American Politics

State and Local Governments » Glossary

Action by a city to enlarge its geographic boundaries by legally taking in surrounding territory.
attorney general
The top lawyer for state government, responsible for law enforcement and defending the state in court. Most states elect their attorney general.
A local constitution, setting out the structure of government (e.g., a city) and its powers and procedures.
city council
The legislative body for a city.
city manager
A professional chief executive, hired by a city council to run the city's daily operations.
The oldest type of local government in the United States, often covering a wide geographic area, with broad reach across many policy areas (e.g., public safety, public health, roads), though not always with strong powers.
Dillon's Rule
An 1868 court ruling (named after the judge) that local governments are creations of state governments and/or constitutions, and have no standing under the U.S. Constitution (i.e., they have no inherent sovereignty).
district attorney
The local prosecutor, usually elected.
The chief elected official in state governments.
home rule
The right and authority of local governments (most often, cities) to govern themselves, rather than the state governing them directly or with a heavy hand.
The chief elected official of a city.
Missouri Plan
A non-partisan method of selecting state judges. A screening committee reviews applications for judgeships, chooses a short list of the ones they consider best, and forwards the list to the governor, who must choose a nominee from that list. After a period of service (e.g., one year) appointed judges then face a retention election in which the public decides only whether to retain or remove a judge. If a judge loses a retention election, a new judge is appointed by the same process.
A city, town, or village.
An individual law created by a local legislature.
The elected official who serves as the chief law enforcement officer for a county.
special district
A local government that is neither a municipality nor a county, but has jurisdiction over a particular policy area (e.g., school districts and public education).