Home rule. Just saying it can be polarizing and there are clear and compelling competing points of view to back each position. On one side, some will point to cities where it works very well as examples for the need to protect it. On the other side, those opposed will point to municipalities where elements of dysfunction exist at the local level to justify the need for changing or removing it.
There we have it…two sides of the home rule coin, with each representing a perspective in conflict with the other.
As the 2016 Legislative Session approaches, we as city officials need to understand that our ideal of home rule and the more centralized top-down approach to decision making envisioned by some will be in conflict from time-to-time. It’s an important distinction in governance and directly impacts how we, and our county and school counterparts, respond on a day-to-day basis to the needs and wants of our communities. Are policy decisions and resources allocated from the top down, or are these decisions best made by local decision makers?
As we prepare for the upcoming Legislative Session, it is important for us in the short-term to evaluate whether proposed legislation balances what is needed state-wide against what is needed at the local level. And if local autonomy is the better choice, we should not be hesitant to say so. Let’s not be timid in advocating the basic home rule tenant that local officials are in the best position to make local decisions affecting the everyday health and welfare of their residents.
For the longer term, however, I believe it’s time for us to think of home rule as the key component of our brand. Our brand is “cities” and to build our brand, we must provide a consistent message. That is not always easy. With the influx of 400-500 new city officials every two years, new personalities and priorities are bound to shake things up in our communities, and that’s good for democracy. But we cannot let those things take us off course; we must consistently advocate in word and deed for “cities” to stand for good government.
It will only be through thoughtful decision making and consistent actions at the local level that our state leaders will see us create accountability, relevancy and trust. Without those three things, when we say “home rule” all they will hear is “leave us alone” when what we want them to hear is “we’ve got this; we can solve this at the local level, which will allow you to focus more on state-wide issues.” In order to preserve home rule, each one of us must take ownership of our collective city brand and be a champion of local decision making.