Local (Municipal) Government
Local governments play a significant role in our lives. Many of the laws and services that impact us daily are the product of our county or municipal (city or town) governments. Understanding how local governments work helps us to be more involved and pro-active citizens. If we don’t understand, we won’t participate, and if we don’t participate, others will make decisions for us.
Under the U.S. Constitution, states are responsible for establishing the local governments within that state. Both the Indiana Constitution and, subsequently, the Indiana Code (the body of laws governing the state) establish the form and function of county, township, and municipal governments within Indiana. How do county, township and municipal governments relate to each other? Township and municipal governments, as well as school corporations, exist within the boundaries of a county but by-and-large are not governed by the county. The state assigns certain powers to each form of local government and dictates that one entity not usurp the powers of another. However, it doesn’t require specific coordination among them, and as a result individual town/city, township, and county cooperation or integration varies from location to location.
In Indiana, a municipality’s classification as a city or a town is determined largely by population; population also determines a municipality’s designation as a first-, second-, or third-class city. Cities with populations over 600,000 are first-class cities; populations ranging from 35,000 to 599,000 are second-class cities, and cities with populations from 2,000 to 35,000 are usually designated third-class cities. A city’s classification determines how many legislative districts—and thus how many council seats—are required to represent a city that size. A municipality with a population under 2,000 must be designated as a town, but towns can also have more than 2,000 people and still opt to remain a town. Allowing for population changes, the Indiana code lays out specific steps that must be taken for a municipality to change its designation from town to city or from one city classification to another.
The main difference between city and town governments in Indiana is that cities have separate executive and legislative branches (mayor and city council, respectively). Administrative duties are the responsibility of the executive branch (the mayor or another city officer or department). The power to make or change laws falls to the legislative branch (common council). Towns on the other hand have an elected town council which then selects one of its members to be the council president. The president has some executive functions, but also retains her/his council legislative responsibilities.
Cities and towns can but don’t necessarily have courts. If they do, the courts have jurisdiction over city/town ordinance violations, misdemeanors, and infractions. Voters elect their city/town judges to four-year terms.
Monroe County has one city (Bloomington) and two towns (Ellettsville and Stinesville).
For more information:
LWV-BMC Government Basics