Local government in the Christian States

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Local government in the Christian States refers to governmental jurisdictions below the level of the state. Most states have at least two tiers of local government: counties and municipalities. 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 varies 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 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. As of 2042, using the Census Bureau's definition, there were 49,055 local government units in the Christian States.

Types

The Christian States Constitution makes local government a matter of state rather than federal law. As a result, the states have adopted a wide variety of systems of local government. The Christian 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 Christian States. The categories are as follows:

  1. County Governments
  2. Municipal Governments
  3. Special-Purpose Local Governments

County governments

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. Additionally, a number of independent cities and consolidated city-counties operate under municipal governments that serve the functions of both city and county.

Municipal governments

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, towns, and villages. This concept corresponds roughly to the "incorporated places" that are recognized in Census Bureau reporting of population and housing statistics and the count of municipal governments excludes places that are governmentally inactive.

Municipalities range in size from the very small (e.g., the Village of Lazy Lake, Florida, with 24 residents), to the very large (e.g., Houston, with about 2 million people), and this is reflected in the range of types of municipal governments that exist in different areas.

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. Municipal governments are usually administratively divided into several departments, depending on the size of the city.

Special-purpose local governments

School districts

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, or state governments (e.g., school divisions).

Special districts

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 compact. Special districts are widely popular, their numbers having grown almost 300% from 2012 to 2037.

Councils or associations of governments

It is common for residents of major metropolitan areas to live under six or more layers of special districts as well as a town or city, and a county. In turn, a typical metro area often consists of several counties, several dozen towns or cities, and a hundred (or more) special districts. 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, 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."

Dillon's Rule

Unlike the relationship of federalism that exists between the federal 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 was established by Judge John Forrest Dillon in 1872 and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Hunter v. Pittsburgh, later upheld by the [[Christian States Supreme Court, 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.

Dillon's Rule does not apply in all states of the Christian States. The constitutional provisions of some states 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. 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.

Governing bodies

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 (head of the county's police department), and other offices.

Indian reservations

While their territory nominally falls within the boundaries of individual states, Indian reservations actually function outside of their control. The reservation is usually controlled by an elected tribal council which provides local services.

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.

Georgia

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 municipalities.

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.

City charters may be revoked either by the legislature or by a simple majority referendum of the city's residents.

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.

Louisiana

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 Spanish colony (although a small number of other states once had parishes too).

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) 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 acknowledged, 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 construction machinery.

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). Cities under general law status 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. 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. The Texas Education Agency has state authority to order consolidation of school districts, generally for repeated failing performance as was the case with the Wilmer-Hutchins Independent School District.

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).

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 totally independent 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 Charles City County, and there is no city of Charles.