What is Home Rule?
According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, home rule (sometimes stylized as “home-rule”) is “the government of a colony, dependent country, or region by its own citizens.” More specific to local government in the United States, Matthew Mahoney states that, “home rule is the idea that local municipalities should have the authority to legislate over areas of purely local concern and the power to address local needs without the state’s interference.” This means that a local government has powers not specifically delegated by the state. Most states do not implement home rule even though local governments have fairly broad powers. This is because state legislation often grants local governments with broad legislative powers.
Why do we have Counties and Townships?
The United States Constitution makes no mention of local government structures. However, since local government structures existed before the Constitution was written and no effort was made to abolish them after the Constitution was ratified, it can be safely assumed that local governance was intended by the Framers. The Northwest Ordinance, which provided a framework for Ohio and other territories to become states, divided the land into counties and townships. Because powers not specifically enumerated to the Federal government are up to the discretion of the states, the states may decide the structures and powers of local governments. However, Ohio inherited the county/township structure from the Northwest Ordinance and has not significantly changed it since.
Why does Ohio have Home Rule?
During the Progressive Era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, urbanites felt that industrial growth was stymied by state policies and interference, which largely reflected the agrarian concerns of the counties. Home rule was added to the Ohio Constitution in 1912. Article XVIII section 3 states that “Municipalities shall have authority to exercise all powers of local self- government and to adopt and enforce within their limits such local police, sanitary and other similar regulations, as are not in conflict with general laws.” Article X, as amended in 1933, provides a clear framework for adopting a county-wide home rule charter.
Stephen Cianca highlights several arguments advancing home rule by its proponents:
First, home rule prevents undue interference in local affairs by a state legislature.
Second, home rule keeps the rural interests that have historically dominated state legislatures from controlling urban issues.
Third, putting local governance into local hands encourages civic responsibility among residents.
Fourth, because the citizens of a locality are best able to understand their particular problems and needs, they should have the power to deal with those problems and needs.
Finally, home rule permits cities and counties to serve as laboratories for innovations in government, a role for which their limited size is ideally suited.
Is Home Rule a Good Thing?
Like most things, that depends on the situation. For many rural counties in Ohio where a single county seat is surrounded primarily by farmland and small villages, home rule can work just fine. Problems arise in metropolitan areas where cities grow into one another and interdependent municipalities have redundant services in a single region. Furthermore, these various municipalities in a single region have been historically used to reinforce segregation and create an uneven disbursement of tax revenue in a region.
While Article X of the Ohio Constitution allows for these regions to form a county charter or to allow one municipality to annex another, local politicians have been resistant to such charters as doing so may threaten their jobs. In opposition to a Montgomery County charter in 1959, county recorder Charles S. Heck stated, “Why should I go along with something that will put me out of a job?” Wealthy residents in suburbs that disproportionately benefit from such arrangements also tend to fight county charters, as do small villages that fear ceding autonomy to the county.
It should be noted that county charters, while beneficial to metropolitan areas, are still limited by county lines and a metropolitan area may extend over multiple counties.
Is Home Rule Good for Dayton?
Home rule has been historically bad for Dayton as the individual municipalities have benefited from the commerce and services of Dayton while keeping their tax money out of they city proper. As suburbs become more desirable for middle and upper class families, these families have left Dayton for areas like Moraine and Centerville. Many buildings in Dayton lie vacant while the metropolitan area itself grows outward. The municipal suburbs compete with Dayton and one another rather than working for the good of the region itself. This creates urban sprawl that threatens our rural communities and wildlife, all while leaving thousands of vacant buildings in its wake. It also creates higher taxes for everyone while we also get less value for what we pay. Compare this to a city with a regional government, like Columbus, where the city has been able to revitalize derelict neighborhoods and better allocate resources.
Creating a county charter, as outlined in Article X of the Ohio Constitution, could greatly improve efficiency and lower costs for everyone in the metropolitan area. We pay for almost twenty mayors, as well as redundant commissioners, treasurers, auditors, and all the other required positions to run a home rule municipality. That’s not even counting the cost of all these elections and other costs of inefficiency and redundancy.
While the ideal solution would be a statewide realignment of counties and laws to require cities to merge when they grow into one another, creating a county charter is something the citizens of Montgomery County can do without petitioning the state.