Home rule's coming, but the process is slow
Press-Register
Monday, November 20, 2006

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STATE CONSTITUTIONAL reform might be the only way to bring limited home rule to counties throughout Alabama. While voters in several counties, including Mobile and Baldwin, have approved home rule, voters in other counties seem reluctant to give their county officials more power.

That's too bad, because the government that is closest to the people can do the better job of meeting their needs. In this case, that means counties, not the state Legislature, should have the authority to take care of health and safety issues.

Unfortunately, in some counties limited home rule gets mixed up with people's fears that county governments could infringe upon their property rights. But limited home rule doesn't let counties do planning and zoning in unincorporated areas, and it doesn't change counties' taxing authority.

Nevertheless, in Montgomery and St. Clair counties, stiff opposition arose when county officials proposed limited home rule in this month's election. In total, voters in nine counties (including Baldwin County) approved home rule, and voters in four counties opposed it.

Voters in Mobile County and four other counties approved limited home rule in June.

Without limited home rule, counties are powerless to do anything about rubbish, weeds, discarded vehicles, abandoned houses and other health and safety issues. All they can do is pave roads and fund the sheriff's department.

Cities and towns, on the other hand, already have limited home rule.

Opposition to home rule seems to reflect residents' distrust of local officials in some parts of the state. In those counties, officials will have to do a better job of explaining what limited home rule means and work to build trust between themselves and their constituents.

In the meantime, the Legislature should move to establish a constitutional convention to rewrite Alabama's outdated, unwieldy, racist 1901 constitution. The state constitution wrongly funnels public power to Montgomery rather than giving counties the means to deal with day-to-day local problems.

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