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Dr. K. Syamala Amarjeet Ranjan
Assistant Professor LLM (Ist Semester)
Local Self Government & Federal Governance 2017-2018

Table of Contents


2. HISTORY 04-05


The United States of America is a federal republic. It is divided into 50 independent federating
units generally called states. States have their own constitution and they are free to make any law
according to their needs and traditions. However federal laws have priority over state laws in
areas where they disagree. The United States government has three layers, federal government at
the national level, state government and local governments. The federal government is given
some specific powers in constitution, such as national defense, creating money, foreign relations.
All other powers and duties such as sanitation, education, transportation, medical services,
business, regulating property are reserved to the state and local governments.

In each state there is an elected head of the executive branch, called the governor, an independent
judiciary and a popularly elected legislative branch. Local governments include cities, counties,
towns, school districts and municipal government; they govern such matters as local natural
resources or transportation networks.

Local government in the United States (US) has a rich history of variety, both in type and form.
Cities, counties, towns, townships, boroughs, villages, school districts and a host of special-
purpose districts, authorities and commissions make up the 87,849 distinct units of local
government counted in the 2002 Census of Governments. These local units of government have
many different forms and organisational structures. Variations in the number and forms of local
government reflect the unique political cultures and forces that created and shaped local self-
government in each state. Experience with local government, which is shared by all Americans,
has rarely given rise to sustained and systematic reflection about the relationship between local
government and state government. The desire for local self-government has been
institutionalised in thousands of compacts, charters, special acts, statutes, constitutional
provisions, resolutions, ordinances, administrative rulings and court decisions since the earliest
dates of settlement of this country. Among these enactments, state constitutional provisions are
singled out for special attention in this chapter. Given this diversity, there is no single model of
local government constitutional arrangement that is appropriate for all states.

Nonetheless, the key issue remains the same from state to state, namely, the level of autonomy to
be accorded to local governments in a state constitution. State constitutions and local government

in the United States Increasing fiscal pressures on government and rising service expectations by
the citizenry make continued controversy and debate over state constitutional treatment of local
governments inevitable. As policy makers evaluate proposals for state constitutional change,
they should consider six guiding issues before altering the statelocal relationship embodied in
their states constitution:

Is it desirable to increase or decrease the restrictions, if any, imposed on the power of the state
to regulate local government?

What degree of autonomy, however defined in the minds of the citizens of a particular state,
should be granted to local governments?

To what extent should the local electorate have a choice as to the form of local government and
its policies?

Should all local government units be eligible for local autonomy?

To what extent should local governments be authorised to engage in intergovernmental


What role should courts have in determining issues of local autonomy?


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." 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 (a royal committee regulating mercantile trade in the colonies) tried to
annul the 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 exceptions) and 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 financial benefit.

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 located.

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 American constitution provides for a federal state with division of powers between the
national (federal) and the state governments. Local government is a state subject. Each state has
established its own system of local government depending upon history, experience and local
conditions. Hence the nomenclature, organization and functions of the units of local government
in USA differ from state to state. In other words heterogeneity is the characteristic feature of the
American system of local government. Another such feature is a high degree of autonomy
enjoyed by the units. In fact there are more autonomous than the British units of local

At present, the USA has the following units of local government (includes its functions):-

1. County
2. City (Municipality)
3. Town and the Township
4. Special District

County- A county is territorially the largest unit of local government in the USA. The counties
serve as agencies of the state government. They are administrative division of the state as well as
the units of local government. The organization, powers and functions of these counties differ
from state to state and in some states county to county. The county is a subdivision of the state.
County governments are organized local governments, authorized in state constitutions and
statutes and established to provide general management in a region. 48 out of 50 states are
divided into counties (while Parishes in Louisiana, and boroughs Alaska). In areas lacking a
municipal or township government, the county government is generally responsible for providing
all services.

The county is a subdivision of the state, usually but not necessarily containing two or more
townships and several villages. New York City is so large that it is divided into five separate
counties. While Arlington County & Virginia, are governed by a unitary county administration.
In most counties one city or town is designated as county seat, where the government offices are
located and where the important meetings held. In small counties, boards are chosen by the
county as a whole; in the larger ones, supervisors represent separate districts or townships.

City- A city is a unit of urban local self-government and is incorporated as a municipality. It can
be compared to British Borough. It has a charter that is fundamental law which defines its
organization, power and functions. The charter is granted to a city by the state legislature either
under a special act or under general laws. Generally corresponding to an area rather than one of a
set of areas into which a county is divided. City governments are chartered by states, and their
charters detail the objectives and powers of the municipal government. But in many respects
municipal or city government function independently from state. Types of municipal
governments vary from one state to another. However, almost all have some kind of central
council, elected by the voters, and an executive officer, assisted by various department heads, to
manage the city's affairs. In few states both counties and municipal governments exist side by

There are three general types of municipal government: the mayor council, the commission, and
the council manager. These are the pure forms; many cities have developed a combination of two
or three of them.

i. Mayor Council: This is the oldest form of city government in the United States. A mayor
council city government consists of an elected mayor and a number of council members.
The mayor appoints heads of city departments and other officials. He or she has the
power of veto over ordinances, the laws of the city and frequently is responsible for
preparing the city's budget. The council passes city ordinances, sets the tax rate on
property, and allocates money among the various city departments. In some states the
mayor may given a larger policy making role, and responsibility for day-to-day
operations is delegated to him.
ii. The Commission: The commission form of city government, also known as the
Galveston Plan. This combines both the legislative and executive functions in one group
of officials, usually five or seven number, elected city-wide. Each commissioner
supervises the work of one or more city departments. One is named chairperson of the
body and is often called the mayor. Commissioners are responsible for taxation,
appropriations, ordinances, and other general functions.
iii. Council/City Manager: The council manager is a response to the increasing population
and growing number of cities, which require management expertise not often possessed

by elected public officials. This form of government was established to entrust most of
the executive powers, including law enforcement and provision of services, to a highly
trained and experienced professional city manager. Under this system an elected council
of usually five to nine members makes the city ordinances and sets policy, but hires a
paid administrator, also called a city manager, to carry out the policies. The manager
draws up the city budget and supervises most of the departments. Usually, there is no set
term; the manager serves as long as the council is satisfied with his or her work. Though,
the city manager is recognized as the political head of the municipality, but is a member
of the legislative body and does not have the power to veto legislative actions.

Town and Township- Town and township are the subdivisions of counties. They are principal
units of local government in rural and semi-urban areas. The governing body of the town is
known as the town meeting, which consists of all the eligible voters of the town. It generally
meets once a year and elects board of chosen men and other official functionaries to carry out the
local administration. It is in these towns that 'direct democracy" in operation can be seen.
Township governments are organized local governments, to provide general government for a
defined area, generally corresponding to one divided area of a county. Township will consist of
Mayor and 3 to 5 elected committee members. The committee members will act as the legislative
body. The officials are all local residents of this township, elected by the township citizenry, and
always available to talk with their constituency. The Township Committee may delegate, by
ordinance, all or a portion of executive responsibilities to an appointed administrator.

Special District- Special district is a unit of local government which is established to provide one
particular service. This device provides a specialized machinery to carry a specified functions
and permits a high degree of flexibility in local government such districts cut across the
jurisdiction of the regular units of local government-county, city, town and so on. They exist
throughout the country covering both rural and urban areas. Special districts are all organized
local entities. A special district may serve areas of multiple states as compare to other type of
governments who can serve only in some specific area to qualify as a separate government.
Special districts are widely popular, to perform special functions like fire protection district,
flood control district, transportation district.

The United States federal system has considerable decentralization of expenditure
responsibilities to the states. However, substantial proportion of grants is conditional or is used to
support mandated state expenditure programmes. This introduces some accountability to state
executive branches that would otherwise not exist if the grants were unconditional.


Federal constitution of US does not mention local governments. Local governments are the
creatures of states, so these are structured in accordance with the laws of the various individual
states. Typically each state has at least two separate levels: counties and municipalities. Some
states have their counties divided into townships or special districts to meet the need of their
population. And municipalities are also further divided into different categories. Although the
types and nature of the municipal entities varies from one state to other according to their mass
density. In a few states, there is only one level of local government. There are also often local or
regional special districts that exist for specific purposes, such as to provide fire protection, sewer
service, transit service or to manage water resources.

In most states, county and municipal governments exists side-by-side. 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. In many states, counties exist only to designate boundaries for such state
level functions. Municipal governments are usually administratively divided into several
departments, depending on the size of the city.


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 Judge 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 of 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 counties.

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 rule. A state which is both a home rule state and a Dillon's Rule state applies
Dillon's Rule to matters or governmental units not accounted for in the constitutional amendment
or statutes which grant home rule.

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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 councilmanager 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.


The papers in this volume on the place and role that local government plays in federal systems
provide a valuable perspective on Americas experiment with developmental local government.
Federal systems are increasingly moving from a dual system of government (central-
state/provincial relations) to institutionalised multi-level government. Constitutional recognition
is not in and of itself sufficient to establish local self-government. Local self-government is
embedded in practice. The growth of strong local government will require the redefinition of the
role and function of provinces/states. Because local government is crucial in the development
and well-being of any country, it cannot be left to its own devices. Supervision is vital but the
appropriate balance between supervision and autonomy should be struck.

An important trend in multi-level government is the emergence of metropolitan government.

Like many other developing countries in the world, American cities face two realities: they have
become the home of the ever-increasing numbers of poor and unemployed; and, at the same
time, they are the places of hope for economic development.

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1. Baldersheim, H., & Wollmann, H. (Eds.). (2006). The comparative study of local
government and politics: Overview and synthesis. Opladen, Germany: Barbara Budrich
2. Berg, R., & Rao, N. (Eds.). (2005). Transforming local political leadership. Houndmills, UK:
Palgrave Macmillan.
3. Kersting, N., Caulfield, J., Nickson, A., Olowu, D., & Wollmann, H. (2009). Local
governance reform in global perspective. Wiesbaden, Germany: VS Verlag
4. Denters, B., & Lawrence, R. (Eds.). (2005). Comparing local governance. Houndmills, UK:
5. Lazin, F., Evans, M., Hoffmann-Martinot, V., & Wollmann, H. (Eds.). (2007). Local
government reforms in countries ins transition: A global perspective. Lanham, MD: Rowman
& Littlefield.
6. Swianiewicz, P. (Ed.). (2010). Local level territorial consolidation in Central East European
countries [Special issue]. Local Government Studies, 36(2)
7. World Bank, & United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG). (2008). Decentralization and
local democracy in the world: First global report. Barcelona, Spain: UCLG.
8. American Municipal Association, Model Constitutional Provisions for Municipal Home
Rule, 1953. Jefferson Fordham was hired by the National Municipal League to prepare a
model state constitution including home rule provisions.
9. JL Underwood, The Constitution of South Carolina: The Journey Toward Local Government,
University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, 1989, pp 177-179.
10.R Briffault, Local government and the New York State Constitution, 1 (1996) Hofstra Legal
and Policy Symposium 79, at p 90.

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