At the November 2, 2010 general election, the voters of Michigan will decide whether to call a constitutional convention to revise the 1963 Michigan Constitution. The question appears on the ballot automatically every 16 years as required by the Constitution. The Constitution provides that a convention would convene in Lansing on October 4, 2011. If the question is rejected, it will automatically appear on the ballot again in the year 2026.
The Citizens Research Council of Michigan takes no position on the question of calling a constitutional convention. It is hoped that examination of the matters identified in this paper will promote discussion of vital constitutional issues and assist citizens in deliberations on the question of calling a constitutional convention.
In addition to providing authority and power to the three branches of state government, the Michigan Constitution authorizes and empowers local governments. For counties and townships, the constitutional provisions describe their structure and powers. For cities and villages (and to a lesser extent charter counties), the constitution authorizes home rule provisions for their own self governance. A constitutional convention might be expected to examine the structure of local government in Michigan, the strength of home rule that should be authorized, the use of metropolitan government, and the removal of elected officials.
Local government finance will be discussed in context of our analysis of Article IX — Finance and Taxation.
Thus far, the Citizens Research Council’s series of papers analyzing constitutional issues has focused on citizens’ rights, the electorate, and the three branches of government. This paper focuses on public corporations, which are organizational structures that may be vested with constitutional status. Public corporations may be divided into two categories: (1) municipal corporations and other local governmental units including counties, townships, and metropolitan districts and (2) public corporations organized for specific purposes, such as the state universities. While both types of public corporations are of constitutional concern, this paper is confined to the questions respecting the constitutional position and authority of municipal corporations — including the important question of home rule status.
Local Government Structure in Michigan
Much of Michigan’s system of local government organization was established in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, and was institutionalized in the 1835, 1850, 1908, and 1963 Constitutions. The 1963 Constitution made relatively few changes in the basic structure of local government. The system of local government in Michigan is composed of counties, townships, cities, villages, and special districts. The number of local units in Michigan has changed relatively little since the 1963 Constitution was adopted.
General-purpose local units of government — counties, cities, villages, and townships — provide a broad range of services. The entire state is organized into counties and each citizen lives in one county. The entire state is also organized into cities and townships and each citizen lives in either a city or a township, but not in both — they do not overlap. A township resident might also live in a village, which has its own government, but also remains part of the township.