What is Municipal Receivership III
I am becoming increasingly uneasy with the scope of the powers being attributed to a “municipal receiver” in Rhode Island. John Hill‘s story in today’s Projo on the situation in Central Falls describes a broad range of executive and taxation authority being suddenly transferred to one man, perhaps working in tandem with the court system (I guess that would be two men)…
The court-appointed receiver has the power to approve or reject purchases and payments and, if the court approves, change contracts with unions and vendors and hire and fire municipal employees.Granted, the foundational legal issues regarding non-delegation of government authority are not as clear cut in the case of municipal governments as they are in the case of state governments. Since states are the fundamental units in the American system of government, and states create city and town governments and establish the scope of their powers, states can presumably reserve the power to make changes to municipal government at a future time.
[Jonathan N. Savage], who said he’d be paid between $100 and $375 an hour for his work as receiver, said it was too soon to predict what he might ask the court to do, from imposing new contract terms or increasing taxes, until he’d had a chance to examine the city’s books and consult with all the parties who might be affected.
But just because they can reserve their powers doesn’t mean that they do. Article XIII of the Rhode Island Constitution spells out some very clear limitations on the state’s power to change the governance of established cities and towns, Section 4 being the most relevant to the situation in Central Falls…
The general assembly shall have the power to act in relation to the property, affairs and government of any city or town by general laws which shall apply alike to all cities and towns, but which shall not affect the form of government of any city or town. The general assembly shall also have the power to act in relation to the property, affairs and government of a particular city or town provided that such legislative action shall become effective only upon approval by a majority of the qualified electors of the said city or town voting at a general or special election, except that in the case of acts involving the imposition of a tax or the expenditure of money by a town the same shall provide for the submission thereof to those electors in said town qualified to vote upon a proposition to impose a tax or for the expenditure of money.This makes pretty clear, for example, that the state couldn’t decide to remove the mayor of a city in mid-term and replace him or her with a state-appointed “governor-general” — at least not without the approval of the voters via a referendum. Nor is there any provision allowing a governor-general to be appointed, again in the absence of a referendum, just because a City Council asks for one. Nor would appointing a governor-general become legitimate by re-titling the position to be the “receiver-general” or something similar.
It’s important to understand what the maximum allowed scope for receivership at the outset — and whether it needs to be challenged — because the citizens of Rhode Island cannot assume the Central Falls will be the only place where residents may be told that someone who has not been elected is being put in charge of the local government, to make the decisions that elected officials have been trying to avoid. If we don’t question what is happening in Central Falls right now, Central Falls may become an overly expansive precedent for the future.