Local governments in Texas Municipalities, Counties, Special Districts, Councils of Government
In a previous section we covered federalism and mentioned, briefly, the various types of local governments that exist in the nation and the state.This section is designed to expand on that material and provide more detail on the nature of local government in the state and in this region.
Special attention will be given to area cities and to Brazoria and Harris counties.
You might find these sources of information online helpful: - Texas Local Governments.- Local Governments in Texas.- Thomas Dye: Local Governments in Texas.- TML: Local Government in Texas.- Pearson: The Legacy of Local Government.
Here’s a key point, made before, that explains the relationship between state and local government in Texas. It is a unitary system. Texas dominates the process, though it can carve out areas where local governments have discretion over what they can do.
This means that local governments are created by the state, and are subject to its jurisdiction. Remember that local governments have no independent authority under the US Constitution. They are not mentioned in the document. States can create them under their reserved powers.
The federal rule which establishes this is Dillon’s Rule: "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."- A (Very) Brief History of Dillon’s Rule.- Dillon’s Rule: Good or Bad for Local Government?
The alternative (but not accepted) conception of local government is contained in the Cooley Doctrine. There is an inherent right to local self determination: “[L]ocal government is a matter of absolute right; and the state cannot take it away.”
The conclusion: local governments are not sovereign, autonomous entities. They have legal authority because states grant it to them. This is true for cities, counties, and special districts.
The only exception is the capitol. Washington DC is a federal city. It’s legal authority comes from the US Constitution and its rule is overseen by Congress.
But local governments fight for the right to rule themselves with minimal interference from the state as well as the nation.This is especially true in Texas where local government is considered to superior to state or national government.
The Texas Constitution establishes counties, special districts, and creates the conditions whereby additional ones can be created as well. It also establishes the process by which cities are recognized and granted the ability to collect taxes and make laws that are binding on its residents.
Despite Dillon’s Rule, the Texas Constitution grants discretion to local governments and delegates many responsibilities to them.
Here’s a definition: An urban entity defined by the following characteristics: 1. Permanence2. Large population size3. High population density4. Social heterogeneity
A city is a larger version of a town or a village.All of which are areas where groups of people choose to live in close proximity to each other and receive certain benefits by doing so.
Often people these people choose to live together because economic opportunities exist in these urban settings that are not available in rural areas.By the way, conflict between rural and urban areas (the town and the country) has existed throughout American history.
Smaller towns and villages often retain rural characteristics and bear little in common with larger cities. Note: Townships and villages are not recognized in Texas. For an overview of their concerns you might want to check out the Association of Rural Communities in Texas.
Additional detail from The Texas Municipal League: Among all of the different types of local governments, cities perform the greatest number of functions, both governmental and proprietary. State law specifically defines and lists certain activities as eithergovernmental or proprietary. The law lists 36 functions that aregovernmental. Included among them are police and fire protection, health and sanitation services, street construction and design, transportation systems, establishment and maintenance of jails, and enforcement of land use restrictions under Chapter 229, Local Government Code. Three functions are listed as proprietary: the operation and maintenance of a public utility, amusements owned and operated by a city, and any activity that is abnormally dangerous or ultra-hazardous. Functions that are listed as governmental are not included as proprietary functions.
FYI: The Texas Municipal League is a lobbying organization that represents Texas cities in the Texas Legislature. The National League of Cities represents cities at the national level.
The legal status of cities (the fact that they are subservient to states) is peculiar if you consider that they are the oldest entities in the U.S.Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in North America. See: History of local government in the US.
As opposed to states, cities are economic enterprises. Their viability rises and falls with their economic vitality.Case in point: Galveston.
Here are the cities and towns in Brazoria County: AlvinAngletonBailey's PrairieCity of Hillcrest VillageCluteFreeportLake JacksonManvelPearlandRichwoodSurfside VillageSweenyWest Columbia
And here’s economic information about some of Texas’ largest cities: AustinDallasEl PasoFort WorthHoustonSan Antonio
Texas is one of the more urban states in the nation.Surprise.
Currently more than 80% of the people of Texas live in cities.Six of the 20 largest cities in the United States are in Texas. This includes two of the five largest metropolitan areas.
But this has been a recent development. In its early history Texas was dominated by farmers – including tenant farmers – and ranchers. Agriculture was dominant and the early political landscape reflected that fact. It has only been recently that the political power of urban areas has matched that of rural areas.
While Texas was primarily an agrarian state for its early history, populations centers began to develop in Galveston, San Antonio, Nacogdoches, and elsewhere.
The Greater Houston area contains some of the oldest cities in the state since this was, from the start, a major commercial center in the state.Galveston Bay – as well as Galveston island – offered convenient ports. Commodities produced in the state could be exported easily from these ports.
But cities were not politically powerful in the 19th Century. Recall that members of the Texas Grange – farmers – had tremendous clout in the Constitutional Convention of 1875. Half of the delegates were members of the Grange. Rural affairs dominated the legislature. Few executive agencies dealt with urban matters early on.But Texas began a slow process of urbanization in the late 19th Century.
Urban areas are increasingly powerful in the state.25 out of the 150 House districts in the Texas Legislature are in Harris County.
The interests of urban and rural areas are reflected in a handful of committees in the Texas legislatureThe Senate Committee on Agriculture and Urban Affairs.The House Committee on Urban Affairs.The House Committee on County Affairs.The House Committee on Agriculture and Livestock (rural affairs).
“In 1850 only 3.6 percent of the Texas population lived in cities of more than 2,500 people, whereas the national level was 15 percent. In 1900, when Texas moved from seventh to sixth largest state in the nation for population, the urban percentage was 17.1, while for the United States the urban rate was 39.6 percent. The oil discoveries in the early twentieth century uncovered a major resource, scattered small boomtowns across the state, and later supplied a sprawling petrochemical industry along the coast from Corpus Christi to Port Arthur-Orange. In 1950 the census counted 59.8 percent urban for Texas; for the United States it was 58.6 percent. In 1940 Texas had posted 45.4 percent, but World War II industry and military training camps pushed Texas across the half-way point and close to the national average. In 1990 in Texas, now the third largest state, the urban population reached 81.6 percent, compared to the 77.5 percent for the United States. Only slightly more than 1 percent of the people, however, actually worked on farms and ranches. The remainder simply lived outside a defined urban space.” – TSHA “Urbanization.”
Note that by the mid 20th century Texas was more urban than the nation as a whole. Prior to that it was more rural. This has had a consequence for the political culture of Texas:“Cities, for better or worse, have been deeply involved in developing the main characteristics of civilization-literacy, government, high arts, commerce, technology. Urban places have been focal points for action and ideas, and gateways for trade and migration.” – TSHA “Urbanization.”
The needs of cities are very different from the needs of rural areas.As cities grew in strength, they began pushing for more autonomy and political clout. In the early 1900s a movement swept across the nation to increase the autonomy of cities: the home rule movement.
Article 11 of the Texas Constitution outlines Municipal Corporations. As originally written, it did not grant much independence to cities.
Initially, the state legislature was responsible for writing city charters and placed limits on what rules they could pass, but a nation wide movement sprung up to grant home rule charters to cities to allow them to do so. This allowed cities to write their own charters, subject to approval by the state.
SEC. 4. Cities and towns having a population of ten thousand inhabitants or less, may be chartered alone by general law. They may levy, assess and collect an annual tax to defray the current expenses of their local government, but such tax shall never exceed, for any one year, one-fourth of one per cent. and shall be collectable only in current money. And all license and occupation tax levied, and all fines, forfeitures, penalties and other dues accruing to cities and towns shall be collectable only in current money.
SEC. 5. Cities having more than ten thousand inhabitants may have their charters granted or amended by special act of the Legislature, and may levy, assess and collect such taxes as may be authorized by law, but no tax for any purpose shall ever be lawful for any one year, which shall exceed two and one-half per cent. of the taxable property of such city, and no debt shall ever be created by any city, unless at the same time provision be made to assess and collect annually a sufficient sum to pay the interest thereon and create a sinking fund of at least two per cent. thereon.
Note: Just because the state wanted to place limits on cities it did not necessarily follow that they could enforce those limits.State law enforcement was somewhat limited. More on this in a later section. For a great story regarding a renegade city read up on the Free State of Galveston.
Texas cities were granted home rule authority in 1912. They have broad discretion regarding why policies they can establish within their borders. Part of the rationale in doing so was so that the Texas Legislature could reduce its work load. It wanted to not have to deal with local matters.
The passage of an amendment allowing for home rule charters allowed cities to pass their own laws.The changes modified language in Article 11 of the Texas Constitution.
Sec. 4. CITIES AND TOWNS WITH POPULATION OF 5,000 OR LESS; CHARTERED BY GENERAL LAW; TAXES; FINES, FORFEITURES, AND PENALTIES. Cities and towns having a population of five thousand or less may be chartered alone by general law. They may levy, assess and collect such taxes as may be authorized by law, but no tax for any purpose shall ever be lawful for any one year which shall exceed one and one-half per cent of the taxable property of such city; and all taxes shall be collectible only in current money, and all licenses and occupation taxes levied, and all fines, forfeitures and penalties accruing to said cities and towns shall be collectible only in current money.
Sec. 5. CITIES OF MORE THAN 5,000 POPULATION; ADOPTION OR AMENDMENT OF CHARTERS; TAXES; DEBT RESTRICTIONS. (a) Cities having more than five thousand (5000) inhabitants may, by a majority vote of the qualified voters of said city, at an election held for that purpose, adopt or amend their charters. If the number of inhabitants of cities that have adopted or amended their charters under this section is reduced to five thousand (5000) or fewer, the cities still may amend their charters by a majority vote of the qualified voters of said city at an election held for that purpose. The adoption or amendment of charters is subject to such limitations as may be prescribed by the Legislature, and no charter or any ordinance passed under said charter shall contain any provision inconsistent with the Constitution of the State, or of the general laws enacted by the Legislature of this State. . . .