Educational Component

Government Structure

Aug 12, 2015     admin   0 Comment     Educational Component

A variety of factors shape local governments’ decision-making processes. Federal, state and local governments shape local policy. Government structure, financing and low voter turnout also affect policy outcomes.

Home Rule and Title VI

An examination of the U.S. Constitution doesn’t turn up the phrase “local government.” The 10th amendment, which articulates that those powers not expressly articulated in the Constitution are reserved for the states, gives state governments the power to determine the authority of local governments. States deal with the delegation of that power to local municipalities in different ways. Most states in the U.S. reserve more power to the state government in controlling the affairs of their cities. These states are generally referred to as Dillon’s Rule states. Other states, including Ohio, have adopted a home rule philosophy, which designates more power to cities and local communities.

Home rule was established in Ohio as a part of the 1912 amendments of the state constitution. This was a period of rapid growth within the state of Ohio. By empowering municipalities to provide services to their residents, communities were able to better service their rapidly growing needs and solve their own problems. Many reformers on the state level who supported the adoption of home rule in Ohio also believed that the power of self-governance was a fundamental tenant of the Constitution. Additionally, during this time period, there were significant issues with corruption and machine politics in state level government.  Home rule was a way to extricate some of the powers of self-government from the corruption found at state government levels and give that authority back to the communities. In 1923, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the power of home rule was “self-executing,” meaning that a municipality could act on its own behalf even if it had not adopted a charter.[1]

The concept of home rule could be misunderstood to imply that municipalities have a legal authority that can’t be trumped. This is not the case. Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act is the legal principle that ultimately allowed bus stops to be constructed in Beavercreek. Even though communities in Ohio such as Beavercreek have a range of local authorities and legal principles, they still have to follow federal statutes in order to continue to receive federal funding. Many local communities, including Beavercreek, rely on the federal government for funding certain projects within their jurisdiction, including transportation.

Beavercreek Government Structure

The City Charter of Beavercreek, Ohio establishes a council-manager form of government with a city council made up of six, at-large members and one mayor. Members of city council serve four-year terms. All of the members of City Council are elected to at-large seats, so they do not specifically represent different geographic parts of the City, but instead are elected to serve the entire community.[2]

In the council-manager form of government, council appoints a city manager to run the municipal government and provide advice and assistance to council on matters that come before them. The manager is the Chief Administrative Office for the city. The power to legislate policies lies with the city council and the manager is responsible for executing the policies and programs that council enacts. Additionally, as an administrative professional with extensive knowledge of local government, the city manager can provide guidance and advice to the council on the issues they are considering.[3]

The mayor of Beavercreek is the city council member elected with the most votes. The vice mayor is the member elected with the second highest number of votes. Mayors serve in the position for the first two years of their elected term and then serve as a city council member for the final two years of their term. City council members may only serve two consecutive four year terms before they are forced to step down. After a period of relief of at least four years, former members of city council may run again for office. The Mayor of Beavercreek is largely a ceremonial figurehead, who is responsible for running city council meetings, but votes as a regular member of the council and do not hold any veto power.[4]

Financing of City Government

The significant source of general revenue for the functions of state and local governments comes from property taxes, sales taxes and income taxes. For Ohio in 2010, 30% of state and local tax revenues came from property taxes, 32.5% came from sales taxes and 27.7% came from income taxes.[5]

Although these are the three important sources of revenue for Ohio’s cities, the state has historically supplemented local government funding. The estate tax, local government fund and tangible personal property tax have helped fund local government operations. The estate tax was eliminated in its entirety in 2013, and the local government fund was cut in half.[6]

The policy changes affected communities across the state. Beavercreek received $1.5 million less in state aid in 2012 and 2013 as compared to 2010 and 2011[7], a loss that Beavercreek City Manager Michael Cornell noted “… will have a significant impact on the General Fund.”[8] Furthermore, Beavercreek lacks an income tax (a proposed 1.5% income tax was defeated in 2013) meaning Beavercreek relies heavily on property tax and to a lesser extent, supplemental funds such as the estate tax and local government fund. Naturally, cash-strapped communities may be reluctant to fund a variety of projects, including transportation projects.

Federal Funding for Transportation Projects

Another major source of funding for projects and initiatives within local communities is federal tax dollars. Federal agencies have grant programs where state and local governments can apply for funding for projects that cover everything from the hiring of additional police officers to building new parks and public facilities. Federal funding is also spent through federal programs mandated by federal law to address issues and challenges faced in local communities.

The United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) spends billions of dollars annually to fund transportation and infrastructure improvements in communities throughout the United States. USDOT’s Federal Highway Administration FY2015 budget request for highway infrastructure improvements was $48.6 billion dollars.[9] Many of these dollars are funneled through state departments of transportation to benefit local communities. For instance, the Ohio Department of Transportation’s estimated budget for highway transportation costs (Program Series 2) in FY2013 was over $2.5 billion dollars. Of that total cost, over $1.3 billion is federal funding that is funneled from the federal government to the Ohio Department of Transportation.[10]

As a further example of federal transportation dollars spent in local communities, in July of 2012 the Moving Ahead of Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) program was signed into law (PL 112-141). This bill funded surface transportation programs for FY13 and FY14 at over $105 billion and included funding to work on the challenges of the crumbling U.S. transportation infrastructure system including “improving safety, maintaining infrastructure condition, reducing traffic congestion, improving efficiency of the system and freight movement, protecting the environment, and reducing delays in project delivery.” [11]

As subrecipients of federal funding dollars, local communities are required to abide by the same policies and laws as the federal agencies who are funding their projects. USDOT has an Office of Civil Rights which is tasked with “ensuring that recipients of funds from the Department of Transportation (DOT) conduct their Federal assisted programs and activities in a non-discriminatory manner and in accordance with United States civil rights laws and labor laws.”[12] The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, also has an Office of Civil Rights with the same mission of ensuring compliance with federal laws dealing with civil rights and labor.

“…it [the complaint] was actually under our jurisdiction since the City of Beavercreek is a subrecipient of Federal Highway Administration funds” – Lester Finkle, former FHWA Investigator

The Office of Civil of Rights within FHWA is the entity that handled the complaint filed by ABLE and LEAD regarding the denial of the bus stop application in the City of Beavercreek. Lester Finkle was the FHWA investigator assigned to complaint and he conducted the investigation detailed in Free to Ride. In his role of investigator, Mr. Finkle worked with both parties of the complaint to discuss that process and procedures that were followed and led to the denial of the bus stop applications by Beavercreek City Council.

“So, they [the Federal Highway Administration] brought a team, basically, to our community and did, I’d say, an exhaustive investigation that included everything from walking the actual area out there to talking to every involved group, especially the impacted parties, and then to us. They spent a great deal of time here at RTA and then with representatives of the City as well.” – Mark Donaghy, Executive Director, Greater Dayton Regional Transit Administration

Voting

In a representative democracy, elected officials are tasked with governing on behalf of their constituents on issues that directly impact citizens’ lives on a daily basis. With voter turnout in the United States at historically low levels, few citizens are using the power of their vote to influence the direction of the policy of their communities through their elected representatives. Low voter participation allows small populations within a community to have a disproportionate level of control over the electoral process and thus, the policies of a community.

City councils are responsible for many aspects of local government. According to the National League of Cities, depending on applicable state laws and the city’s charter these duties may include[13]:

  • Reviewing and approving the annual budget;
  • Establishing long- and short-term objectives and priorities;
  • Overseeing performance of the local public employees;
  • Overseeing effectiveness of programs;
  • Establishing tax rates;
  • Entering into legal contracts;
  • Borrowing funds;
  • Passing ordinances and resolutions;
  • Modifying the city’s charter;
  • Regulating land use through zoning laws;
  • Regulating business activity through licensing and regulations;
  • Regulating public health and safety;
  • Exercising the power of eminent domain;
  • Communicating policies and programs to residents;
  • Responding to constituent needs and complaints; and
  • Representing the community to other levels of government.

As we see in the case of Free to Ride, this includes the power to issue or deny the necessary permits for the building of new bus stops. Furthermore, the Free to Ride story highlights the important interaction between the different levels of government, from local to federal, and how the federal government and federal funding dollars can have an influence local policy.

Elections and Voter Turnout

“[Voter] Turnout is closely linked to the policies that governments pursue“- Zoltan L. Hajnal, professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego

Decisions made in city council chambers across the United States have a direct impact on the everyday lives of Americans. Yet, voter participation in national elections has reached its lowest point since World War II.[14] Even fewer Americans vote in local elections[15], often allowing their representatives in local government to take control of millions of dollars in funding and important policies with very little monitoring or feedback from the constituencies they represent. By not making their voices heard in the electoral process, citizens allow those who are vocal and do vote to speak for the entire constituency of a community.

There are a number of factors and demographics that influence or predict turnout in elections. The competitiveness of the election and the type of election are two of these factors. Local elections, off year elections for state legislators, runoff elections and primary elections historically have garnered the lowest levels of voter participation.[16]

Demographics and Voter Turnout[17]

 

Age Older citizens are significantly more likely to vote than younger citizens. 18-29 year olds generally have a turnout rate of 15-20 points lower than voters over the age of 30.
Race/Ethnicity The 2012 election of President Barack Obama was the first time that black voter turnout exceeded white voter turnout. In this election there were also significant variations among the voting rates of black and white voters versus that of Asians and Hispanics, with black and white turnout approximately 20 points higher than that of Asians and Hispanics.
Gender Women have voted at higher rates than men since 1980.
Socioeconomic Status Wealthy Americans are significantly more likely to vote than poor Americans. In the 2008 presidential election, only 41% of eligible voters who made less than $15,000 a year voted. Comparatively, 78% of eligible voters who make more than $150,000 voted in that election.

The significant disparity between voting rates of different levels of socioeconomic status has been quantified by researchers as a factor in the unequal responsiveness from politicians to low income constituents versus wealthy constituents. A 2012 study by Thomas Hayes of the University of Connecticut examined the United States Senate from the 107th to the 111th Congresses and found “a clear bias in responsiveness toward the wealthy” by Senators[18]. Lower income constituents were not better represented during periods of power by either party, but instead consistently undermined for the opinions of those in higher income brackets.[19]

Local elections are the place where voter turnout can often have the most direct impact on a community. Low voter turnout is responsible for under-representation in city halls across the United States for minority populations. This lack of voter participation directly affects how cities spend their money. Municipalities with higher rates of minority voters spent more money on welfare and social safety net programs than those communities with lower turnout.[20] By not showing up at the polls, minority voters create an imbalance of power that is felt deeply outside of the voting booth. Higher rates of voter participation thus create more equitable and opportunity-rich communities for all constituencies. In his 2010 book America’s Uneven Democracy, Professor Zoltan L. Hajnal argues that “expanded turnout could increase the amount of money going to redistributed programs by a third.”[21] These are the programs that often provide supportive services for low-income and disadvantaged groups.

“…equity advocates have been pushing folks in city councils, board of supervisors and other elected leaders to really think about how do you make sure there’s meaningful participation and decision power is given to local residents so they can be driving decisions and bringing information that helps to avoid situations of discrimination like we saw in Beavercreek.” – Anita Hariston, Associate Director, PolicyLink

Conclusion

The demographics of who votes in local elections has a large influence on who is elected to local political offices. These officials and the cities that they run are often subrecipients of federal funding dollars and therefore are required to abide by the rules and regulations that govern and are implemented by federal government agencies. As we see in the case of Free to Ride, FHWA had the ability to influence local government in Beavercreek because of the money spent to help build the roads that run through Beavercreek and provide it access to the rest of the region.

Title VI Case Study: Atlanta’s MARTA System

The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) was created in 1965, with recommendations to build a rail system that spanned 66-miles through five counties in conjunction with a feeder bus operation and park-and-ride facilities. MARTA has become the nation’s ninth largest public transportation system, serving 420,000 weekday passengers. For its large network of bus and train routes, MARTA came under similar legal accusations seen in Free to Ride, but with a very different outcome.

Director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center for Clark Atlanta University, Robert Bullard, notes “for many white suburbanites, “MARTA” stands for “Moving Africans Rapidly through Atlanta.” This fact punctuates not only how entrenched race is with Atlanta’s public transportation system, but displays the disturbing perception of the city’s transit riders.

Although 75% of MARTA’s riders are African American, MARTA has ironically been accused of not maintaining the same quality of service for its riders in minority communities. In a 2005 article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, one MARTA rider exclaimed: “I think the nicer trains are sent to the northern suburbs while the STANKY old 1977 original trains are sent to the Indian Creek station, and all points west of it.” Like in Free to Ride the Metropolitan Atlanta Transportation Equity Coalition (MATEC) filed an administrative complaint in 2000 with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). MATEC charged MARTA with a failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act- the same charge brought to Beavercreek in Free to Ride. They claimed that a disproportionate number of MARTA’s overcrowded bus lines were in minority communities and that these communities lacked clean compressed natural gas buses and bus shelters. MATEC reported that disabled riders often faced malfunctioning equipment and endured long delays and trips before reaching their destination.

Unlike the favorable outcome in Free to Ride, DOT ruled that MARTA did not appear to limit access and was being compliant with all regulations. Like in Atlanta, the Bay Area suffers from the same transportation issues, but the Bay area case study also highlights the connection between transit and housing patterns.

Additional Readings:

“Voting Rights Require Organization and Legislation,” http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/08/05/ensuring-voting-rights-in-the-21st-century/voting-rights-require-organization-and-legislation

“Rethinking the Ideal City Government Will Be Messy,” https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/city-government-size-structure-experiment?utm_source=Greater+Ohio+Supporters&utm_campaign=bb4bace986-News_Clips_7_17_2015&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_2071c20964-bb4bace986-388510153

Discussion Questions:

What is the structure and style of your local government?

How are decisions and laws made in your community? What is the balance of power?

What kind of a relationship does your city have with neighboring communities in the region?

From where do local municipalities get their governing authority? 

Bibliography

About the Departmental Office of Civil Rights. (n.d.). Retrieved October 6, 2015, from https://www.civilrights.dot.gov/about-docr

Burgess, P. Planning for the Private Interest: Land Use Controls and Residential Patterns in Columbus, Ohio, 1900-1970. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.

The Center for Voting and Democracy: What Affects Voter Turnout Rates. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.fairvote.org/research-and-analysis/voter-turnout/what-affects-voter-turnout-rates/

City of Beavercreek. (1981). City of Beavercreek Charter. Retrieved from http://www.amlegal.com/nxt/gateway.dll/Ohio/beavercreek_oh/cityofbeavercreekohiocodeofordinances/charter?f=templates$fn=default.htm$3.0$vid=amlegal:beavercreek_oh

Hajnal, Z. (2010). America’s uneven democracy: Race, turnout, and representation in city politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hajnal, Z. (2015, March 15). Where does America’s low voter turnout matter the most? In local elections. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2015/03/24/where-does-americas-low-voter-turnout-matter-the-most-in-local-elections/

Hayes, T. (2012). Responsiveness in an Era of Inequality: The Case of the U.S. Senate. Political Research Quarterly, (66), 585-599.

Legislative Service Commission. (2010). Members Only: Municipal Home Rule. Retrieved from http://www.lsc.ohio.gov/membersonly/128municipalhomerule.pdf

Malm, L., & Kant, E. (2013, January 28). The Sources of State and Local Tax Revenues. The Tax Foundation.

Montanaro, D., Wellford, R., & Pathe, S. (2014, November 10). 2014 midterm election turnout lowest in 70 years. PBS Morning Line. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/2014-midterm-election-turnout-lowest-in-70-years/

National League of Cities: City Councils. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.nlc.org/build-skills-and-networks/resources/cities-101/city-officials/city-councils

National League of Cities: Local Government Authority. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.nlc.org/build-skills-and-networks/resources/cities-101/city-powers/local-government-authority

Ohio Office of Budget Management. (n.d.) Department of Transportation. Retrieved from http://obm.ohio.gov/Budget/operating/doc/fy-14-15/bluebook/budget/Section-D_DOT.pdf

U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. (n.d.). FHWA FY2015 Budget. Retrieved from https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/FHWA-FY2015-Budget-Estimates.pdf

U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. (2012). A Summary of Highway Provisions – MAP-21 – Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century. Retrieved from https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/map21/summaryinfo.cfm


[1] Burgess, P. Planning for the Private Interest: Land Use Controls and Residential Patterns in Columbus, Ohio, 1900-1970. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. NEED PAGE NUMBER

[2] City of Beavercreek. (1981). City of Beavercreek Charter. Retrieved from http://www.amlegal.com/nxt/gateway.dll/Ohio/beavercreek_oh/cityofbeavercreekohiocodeofordinances/charter?f=templates$fn=default.htm$3.0$vid=amlegal:beavercreek_oh

[3]City of Beavercreek Charter.

[4] City of Beavercreek Charter.

[5] Malm, L., & Kant, E. (2013, January 28). The Sources of State and Local Tax Revenues. The Tax

Foundation.

[6] Three blows to local government: Loss in state aid, estate tax, property tax rollback. (2013, July 24). Retrieved February 1, 2016, from http://www.policymattersohio.org/local-gov-jul2013

[7] Impact of Ohio’s 2012-2013 State Budget (HB 153). (2012, November 2). Retrieved February 1, 2015, from http://www.policymattersohio.org/greene-county

[8] Cornell, M. (2013). City of Beavercreek 2014 Municipal Budget (Rep)

[9] U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. (n.d.). FHWA FY2015

Budget. Retrieved from https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/FHWA-FY2015-Budget-Estimates.pdf

[10] Ohio Office of Budget Management. (n.d.) Department of Transportation. Retrieved from http://obm.ohio.gov/Budget/operating/doc/fy-14-15/bluebook/budget/Section-D_DOT.pdf

[11] U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. (2012). A Summary of Highway Provisions – MAP-21 – Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century. Retrieved from https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/map21/summaryinfo.cfm

[12] About the Departmental Office of Civil Rights. (n.d.). Retrieved October 6, 2015, from https://www.civilrights.dot.gov/about-docr

[13] National League of Cities: City Councils. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.nlc.org/build-skills-and-networks/resources/cities-101/city-officials/city-councils

[14] Montanaro, D., Wellford, R., & Pathe, S. (2014, November 10). 2014 midterm election turnout lowest in 70 years. PBS Morning Line. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/2014-midterm-election-turnout-lowest-in-70-years/

[15] The Center for Voting and Democracy: What Affects Voter Turnout Rates. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.fairvote.org/research-and-analysis/voter-turnout/what-affects-voter-turnout-rates/

[16] The Center for Voting and Democracy: What Affects Voter Turnout Rates. (n.d.).

[17] The Center for Voting and Democracy: What Affects Voter Turnout Rates. (n.d.).

[18] Hayes, T. (2012). Responsiveness in an Era of Inequality: The Case of the U.S. Senate. Political Research Quarterly, (66), 595.

[19] Hayes, T. (2012). 595.

[20] Hajnal, Z. (2015, March 15). Where does America’s low voter turnout matter the most? In local elections. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2015/03/24/where-does-americas-low-voter-turnout-matter-the-most-in-local-elections/

[21] Hajnal, Z. (2010). America’s uneven democracy: Race, turnout, and representation in city politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 139.

[22] Legislative Service Commission. (2010). Members Only: Municipal Home Rule. Retrieved from

http://www.lsc.ohio.gov/membersonly/128municipalhomerule.pdf

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