Local Government 101: Other Town Government Forms
in Educational /
Ask most people to identify the forms of local government and they will usually say mayor-council (strong-mayor) and council-manager. Every once in a while someone will pipe up and mention commission, but usually they live in a small town that has that government structure. Actually, there are three other forms of local government that can be found in small towns: commission, town meeting, and representative town meeting.
Each of the three minor forms of government has distinct defining characteristics. Each of these structures speaks to towns with smaller populations. They could not function effectively in larger cities so it is easy to draw a line between these three and the two more common government types.
Commission Form of Government Defined
This is the oldest government structure in the United States. However, today it can be found in less than 1 percent of cities nationwide and those cities typically have populations that fall below 100,000. Fairview, Tennessee and Sunrise, Florida are two cities that use this form of government.
Under this government, individual commissioners are elected by voters. Those commissioners make up the governing board and one is designated as mayor or chairman. This official presides over the meetings. Each elected commissioner is assigned the responsibility of one section of the social infrastructure of the city, including public works, fiancé, police, health, and fire. It functions both on the executive and legislative levels.
Town Meeting Form of Government Defined
This form of government, practiced by just 5 percent of United States municipalities. It is, however, considered to be democracy in its purest form. This is because it give a voice to all eligible voters on decisions regarding local policy. Marblehead, Massachusetts uses the town meeting form of government.
Voters elect officials who then carry out policies that the voters decide. It is a form of government where the voter truly participates in their government.
Representative Town Meeting Form of Government Defined
This is a rare form of U.S. government, less than 1 percent of cities use it. It is almost exclusively confined to small municipalities in New England including Lexington, Massachusetts and Bowdoin, Maine.
Voters choose a group of citizens who act as representatives at the town meeting. These representatives, or selectmen, are the only ones who are able to vote on issues and assume the responsibility of policy implementation. When a town meeting is planned, a warrant announces it and includes the date, time, and meeting location as well as an agenda of items that will be voted on and discussed.