There has been an emphasis this year to celebrate the Constitution of the United States. Constitution Day is September 17, in commemoration of the signing of the Constitution on September 17, 1787. Not to be confused with the Declaration of Independence which announced separation from and intent to form a new nation; eleven years later the Constitution sets up the foundation of governing this new nation now separated from English law.
I thought it appropriate to point out some of the influences the nation’s Constitution has on municipalities.
The Constitution sets up the branches of government on the Federal level and on a local level there are many similarities to this division of power. Both have legislative and executive roles in government. City Council acts legislatively and must find agreement to set the laws we will live by in city code. The role of Mayor serves in an executive role for the city to execute the plan voted on by the council. These are similarities, not direct parallels.
The Constitution sets limitations for the government. Local government shall not make a law contrary to those constitutional rights. The first amendment protection of free speech and peaceful assembly are municipal fundamentals.
The Constitution sets up the framework for local government to manage local issues differently. On a National level, we hear it called State rights because, upon the very founding of our nation, we began as colonies (communities) fleeing among other things what they felt was government overreach. Each community was allowed to have a different vision for what was best in their colony/state, and likewise, similar principles allow cities to set some different regulations within their borders such as zoning and ordinances.
Property rights largely have a foundation in the Constitution. People tend to steward their own property in relation to what exists around them, forgetting that their right to manage property does require neighboring property owners to continue in the status quo. If you want to be next to a farm for example, that will only be true as long as the property owner next to you continues to manage his property as a farm.
The fifth amendment sets up critical municipal essentials such as eminent domain and due process. One person can not prevent the benefit of the whole community. Neither can such a decision be made in haste. Interesting how many who agree with government action find the process long and tedious while those against an action reflect things are pushed forward aggressively. Due process is to be a protection, not a hindrance.
These are not the only elements of the Constitution active in city government, but I call on everyone to celebrate the fact that at all levels of government, we are protected, empowered, and blessed by this Constitution.