Thursday, January 29, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Decoding Different City Plans (1/29)

Question: Are cities all the same? What difference does my city’s form of government make?

Answer: I was giving a presentation this weekend when an important question came up. What is the difference between a statutory and home rule charter city? What difference does the form of city government make? I realized that I take for granted my understanding of this issue. This wasn’t the first time that I got this question, so I thought I would blog about the similarities and differences of statutory and home rule charter cities.

Let’s start with the basics. Minnesota has two types of cities: statutory and home rule charter. Of the 852 cities in Minnesota, 745 cities (87%) are statutory cities. Statutory cities operate under the statutory city code and other statutes that apply to all cities. Although all statutory cities possess the same basic powers, the city code allows cities to select one of several forms of organization.

There are currently 107 home rule charters cities (13%). State law allows any city to adopt a charter, which is a local constitution approved by the local voters. Charters may provide for any form of city government subject only to state laws that apply to all Minnesota cities.

So what is the difference between statutory and charter cities?
The major difference is where cities derive their power and authority. Statutory cities derive many of their powers from Minnesota Statute Chapter 412. Home rule charter cities obtain their powers from a home rule charter, although some state statutes grant or limit the powers of home rule charter cities.

Now things get a little more complicated. There are three “plans” or forms of organization for statutory cities: Standard Plan, Optional Plan A, and Optional Plan B. Below is a chart to better understand the similarities and differences between these statutory forms of government:

Standard Plan
Plan A
Plan B (only pop. > 1,000)
Form of government
Weak mayor
Weak mayor
Citizens elect clerk and treasurer
Council appoints clerk and treasurer
Manager appoints clerk and treasurer
Council composition
Mayor, elected clerk, and 3-5 councilmembers
Mayor and 4-6 councilmembers
Mayor and 4-6 councilmembers
Authority state statute provides to council
Policy/legislative and administrative decisions
Policy/legislative and administrative decisions
Policy/legislative decisions only (manager responsible for administrative decisions but answerable to council)
Boards and commissions
Power to appoint boards and commissions
Power to appoint boards and commissions
Boards and commissions statutorily abolished, except civil service commission (if there is one); council assumes functions or create boards and commissions
Appointment of city employees
% of statutory cities
13% (95 of 745)
85% (632 of 745)
2% (17 of 745) – but ~30 charter cities also are council-manager form

I hope this Forms of Government 101 is helpful. For more in-depth information, see the League’s Handbook of Minnesota Cities Chapters on The Statutory City and The Home Rule Charter City.

Also see: What is the difference between a city clerk, city administrator, and city manager?

  Written by Irene Kao, research attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1224.

This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information.

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