The City of Matthews Town Commissioners did something interesting this week. They passed a “Resolution opposing legislation that diminishes local government control.” It’s a short document, just one page, and it’s pretty straightforward. Essentially it says that the Town Commissioners believe the state is overstepping, not allowing “municipal and county governments to govern their citizens in the manner they deem appropriate.”
I’m a small government gal. Not only will I pretty much always opt for less government, but I’d prefer that what government we do have is as close as possible to the people. That’s one reason I argued last week that Raleigh’s Airbnb question could better be addressed by homeowners associations than by city government. I don’t know very many people who really like HOAs, but they are right there in the neighborhood, made up of your neighbors. They’re certainly easier to influence than the city government, and it’s fairly easy to opt out if you decide you really don’t like their covenants. Moving is a pain, but you can do it without having to change jobs, move your kids to a new school, or sever ties with friends and your community.
It’s also why I like the Tenth Amendment. “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” States are closer to the people than the federal government, so the Founders decided that any power not specifically delegated to the federal government should remain there with the states. You see the dynamic? Everything sits with the states unless it’s given by those states to the feds. The presumption is for government at a lower level. (There is much debate about whether this principle really operates at all in the US anymore, but the design is pretty clear.)
So if you expected states to operate using the same principles as those laid out in the Constitution for the federal government, then you’d think that the Matthews resolution made perfect sense. Indeed, I see the logic. But that’s not how the North Carolina Constitution is written. It actually works just the other way around. Article VII, Section 1 reads
The General Assembly shall provide for the organization and government and the fixing of boundaries of counties, cities and towns, and other governmental subdivisions, and, except as otherwise prohibited by this Constitution, may give such powers and duties to counties, cities and towns, and other governmental subdivisions as it may deem advisable. (emphasis added)
Not every state is set up this way, and we can argue about whether this is the right way to structure local government. But the NC State Constitution really couldn’t be clearer. So when the Matthews resolution states,
…the Matthews Board of Commissioners strongly believes … that it is the role of the duly elected legislative body of the Town of Matthews to prevent the usurpation of its power to self-govern by the North Carolina General Assembly…
Well, they don’t have a leg to stand on.
I’m sympathetic to Matthews. I’m sure it’s frustrating to the Board of Commissioners to feel like they can’t make the decisions they wish to make. It’s frustrating to me when I feel like my boss won’t let me do my job the way I’d like. But the law is what it is, and it’s going to take more than a local resolution to change that. It would require an amendment to the State Constitution, and that’s a rather more difficult thing to achieve.