December 10, 2022
The Proper Role of Local Governments
By: Art da Rosa, PE, MPA
What is the proper role of a local government? A quick review of the 9th and 10th Amendments reveals that the States and the People have most of the powers.
- The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people (9th Amendment)
- The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people (10th Amendment)
The Federal government’s twenty delegated authorities are enumerated in Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution.
History of Separation of Power
To ensure liberty, the Separation of Power was implemented, which is more than merely separating Legislative, Executive, and Judicial into three branches. It is also vertical, with We the People at the top, followed by Local Governments, then the States, and finally the Federal. The vertical separation of power is also known as Federalism. And it has not been practiced for quite some time.
Despite the 9th and 10th Amendments, the State’s authority is not limitless. As the Federalism model suggests, Local Governments should have more authority than the States, or at least different authorities.
As our nation grew, cities and counties were created. When a city was created, a city charter was prepared to delineate its authority and functions. A city charter is equivalent to a constitution. When new cities were created, they were required to register with the States. The States, in return, demanded that the city charters comply with certain standards. From that point on, cities become the creation of the States, and subservient to the States’ authority. The old, wise council, “Want to make a difference? Get involved in local politics,” was truer in years past. Have you seen local governments go against EPA regulations? What about Covid restrictions from the State and Federal governments? Things have changed, but it wasn’t always so.
When Idaho became a State, it too was required to pattern its Constitution according to a standard established by the Federal Government. The practice of local governments being subservient to the State was established. It was also enshrined in Article XVIII of our State Constitution.
Local Government, County vs. City
There are various terms for local governments: Township, Borough, Ward, Shire, County, City. In Idaho, we have Counties, Cities, and Towns; with Cities and Towns having identical meanings. An internet search regarding the difference between Counties and Cities would likely yield over 1M results. They would define Counties and Cities based on services, tax base, and geography. But, the most important similarity between them is Self-Governance. That is the central message in Federalist number 1, which extends to local governments.
Counties exist so that we, the residents, can govern ourselves. For this reason, Counties are geographically larger. Structurally, within a County, a courthouse, a jailhouse, and a voting place must exist. With the exception of voting places, Cities typically do not have all these infrastructures.
Cities exist to facilitate our lifestyles, such as commerce and industry. A central post office, for example, is typically found in cities. Other than that, they are both Local Governments.
The details of Local Governments cannot be discussed in a single article. To further explore the concept of Local Governments, I plan to discuss the roles and responsibilities of the elected county positions (including the Sheriff, Assessor, Coroner, Treasurer, Judges, and Commissioner) in future articles.