Model City Charter—9th Edition: Article I: Powers of the City


A charter should begin by defining the scope of the city’s powers. It should address the context in which such powers operate, including the effect of state law and the desirability of cooperation with other localities.

Section 1.01. Powers of the City.

The city shall have all powers possible for a city to have under the constitution and laws of this state as fully and completely as though they were specifically enumerated in this charter.


The city should lay claim to all powers it may legally exercise under the state’s constitution and laws.

Nevertheless, some cities, particularly smaller ones, may not wish to exercise all available powers. Cities may restrict their own power: (1) by specific provisions in the appropriate parts of the charter; (2) by ordinance, since the section does not require that all the powers claimed be exercised; or (3) by inaction—i.e., failure to exercise powers. The powers of the city may also be limited by state or federal court decisions.

This section ensures that the city claims the entirety of the grant of authority available to it from the state. Through this means, the charter is restricted from embracing less in its terms than the constitutional home rule grant allows or from containing an inadvertent omission or ambiguity that could open the door to restrictive judicial interpretation. This is the most that the charter can do as the extent of the powers available to the city will depend on the state’s constitution and statutes and judicial decisions.

The general powers provision of a charter must be tailored to the laws of each state. The courts of some states do not give effect to a charter statement of powers expressed in general terms. Instead, they require that the charter enumerate all of the powers claimed. The words ―as fully and completely as though they were specifically enumerated in this charter, at the end of § 1.01—, cannot be used in a charter in a state that requires the enumeration of powers.

Charter drafters should carefully study their state’s law on local government powers before using this Model provision. To reduce the likelihood of restrictive judicial interpretation, a section like § 1.02 below should accompany this section.

Questions of restrictive court interpretation aside, and assuming that a state’s law does not require an enumeration, this section may be utilized effectively under any of the existing types of home rule grant, as well as that of the Model State Constitution (6th Edition, 1968) published by the National Municipal League. It may be used regardless of whether the home rule grant appears in a constitution, optional charter law, or other general enabling act.

Section 1.02. Construction.

The powers of the city under this charter shall be construed liberally in favor of the city, and the specific mention of particular powers in the charter shall not be construed as limiting in any way the general power granted in this article.


A charter should encourage courts to interpret the powers of the city as broadly as possible. Such a provision discourages a restrictive interpretation of the general powers statement in § 1.01. If the charter enumerates powers, this section may prevent courts from interpreting the list of specific powers as evidencing intent to exclude other or broader powers.

Section 1.03. Intergovernmental Relations.

The city may participate by contract or otherwise with any governmental entity of this state or any other state or states or the United States in the performance of any activity which one or more of such entities has the authority to undertake.


This section empowers the city to participate in intergovernmental relationships—to receive assistance from the federal, state, and other local governments, to be represented in regional agencies established under federal or state law or intergovernmental agreements, and to perform jointly with any other governmental jurisdiction any function which any of the participating jurisdictions may perform alone.

The nature of intergovernmental relations is rapidly changing. Most cities are an integral part of a region. In that regard, engaging in cooperative intergovernmental relations is fundamental to the effective functioning of a city and the region of which it is a part. Although the purpose of engaging in intergovernmental relations is primarily to further the ends of the city, the health of the region should also be of concern to the city.

Superior state statutes (such as a general powers provision), which cannot be altered by a charter provision, may govern an intergovernmental relations provision. States may enact these on an ad hoc basis, each dealing with a particular project, program, or regional or metropolitan agency. With intergovernmental agreements becoming more common, states may have general intergovernmental authorizing statutes or constitutional provisions.

For example, New Hampshire state law provides: N.H.R.S. Title 3, Chapter 53-A:1 Agreements between government units.

Purpose. – It is the purpose of this chapter to permit municipalities and counties to make the most efficient use of their powers by enabling them to cooperate with other municipalities and counties on a basis of mutual advantage and thereby to provide services and facilities in a manner and pursuant to forms of governmental organization that will accord best with geographic, economic, population, and other factors influencing the needs and development of local communities.

If states have neither specific nor general authorization, charter drafters should look for court opinions on intergovernmental agreements in the state. Courts may provide guidance on the extent of a city’s power to cooperate with other governments in the absence of enabling state legislation. Specific legislation on intergovernmental agreements often involves political questions and considerations of state constitutional and statutory limitations on cities’ financial and borrowing powers. In joint federal-municipal projects involving substantial sums, state legislative control over municipal powers, coupled with restrictive judicial doctrines, may require specific state legislative approval.

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