City of Sweeny | City Government
City of Sweeny, Texas
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City Government

History of the American City

Cities have a long history of independence and self-government.  The power of Greece, as early as 700 B.C., was concentrated in city-states such as Athens and Sparta.  These cities were centers of culture and military might.  In the Middle Ages, European cities received crown charters from their kings that established them as separate and independent entities.  One of their major functions was to protect their citizens from external danger; for this reason, the cities of the period were surrounded by high walls, and the citizens paid taxes for this protection.  In America, this tradition continued.  Early American cities sought charters from the British crown and later from their state legislatures.  In Texas, San Fernando de Bexar (now called San Antonio) was the first city.  Its settlement was ordered by the king of Spain and began with fifteen families in 1731.

State legislatures traditionally have been less then sympathetic to the problems of the cities, partly because of rural bias and partly because they wished to avoid being caught in the quagmires of city politics.  Therefore, in the nineteenth century, the states (including Texas) established general laws  --- statutes that pertained to all municipalities---for the organization of city governments, to which municipalities were required to conform.  But these general laws were too inflexible to meet the growing problems of the cities, and around the turn of the century there was a movement toward municipal home rule.  The home-rule laws permitted the cities, within limits, to organize as they saw fit.

In Texas, the municipal home-rule amendment was adopted and added to the Texas Constitution 1912.  It provides that a city whose population is more than 5,000 is allowed---within certain procedural and financial limitations---to write its own constitution in the form of a city charter, which would be effective when approved by a majority vote of the citizens.  A city charter is the local equivalent of a constitution, setting out city government structure and powers and its political structure.  Home-rule cities may choose any organizational form or policies as long as they do not conflict with the state constitution or the state laws.

Today, Texas has nearly 1,200 cities.  About 300 cities in Texas are home-rule cities, including Sweeny.  The other 900 are called general-law cities, because they are governed by the general state laws regarding municipalities, rather than by a locally adopted charters.

 

Home-Rule Governing Options

The idea behind home rule is that city leaders need tools to address their local problems and that one-size-fits-all state provisions deny cities the flexibility they need. For cities that qualify for home-rule, the Texas Local Government Code stipulates that the city "may adopt and operate under any form of government" and that "the municipality has full power of local self government."  

For home-rule cities, there are four types of governing options:

  1. Weak Mayor-Council -- a form of city government in which the mayor has no more power than any other member of the council.

  2. Strong Mayor-Council -- a form of city government in which the mayor has strong powers to run the city by hiring, managing, and firing staff and controlling executive departments; the mayor also serves on the council.

  3. Council-Manager -- a form of city government in which the city council and mayor hire a professional manager to run the city.

  4. City Commission -- a form of city government in which elected members serve on the legislative body and also serve as head administrators of city programs.  

The City of Sweeny is a Council-Manager form of government.  Of the 300 home-rule cities in Texas, about 290 have chosen the council-manager form of government.

In the council-manager form of government, a professional city manager, hired by the city council, runs the city (hire, manage, and fire staff), while the city council and mayor set policy, adopt budgets and tax rates, and oversee the city manager.  

 

Authority & Functions of City Government

Cities have wide authority to provide services directly to citizens.  Cities provide police, fire, public works, recreation, health, and other services.  Some services are franchised to private companies to provide services in the city, such as waste management.

Cities have broad regulatory authority in the area of zoning, buildings, signs, nuisances, and subdivision development.  Often, public needs and private concerns collide.

 

Finances of City Government

Cities raise revenues from several sources, including municipal sales tax, property taxes, occupation taxes, fines collected by the municipal court, fees imposed for utilities such as water, solid waste pickup, waste water, etc., state and federal revenues, and borrowing (bond sales).

 

Annexation

Annexation is the enlargement of a city's corporate limits by incorporating surrounding territory into the city.  Home-rule cities have unilateral power to annex.  Absent any state restrictions, cities can decide on their own whether and how to grow.  However, the 1963 Municipal Annexation Act restricted home-rule cities' leeway in annexing. Still, significant areas of controversy in annexation include how the annexation occurs, services that cities must provide in newly annexed areas, and the status of areas beyond the city limits known as extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ).  ETJ is the area outside of a city's boundaries over which the city may exercise limited control.

Under the Municipal Annexation Act, a city may expand its municipal boundaries by an area up to 10 percent of own geographic area in any one year.  The city is not required to obtain the consent of anyone for annexation, though it must hold public hearings.  A city also controls an ETJ of up to five miles from its city limits (one-half mile for those cities with fewer than 5,000 citizens and up to five miles for cities with more than 100,000 citizens).  When cities annex territory, they must provide services to those areas within timelines specified in the act.

 

Council of Government

A Council of Government (COG) is an arrangement that allows the many kinds of local governments --- counties, cities, school districts, and other special districts --- to work together to solve their common problems.  There are 24 COGs in Texas.  The Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) serves Southeast Texas and includes 106 cities (including Sweeny), 13 counties (including Brazoria County), and 14 school districts (including Sweeny ISD).


References:

  1. Kraemer, Newell, and Prindle. (2002). Texas Politics (8th Edition). Stamford, CT: Wadsworth Group.

  2. O'Connor, Sabato, Haag, and Keith. (2002). American Government: Constitution and Change (2002 Texas Edition). New York, NY: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.

  3. Houston-Galveston Area Council Home Page, 10 Oct. 2004.  <http://www.h-gac.com/HGAC/home/Default.htm>

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To learn more about our local city government, contact Sweeny City Hall at 979-548-3321, or send an e-mail message to the following address:  info@ci.sweeny.tx.us.

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