In the United States, a charter city is a city in which the governing system is defined by the city's own charter document rather than by general law. In states where city charters are allowed by law, a city can adopt or modify its organizing charter by decision of its administration by the way established in the charter. These cities may be administered predominantly by residents or through a third-party management structure, because a charter gives a city the flexibility to choose novel types of government structure. In conclusion, they do have certain rights.



For example, in California, cities which have not adopted a charter are organized by state law. Such a city is called a General Law City, which will be managed by a 5-member city council. A city organized under a charter may choose different systems, including the "strong mayor" or "city manager" forms of government.[1][2] As of 22 February 2013, 121 of California's 478 cities are charter cities.[3] A few examples include Norco, Oakland, Newport Beach, Palo Alto, Huntington Beach, Alameda, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Jose, Merced and the capital, Sacramento.[4]


Under Texas law, unless a city charter is passed, cities have only those powers granted under the Texas Constitution and the general laws of the state, and no more.

Once city reaches a population of 5,000, the voters may petition an election for a city charter. If the charter is approved by the voters, the city is governed under home rule status, which allows the city to pass any ordinance which is "not inconsistent" with either the Texas Constitution or the general laws of the state. This has caused some turmoil between cities seeking to pass laws and the Legislature attempting to keep them from doing so; examples include plastic bag bans (or plastic bag fees) and bans on oil and gas drilling within city limits. The city may retain home rule status even if the population subsequently falls below 5,000.

Texas law does not allow counties or special districts (other than school districts) to operate under a charter, their powers are strictly limited to those under the Texas Constitution and general law. School districts may petition for a charter; however, no school district has done so.

Development potentialEdit

Economist Paul Romer proposes founding many new charter cities in developing countries. Romer suggests that a developing country pass a law that sets aside a tract of land for a new charter city. This charter city would be administered by a developed third-party guarantor government, and citizens from the host country (and maybe other countries) could move in and out as they please. The point of the charter cities idea is to give citizens the choice about where they want to live and to provide the basic rules and amenities required for economic growth. Ideally, by establishing a city with highly developed rules and governance in an underdeveloped region, living and working in a charter city may provide a closer and more attractive alternative to moving far away to more developed countries.[5][6]

In Romer’s conception, there are three main factors in the creation of a charter city. First, there is the developing host country. The host country provides the land, and designates that land as a special reform zone, subject to the foundational set of rules. Second, the developed guarantor country administers the region, perhaps with a board of governors and an appointed chair like the Federal Reserve System in the United States. Third, the source country will be where the charter city’s residents come from. This may be predominantly from the host country, but there also may be a number of source countries.[6]

In practice, some countries have been receptive to Romer's idea. After a meeting of Romer with president Marc Ravalomanana, Madagascar considered creating two charter cities, but the plan was scrapped when the political leadership that supported the idea was removed from power.[7] More recently, the government of Honduras has considered creating a charter city, though without the oversight of a third-party government. In 2011 Honduras made the necessary legal changes. Romer served as chair of a "transparency committee" but resigned in September 2012 when the Honduran government agency responsible for the project signed agreements with international developers without knowledge of the committee.[8] In October 2012 the Honduran Supreme Court declared charter cities to be unconstitutional because the laws of Honduras would not be applicable there.[9][10]

The Charter Cities Institute has proposed an alternative charter city model to Romer’s where the development of the charter city, including greenfield land acquisition, is financed largely by a local private developer, intended to protect the host country from financial risk. Instead of a third-party guarantor government, the city would be administered by representatives of the host country government, the local developer, and other relevant parties through a public-private partnership. Under this model, a charter city would be granted a special jurisdiction with broad authority to improve economic competitiveness, but would still be bound by the criminal laws, constitution, and international treaty obligations of the host country.[11]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Charter Cities". League of California Cities. 2007-05-09. Retrieved 2008-04-17.
  2. ^ "California Government Code, Title 4 Government of Cities, Chapter 2 Classification". State of California. Archived from the original on 2010-03-30. Retrieved 2008-04-17.
  3. ^ "Charter Cities List". League of California Cities. 22 February 2013. Retrieved 2016-06-23.
  4. ^ "Charter Cities". League of California Cities. Archived from the original on 2008-11-14. Retrieved 2008-11-14.
  5. ^ Sebastian Mallaby (July–August 2010). "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Ending Poverty". The Atlantic.
  6. ^ a b Concept Archived May 11, 2011, at the Wayback Machine from
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Plan for Charter City to Fight Honduras Poverty Loses Its Initiator". New York Times. 30 September 2012.
  9. ^ "Honduran supreme court rejects 'model cities' idea". Yahoo News. 18 October 2012.
  10. ^ Brian Doherty (June 2013). "The Blank Slate State". Retrieved 2013-05-16.
  11. ^ "An Introduction to Charter Cities". Charter Cities Institute. Retrieved 10 September 2019.

Further readingEdit

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