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Tag Archive: states

It’s Complicated: State and Local Government Relationships

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Crafting useful transparency recommendations for local government requires taking the time to understand the complexities of policy-making at this level. To engage thoughtfully in this, we have to better understand the relationships between municipalities and states. Understanding how governments function and interact with each other is essential to understanding where and how transparency reforms will make a difference. When we look at local governments, we have to consider not only how that government is structured, but also how it operates in relation to the state structures that surround it. We use cities as an example in this post for the sake of consistency and clarity, but these different relationships can apply across the spectrum of municipal governments and municipal government structures. There are two basic types of interaction between cities and states:

  • A general law city has a structure largely shaped by a state's law or constitution. The municipality can adopt local ordinances setting rules for its residents, but only within the range allowed by state law. This format can also be shaped by Dillon's Rule, which essentially means that local governments only have the powers granted to them by the state. There is debate about the challenges and benefits of this system. Some local governments feel the rule restricts them when they try to deal with evolving issues such as a growing population with changing needs. A general law city would have to seek power from the state to deal with new problems if that authority hasn't already been explicitly granted, and that's where this system can be seen as a constraint.
  • A charter city or home rule city functions more autonomously from state laws and regulations. These cities have a charter establishing how government will be structured, what its duties are, and what local ordinances will be. The process for creating a charter or revising an existing charter varies from state to state. Any municipality with a charter is still subject to state laws, however. It might have more authority to deal with local issues, but any laws it sets are subject to the state law and constitution. Even in the places that have home rule, they might sometimes feel more like a general law city if the state is aggressive with the amount of legislation it passes impacting local policies and authority.

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From Sea to Shining Sea: us for Python

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I am an extremely lazy person. I started on a new project recently that required me to delve into state and census tract data. The thought of the effort involved in locating and copy-and-pasting a dict mapping US state abbreviations to FIPS codes was so overwhelming that I just wanted to go take a nap instead. And once I got the FIPS code dict, I'd have to use it to generate URLs for state shapefile downloads. Ugh!

So instead of (yet again) copying a dict from some other source, I decided to do something more permanent. us, the result of my laziness, is a Python package that contains all sorts of state meta data in an easy to use API.

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