Q: What exactly does “home rule” mean for Ohio’s municipalities?
A: “Home rule” power is special authority granted to municipalities (such as cities and villages) through Article XVIII of Ohio’s Constitution. It allows municipalities to create laws and take action for which the Ohio Revised Code does not specifically give authority. Home rule essentially gives municipalities more power and flexibility.
There are three distinct home rule powers: the power of local self-government, exercise of police powers and ownership and operation of public utilities. The power of local self-government allows municipalities to regulate matters solely related to the governance and administration of their internal affairs. This includes the form of government, internal organization, the control and use of certain public property, the procedure for the sale of municipal property, regulation of municipal streets, and the salaries of municipal officers and employees. Home rule also gives municipalities policing power, which includes the authority to make regulations for the municipality’s general welfare, including its public health, safety and morals. Examples include zoning, animal control and traffic regulations. To take full advantage of home rule authority, a city or village will adopt a charter.
Q: What is a charter?
A: A municipal charter is a document that outlines how a city or village is run and how the power is divided. Any municipality may frame and adopt or amend a charter for its government. The charter is sometimes described as the constitution for a city or village and must be passed by the voters in the municipality.
A municipality does not need a charter to have home rule authority, but charters allow municipalities to gain additional freedom from the state legislature to handle local affairs as much as possible under the home rule provision.
Non-charter municipalities are more limited in their use of home rule authority because they must follow one of four statutory forms of government, while municipalities with charters can deviate from Ohio law both substantively and procedurally. Also, courts show greater deference to the home rule authority of a charter municipality.
Q: When does a municipality’s use of home rule go too far?
A: There are some limits on when a municipality can use its police powers to adopt an ordinance that conflicts with state law. If the state law is considered a “general” law, then state statute takes precedence over a local ordinance. For example, if you are charged with reckless operation of a motor vehicle, it may be a first-degree misdemeanor at the local level with the possibility of a $1,000 fine and up to 180 days in prison. In the state code, however, reckless operation is only a minor misdemeanor with no jail time and a fine of up to $150. So, if you are charged with a first-degree misdemeanor offense under a city code, and the same offense is only a minor misdemeanor under the state code, then you can request a plea bargain and agree to plead guilty under the state code section.
Typically, courts determine a law to be “general” when it: (1) is part of a statewide and comprehensive legislative enactment; (2) applies to all parts of the state and operates uniformly throughout the state; (3) provides actual police, sanitary or similar regulations and standards rather than just broadly granting or limiting the legislative power of a municipality to create police, sanitary, or similar regulations; and (4) prescribes a rule of conduct on citizens generally. The Supreme Court of Ohio recently found local laws that tried to further regulate guns and oil and gas drilling beyond the statewide legislative enactments to be unconstitutional.
Q: Why does “home rule” matter to me as a resident of an Ohio city or village?
A: If you live in a chartered municipality with full home rule authority, your local government is more easily able to meet residents’ needs and reduce the amount of state legislative interference in local affairs. Home rule also gives municipalities more flexibility to determine the form and administrative organization of local government, and permits its residents to have a greater voice in determining local policies.
For example, home rule allows residents flexibility in how to elect city council members, and for the city’s administration to be led by an elected mayor or a hired manager/administrator. Home rule also allows municipalities to create their own zoning regulations, and permits flexibility for how mayors’ courts are run.
This “Law You Can Use” consumer legal information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by Philip Hartmann, an attorney in the Columbus office of Frost Brown Todd LLC.