local government

Home Rule in Government?

Moving states in May last year I’ve been working on becoming knowledgeable about state and local politics in the area. Lewis County where I’ve moved has had some governance issues. Including a lawsuit because the County Commissioners violated the Washington State Open Public Meetings Act. Another group, One Lewis County (organized by the local Chamber of Commerce) wants to change the structure of the county management to have 5 commissioners and a full-time county manager. In order to do there needs to be a change to the Home Rule Charter. This requires a ballot measure for which they are currently collecting signatures. If this measure is voted for then it starts the process of changing the charter. I wasn’t familiar with Home Rule until reading about these issues in local papers, so I decided to find out more.

What is Home Rule?

Home rule allows local municipalities to pass laws to govern as they desire providing they also follow state and local laws. There are then two opposing doctrines related to how the applies as related to state law:

  • Dillon’s Rule: The states provide the framework that allows localities to self-govern, so they can also take that framework away or constrain it. The majority of states utilize this rule.
  • Cooley Doctrine: States can not take away local rights to self-govern which are provided constitutionally.

I was wondering why I had never heard of these concepts, but then looked at Virginia and saw that it was not a Home Rule State, so I figure I was less likely to learn about it in school or as a voter. Though I’ve also lived in Washington DC which has limited Home Rule, so I guess maybe I just didn’t notice the terminology.

Home Rule in Lewis County

I’m relatively new to the area, but I think having more County Commissioners will be beneficial. I also think a County Manager makes much sense as well. It reminds me of when new non-profits go from having a tactical board to hiring an Executive Director and moving to be a strategic board. I haven’t signed the petition yet to help get an initiative on the ballot to start the first step, but I’m going to investigate doing that tomorrow since it appears they are a few signatures short.


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