Update on the Model City Charter Revision Project

The League’s effort to review and update the Model City Charter is moving forward according to plan.

On March 23rd, the project’s Steering Committee held its second meeting to review the preliminary recommendations from the five working groups that have been meeting monthly to discuss proposed changes to the model charter.

Three of the working groups have been meeting since September, 2020 (Mayors and Councils, City Managers/Operations/Finance and Budgets, and Community Members/Pubic Engagement/Technology and Social Media); two groups (Social Equity and Legal Issues/City Attorneys/Home Rule) have being meeting since January, 2021.

So far, thanks to the COVID pandemic, all project meetings have been conducted on Zoom. Nevertheless, the discussions have been lively and engaged, with substantive conversations on everything from elections to the role of the public in problem-solving and decision-making. The use of Zoom has also made it possible to hold a larger number of meetings and to save money on transportation.

The project was officially launched in November when the Steering Committee held its first meeting, but a task force of the League’s board of directors has been meeting monthly since January 2020 to oversee the project.

The Steering Committee and working groups include representatives from membership organizations such as the National League of Cities, International City/County Management Association, the American Bar Association, International Municipal Lawyers Association, Government Finance Officers Association, National Academy of Public Administration and American Society for Public Administration, as well as individual scholars, elected officials, public managers, representatives of advocacy groups and consultants.

The Model City Charter is a document that countless American towns, cities and villages have consulted to draft or revise their own local home rule charters. It was first published in 1900 at a time when municipal reformers believed that many city governments were corruptly and inefficiently managed.

In addition to the traditional emphasis on efficiency, economy and effectiveness, the next model will reflect up-to-date ideas on issues such as equity, public engagement and the use of technology and social media.

Several members of the working groups have suggested that the city council/city manager form of government, which the model has endorsed since 1915, is poorly understood by the public. They suggest providing more context in clarifying the respective leadership roles of mayors, council-members and appointed managers.

The last Model City Charter, the Eighth Edition, was published in 2003 after a two-year review and revision process. This time around the League has streamlined the process and is planning to release the Ninth Edition by November of 2021.

To learn more, read James Svara’s National Civic Review article, “Revising the Model City Charter: The Case for Change,” or contact Mike McGrath at [email protected].

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