovereignty and home rule.  Next week....Corruption!

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