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Thinking about home rule? Some practical considerations.

By Tami Tanoue, Executive Director

“Home rule” is a wonderful thing. A home rule charter is the embodiment of a vision: the citizens’ vision of the powers and responsibilities that they want their community to have, and the ways in which those powers and responsibilities are to be exercised. With about 100 cities and towns having gone home rule over the decades since the concept was enshrined in the Colorado Constitution, you’re definitely in good company if your community is considering it!

But let’s look at some practical issues. Is your city or town going through a tumultuous period? If so, the timing may be bad for considering home rule. Local politics that are marked by distrust, division, or discord may not bode well for a home rule charter. In a negative political environment, it’s unlikely that the charter will reflect any faith and trust in representative government, and it’s going to be hard to take a long-range, big-picture view of the community and its future. The charter will accordingly be stuck on today’s “hot button” issues, which will not be tomorrow’s “hot button” issues! The result, at best, could be a lousy charter.

Or what if home rule only has one enthusiastic proponent…you? And the rest of the Council or Board hasn’t been consulted, or seems to be indifferent or divided? That’s another bad sign! Ultimately, home rule is an exercise of civic responsibility by the citizens: there’s a petition, an election on the question of whether to look at home rule and to select home rule commission members, a period of work by the commission, and then another election to see if the citizens like the commission’s end product (or not). But that doesn’t mean that the role of the governing body should be overlooked. If your Council or Board isn’t solidly behind the effort, then there’s not going to be any enthusiasm for the venture among the citizens, either.

So look for a time when there’s some stability, trust, and harmony in the community, and positive feelings towards municipal government. And then lay the groundwork. Read the excellent publications that CML has produced on home rule. Contact some municipalities that have successfully navigated the home rule process recently, and maybe learn some lessons from those that weren’t successful. Talk with your municipal attorney about issues or problems that being non-home rule has created for your city or town. Take a look at some examples of excellent home rule charters. (I’m partial to Loveland’s and Frisco’s, myself. I may be a bit biased.)

Learn the pros and cons of home rule.  Make sure the whole Council or Board has an introduction to home rule, and is comfortable with exploring it. Call in CML to educate the community on home rule concepts. If there’s enthusiasm, especially among the community’s opinion leaders, great! You’ve got a good shot now at a successful effort to draft and adopt an excellent charter.

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