The Illusion of Local Control: The Paradox of Local Government Home Rule

Source: Bruce J. Perlman, State and Local Government Review, Published online before print September 14, 2016
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From the abstract:
Unquestionably, local government is the area in which most U.S. citizens actually come face-to-face with government workers: municipal police officers or grade school teachers. Local governments provide most people with their drinking water, their trash pickup, their fire safety, their building permits and business licenses, their basketball and softball leagues, and even the ability to get their pets neutered, tagged, and adopted, among many other things. In designing and delivering these services, there is a ground assumption that the choices made for the amount, level, or emphasis of services are the expression of local preferences, community mores, and homegrown values.

This assumption has considerable truth. While federal programs may incentivize, constrain, regulate, or size local initiatives, most of the choices on what to do, and how to do it are made by local representatives. Nevertheless, this truism is opposed by a counterfact that underlies most of U.S. government: local authority below the level of state power is not discussed in our founding documents, mentioned in our constitution, included in our history, or given solid legal standing. In some respects, local control is a convenient “legal fiction” that has been enshrined in our history and incorporated in our system of government operations through a device known as home rule.