Tuesday, December 15, 2009

God Bless the Town That's Got Its Own

The oxymoron home rule plays out constantly on Beacon Hill. If Boston's city council passes and its mayor signs term limits for its chief exec tomorrow, figurative kowtowing and knee walking remain standard procedure. Municipalities in Massachusetts may not rule themselves.

Even the League of Women Voters show disdain in their white-glove way. A history of home rule here includes:
In the late 1960s, the Special Home Rule Commission recommended legislation to facilitate the use of home rule, but the General Court did not accept any of its proposals. The governor, in 1975, established a home rule committee to explore ways to strengthen implementation of home rule. The committee, on which the League was represented, reviewed the state statutes governing municipal affairs and recommended a number of changes. The Legislature, however, has been reluctant to relinquish its authority in local matters. As a result, a disproportionate number of bills dealt with in the Legislature are so-called home rules bills, i.e. bylaw changes and matters passed by city councils or town meetings. Many of these matters should not have to go before the Legislature.
That's right, boys and girls, the General Court just won't give up its paternalism. Sure, municipalities aren't allowed to pass ordinances that conflict with commonwealth, but that's the way of the legislative food chain all the way through the U.S. Congress and Supreme Court. It's the making them bring every damned tweak to daddy and mommy on Beacon Street that is so absurd.

Consider Boston, where:
  • The city council is nominally the legislative body.
  • The council can pass whatever it wants, but must beseech the mayor to approve the change.
  • The mayor can veto or sign anything the council gives him.
  • Nothing of substance has the effect of law or charter revision without prior approval of the GC.
Chapter 43 of Massachusetts Laws details the smothering limitations. For one example related to the current debate on term limits for Boston's mayor, consider the punchline of it Section 13:
...No exercise of a power or function denied to the city or town, expressly or by clear implication, by special laws having the force of a charter under section nine of said Article, and no change in the composition, mode of election or appointment, or terms of office of the legislative body, the mayor or city manager or the board of selectmen or town manager, may be accomplished by by-law or ordinance. Such special laws may be made inapplicable, and such changes may be accomplished, only under procedures for the adoption, revision or amendment of a charter under this chapter.
Home rule is more aptly described as you-may-not-rule-yourself legislation. Moreover, as the League notes, a disturbing amount of GC bills deal with largely pissant subjects that are really not the legislature's business.

I'll channel the Tick here. He would bellow, "Villains, I say to you now, knock off all that evil!"

Our General Court is charged with serious business and this is a particularly serious time in Massachusetts. Playing control freak to cities and towns is inappropriate, inefficient, and well, evil.

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