Phoenix--There are almost 90,000 local governments in America, with an average of one new local government born each day. Few are models of limited government restrained by a system of checks and balances. Often they are unaccountable, and special interest-driven. Facing a maze of regulations and powerful local bureaucracies, ordinary citizens often can't fight City Hall. They need a concrete set of rights to protect them from the abuses of local government--the equivalent of a local bill of rights.
Today the Goldwater Institute released "A New Charter for American Cities: 10 Rights to Restrain Government and Protect Freedom." This ground-breaking report recommends enacting a "Local Liberty Charter" consisting of 10 judicially enforceable rights to rein-in out-of-control local governments.
"The Local Liberty Charter is not a pledge signed by politicians," said Nick Dranias, Goldwater Institute constitutional policy director and author of the report. "It is meant to be enforceable in court by ordinary citizens. Each right would be implemented by policies that furnish a private right of action, empowering individuals to file lawsuits, when necessary, to compel local governmental officials to respect freedom and perform their legitimate responsibilities."
The Local Liberty Charter is designed to become part of a local government's charter or statutory legal framework. It would function as a constraint on all ordinances and regulations that a local government passed, much like a constitution defines and restricts the powers of state and federal government.
The Local Liberty Charter is a trailblazing roadmap for local government reform. The 10 rights in "A New Charter for American Cities" are:
Right 1: The Right to a Presumption of Liberty.
Like the Declaration of Independence, the Local Liberty Charter presumes citizens are free to act peaceably and honestly without legal restraint. Therefore, the Local Liberty Charter requires simplifying or reducing burdensome regulation through 'sunrise' and 'sunset' review, and eliminating regulatory delay.
Right 2: The Right to Use and Enjoy Property.
As long as they do not violate the rights of others, property owners should have the right to develop and use their property however they wish. The Local Liberty Charter requires simplifying and eliminating land use regulations and transforming zoning into a freedom-friendly legal framework.
Right 3: The Right to Separation of Powers.
Municipalities typically concentrate executive, legislative, and quasi-judicial power into one unchecked entity, increasing the likelihood of power abuses and biased decision-making. The Local Liberty Charter requires diffusing the concentration of local power, and giving citizens hurt by local government action the option to request alternative dispute resolution.
Right 4: The Right to Freedom from Crime.
Protecting citizens from crime is government's core function. The Local Liberty Charter requires performance benchmarking for law enforcement, using overtime as an incentive for high performance, and contracting out failing police departments to other localities.
Right 5: The Right to Fiscally Responsible Government.
Government at any level should not be larger than necessary and should be fiscally accountable to its citizens. The Local Liberty Charter requires outsourcing services, keeping government spending from exceeding growth in population and inflation, and limiting the business of local government to core functions.
Rights 6: The Right to Freedom from Favoritism.
Local governments should not be in the business of singling out individuals or groups for special benefits or harms. The Local Liberty Charter requires eliminating laws, taxes and spending that unfairly single out a particular person or group for benefit or harm.
Rights 7: The Right to Accountability.
Government officials serve the people and should be held accountable for their actions. The Local Liberty Charter requires a "three strikes you're out" policy for public officials who repeatedly misapply the law. Under this policy, nonelected public officials would be terminated if they violate the law, causing citizens to suffer substantial harm, on three occasions.
Rights 8: The Right to Genuine Local Sovereignty.
The offer of federal funds is tempting, but often comes with strings attached that require matched spending by state and local governments. Additionally, new federal regulations are often implemented without local government coordination. The Local Liberty Charter requires cities, counties and towns to reject federal funds that come with strings attached and obligates local officials to demand coordination from federal agencies to stop the implementation of burdensome federal regulations.
Rights 9: The Right to Transparency.
Transparency in government is crucial to holding public officials accountable and preventing corruption. The Local Liberty Charter requires the public posting of government financial information, deadlines for public records requests to be granted, disclosure of critical public information, such as performance benchmarking, and open municipal contracting.
Right 10: The Right to Reconstitute Local Government.
When local government goes bad, sometimes the best answer is to hit the "reset" button. The Local Liberty Charter requires allowing citizens to vote for "none of the above" when all candidates on a ticket are unacceptable, to dissolve unaccountable special districts, and to mandate bankruptcy filing by fiscally irresponsible localities.
Click here to read "A New Charter for American Cities: 10 Rights to Restrain Government and Protect Freedom" or have a copy mailed to you by calling (602) 462-5000.
About the author: Nick Dranias holds the Goldwater Institute Clarence J. and Katherine P. Duncan chair for constitutional government and is the director of the Institute's Dorothy D. and Joseph A. Moller Center for Constitutional Government.
The Goldwater Institute is a nonprofit public policy research and litigation organization whose work is made possible by the generosity of its supporters.