TALLAHASSEE – After an ongoing dispute over the residency case of Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox, city attorneys want the Florida Supreme Court to address whether state courts can seize the city’s authority to determine the eligibility of its elected officials.
“That is a question involving the limits of state court jurisdiction, the separation of powers under the state Constitution, and the city’s home-rule powers,” they wrote, adding that it's a case that would affect local governments throughout the state.
According to Dr. Jaclyn Bunch, assistant professor of political science and criminal justice at the University of South Alabama, in the Constitution, only the entities in the federal and the state government are guaranteed power.
“Local governments aren’t guaranteed anywhere in our founding documents; so all power actually derives from the state entities they come from,” Bunch told the Florida Record. “States choose to give local government power. They don’t innately have power. The Constitution guarantees rights for the state and to the national government.”
To understand home-rule, the basic concept of the U.S. federal system has to be understood. According to Bunch, the concept of home-rule began to rise in the 1950s and 1960s.
“We were going through a period of time in which a lot of states were redoing their constitutions,” Bunch said. “A lot of those states, Florida is one, chose to include in their constitution a way in which local governments could have more power and discretion.
“Home-rule is really just this concept of increasing autonomy to local units of governments whether they be cities or counties, in three ways,” Bunch said. “Structural; meaning they can set up how their government is structured. Legislative, meaning it can pass local ordinances and physical; meaning they might be able to assess additional fees or certain local taxes. The freest form of government would have all three of those.”
While city lawyers are raising questions about home-rules, they’re also raising questions about jurisdiction; a completely separate issue from home-rule.
“That would have to do with state election laws,” Bunch said. “It depends on what state you’re in. The reason why is the Constitution. States actually retain the ability to oversee their election and their election laws. In some states, you don’t even have to live in the area or have a home in that jurisdiction to run for office in that jurisdiction, but other states, you do. So it’s really determined by state law. There’s no federal law that guides it. The local laws are determined by the state. It’s a state power.”
During Maddox’s residency case, the city filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking it to stop the lower courts from ruling in the case, arguing that its charter gave it the right to determine residency. The high court ordered the city to show cause with the writ of prohibition petition should not be declared moot since the Leon Circuit Court has ruled Maddox resides in the city.
The lawyers responded that the petition was moot. City lawyers said “it would not be in the interests of the justice for this court to disturb the determination—now made for a second time—that Commissioner Maddox resides in the city of Tallahassee.”