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city manager

An official appointed by the city council who is responsible for implementing and administrating the council's actions. More than one-third of U.S. cities use the council-manager form of government.

council of governments (COG)

councils in many areas of the country where officials from various localities meet to discuss mutual problems and plan joint, cooperative action.

Dillon's Rule

The idea that local governments have only those powers that are explicitly given them by the states. This means that local governments have very little discretion over what policies they pursue or how they pursue them. It was named for Iowa Judge John Dil.

direct democracy

Procedures such as the initiative, the referendum, and the recall, by which voters can have a direct impact on policymaking and the political process by means of the voting booth.

home rule

The practice by which municipalities are permitted by the states to write their own charters and change them without permission of the state legislature, within limits. Today this practice is widely used to organize and modernize municipal government.


a process permitted in some states whereby voters may put proposed changes in the state constitution to a vote if sufficient signatures are obtained on petitions calling for such a referendum.

lieutenant governor

Often the second-highest executive official in state government, who is elected with the governor as a ticket in some states and is elected separately in others. May have legislative and executive branch responsibilities.

line-item veto

the power possessed by 42 state governors to veto only certain parts of a bill while allowing the rest of it to pass into law.

local charter

an organizational statement and grant of authority from the state to a loval government, much like a state or federal constitution. States sometimes allow municipalities to write their own charters and to change them without permission of the state legislation.

merit plan

A hybrid system of appointment and election used to select judges in 17 states. In this system the governor appoints the state's judges from a list of recommended persons; an appointed judge then serves a short "trial run" term, after which a retention el


A procedure that allows voters to call a special election for a specific official in an attempt to throw him or her out of office before the end of his or her term. Recalls are only permitted in 17 states, are seldom used because of their cost and disrupt.


A state-level method of direct legislation that gives voters a chance to approve or disapprove legislation or a constitutional amendment proposed by the state legislature.

subnational governments

Another way of referring to state and local governmetns. Through a process of reform, modernization, and changing intergovernmnental relations since the 1960s, subnational governments have assumed new responsibilities and importance.

town meeting

a special form of direct democracy under which all voting-age adults in a community gather once a year to make public policy. Now only used in a few villages in upper New England, originally many municipalities in the United States were run by town meeting.

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