A Tale of Two Mayors

North Branford, CT is a Town of 15,000; it is primarily a bedroom community, with most residents commuting to a different municipality (mostly New Haven) to work. New Haven is only nine miles down the road, though given how congested the roads are this journey takes far longer than it should. In November of 2019 residents of both New Haven and North Branford went to the polls to elect their local officials.

North Branford residents elected all nine members of their Town Council. All members are elected town-wide on the same-ballot; meaning that the nine candidates with the most votes win a seat on the Council…with one curious caveat that I’ll discuss shortly. Six of the nine seats on the Council were won by the Republicans. Meanwhile in New Haven, the Board of Aldermen (which is just a different term for Council) is elected from 28 different districts, called wards. The Democrats won all 28 elections for the New Haven Board of Aldermen.

While it may seem that the New Haven Democrats did a better job winning office than the North Branford Republicans, this isn’t really the case. In North Branford, no political party is allowed to hold more than two-thirds of the seats on any local board. What this means is that the North Branford Republicans couldn’t win more than six seats on the Council. Curiously, this means that if the Republicans nominated seven candidates for Council and one of their candidates finished in seventh place, he or she actually wouldn’t win- the spot would go to the highest placed Democrat instead. Which of course is why the Republicans (and the Democrats for that matter) only nominated six candidates each. New Haven has no such constraints, and thus the Democrats will have complete control of their Board of Aldermen.

New Haven and North Branford both have new mayors; Justin Elicker (a Democrat) in New Haven and Bob Viglione (a Republican) in North Branford. Mr. Elicker ran for the office of Mayor, actually defeating the incumbent Mayor, Toni Harp in the Democratic primary and then winning the General Election…against Ms. Harp, who earned the Working Families party nomination after losing the Democratic primary. Mr. Viglione on the other hand didn’t run for Mayor of North Branford at all; he ran for Town Council. North Branford doesn’t have a directly-elected mayor; rather, the Council candidate who wins the most votes is given the title of Mayor, though the only additional power is chairing meetings of the Council. Mr. Viglione is a highly-regarded local barber, and thus had the advantage of being able to work and campaign simultaneously.

Full disclosure: Mr. Viglione was my barber when I lived in North Branford.

The North Branford Town Council only meets every other week, and day-to-day administration is handled by an appointed Town Manager. There is certainly some work to do outside of formal Council meetings, but fortunately for Mr. Viglione’s loyal customers he still has plenty of time to cut-hair. Fortunate for Mr. Viglione as well, seeing as all elected officials in North Branford are unpaid. In contrast, per the Connecticut Post the Mayor of New Haven is paid around $130,000 a year, and is thus expected to devote all of their working hours (and then some) to the City’s business.

So, while North Branford and New Haven are quite close to each other geographically, their political systems are very different, though they are alike in one crucial aspect: they each have partisan elections. The vast majority of municipalities in the U.S. (though not in Connecticut) have non-partisan elections. This is illustrative of local politics nationwide; there is simply no consistency. The American states may differ wildly in terms of economics, demographics, culture, etc. but every state has a directly elected Governor, and every American state other than Nebraska has a two-chamber state legislature whose members are elected in partisan elections. There is simply a lot of diversity in how local government functions across the United States; a diversity that makes local government fascinating for the student of politics.

Student Post: Special Purpose Governments

Special districts, or also known as, “Single Purpose Governments” are local governments that exist to provide a single service. There are thousands of special districts all over the country. Many state governments do not even know how many special districts there are within the state. Special districts have the ability to levy taxes on residents and property owners. This is usually used as a property or sales tax. In 2012, there was $206 billion collected by special districts nationwide.

There are more than just one ways in which special districts are run and what they are allowed to do. One form is dependent and independent districts. Dependent districts are created by and responsible towards another local government and have either the same board members as the city council and county commission, the city or county is able to appoint members of the special district, they are able to remove members of the special district, or they are able to veto decisions made by the special district. However, independent special districts meet none of the criteria of a special district and are not responsible to any form of local government. These types of special districts will typically be found in unincorporated land.

Another type of special district is enterprise vs. non-enterprise districts. An enterprise district is a government that raises revenue like a business, there is a service fee and those more of the service will pay more. An example of this would be sewer districts that charge based on water usage. A non-enterprise district is a government that provides a general service and will raise revenue using taxes. This is usually used through a property or sales tax.

While special districts are not always corrupt and many do not violate the system, there are still many that do abuse the system due to the loopholes and lack of restrictions. An example of how the special district system has been abused is the supreme court case Ball vs James (1981). The Arizona company Salt River Improvement and Power District that controlled electricity and water to the Phoenix area. Only the landowners were allowed to vote on policies and their vote was only proportionate to the acreage owned. This gave a very limited voting percentage and proportion of people who were allowed to give their input. Having people who are able to buy a portion of land that is not government controlled who can abuse power can be dangerous and susceptible to abuse.

However, not all forms of special districts are abused. For instance, the special district in Litchfield, NH that is used for mosquito control only consists of two people who do not use the district to abuse power over the people in any way. Overall, special districts are something that should become more known to the American people since there are many who will live in a special district and not even know.

Student Post: Special Districts

Special districts, or single purpose governments, are local governments that exist to provide a single service. As of 2012, there were about 38,000 special districts in the United States. Those don’t include school districts. School districts have a category of their own. Special districts can levy taxes on residents and property owners – typically sales or property tax. Again in 2012, $206 billion was collected from special districts nationwide. Conversely, counties collected $382 billion and municipalities collected $525 billion.

There are a few different kinds of special districts, one being Dependent Districts. These are created by and responsible to another local government. The criteria to be a dependent district is that at least one of the following must be true:

#1: The “Special District” Board has the same members as the City Council/County Commission that created it.

#2: If the city/county that created the district gets to appoint the members of the Special District’s Board

#3: If the city/county that created the district gets to remove the members of the Special District’s Board at will

#4: If the city/county that created the district gets to veto decisions made by the Special District’s Board

Dependent Special Districts may be responsible to the city/county that created them, but they can raise revenue separately from the city/county government. The other type is Independent Special Districts. These are very different from dependent special districts because they meet none of the criteria mentioned above. They are not responsible to another local government. They are typically, but not always, located in unincorporated land. Independent special districts are usually created by the people who live there and not by another local government. Even if they are, that local government has no authority over the special district.

            There is another distinction of special districts which is enterprise versus non-enterprise. An enterprise district is a government that raises revenue like a business where users are charged a service fee. Those who use more of the service are charged more. Examples are sewer districts that charge for water and cemetery districts that charge for burial plots. Non-enterprise districts are a government that provide a general service and raise revenue through taxes – usually a property or sales tax.

There are three reasons as to why one would form a special district. One is to pool together resources. When a place lacks resources, they can form a special district to pool their resources together to provide the service. Another reason is to provide services in unincorporated areas. This is for when residents want a service provided but don’t want to form a municipality. The third, is construction and maintenance of capital projects.

Special districts can be subject to increased risk of corruption and inefficiency because there is usually a very low profile with low voter turnout and low awareness. They can also be subject to special interests of private businesses. However, not all special districts are corrupt and some people may live in one and not know it.

Student Post: Unitary vs. Federal

There are two main ways power is shared between the citizens of a country and their government. These relationships are Unitary and Federal. There are pros and cons of both systems. The federal system is what we are used to here in the United States. This system is comprised of not just a federal and local level of government, but also a state/province level of government that has a decent amount of say in what goes on in their area of the country. For example, you’re a resident of Plymouth, New Hampshire. Under the federal system you are first under the jurisdiction of the United States, then New Hampshire, and lastly Plymouth. The unitary system is most like the United Kingdom. Over there, they have the federal government looking over local governments. There are no state or province governments in a unitary system. Unlike, the state/province governments in a federal system, local governments in the unitary system are not given much power at all. I personally love the way the federal system works. It allows the people in each part of the country to have much more say in what their government does. If New Hampshire wants to be a constitutional carry state, they can be. Something like this would not be possible in a unitary system where the local government has almost no say.

Student Post: Gerrymandering

If you are someone who is active in politics, you know that where you vote depends on where you live. Have you ever thought of how this is determined? You might have heard of this before, but gerrymandering has something to do with it. Gerrymandering is considered to be an unfair drawing of political districts that can benefit parties in the election. This term was first used in 1812, in the Boston Gazette. In Massachusetts, a State Senate election district was redrawn after Governor Elbridge Gerry signed a bill that redistricted Massachusetts and benefited his party. The district that was drawn resembled a salamander, therefore being named “Gerrymandering”.

While the story of how gerrymandering came to be is interesting, it is also important to note that this can cause unfair advantages still to this day. Sometimes it can even benefit one demographic of people more than another. The controversial topic of gerrymandering has been questioned several times. A recent case was brought to the Supreme Court and in 2019, the Supreme Court decided that this is not a legal question but needed to be resolved by the branches of government instead.

            An article by David Meyers identifies some of the worst cases of gerrymandering today. Including in Alabama where the 7th District is defined as “racially gerrymandered” (Meyers, 2020). The district is heavily Democratic and several areas within have large black populations. In 2017, there was a Special Senate election in which Doug Jones, a Democratic candidate won. The only district he carried was the 7th which was 63 percent African American.

 There have been some proposed solutions to gerrymandering such as having a state such as Alaska decide the districts. Or, dividing them equally among the parties. Either way, there are weaknesses to every solution as there are weaknesses with gerrymandering today. It seems as though a solution would be choosing the less of the evils. Finding a solution that has less weaknesses than gerrymandering is one way to solve this issue. However, I don’t know how willing states will be to having other states such as Alaska determine their districts. I think that if the public was more educated on gerrymandering and the impacts that it can have on elections, they would be more concerned; similar to how people are so concerned about voter fraud that they didn’t realize was a problem until recent years.


Meyers, David. “4. Baton Rouge.” The Fulcrum, The Fulcrum, 7 Feb. 2020, thefulcrum.us/worst-gerrymandering-districts?rebelltitem=5#rebelltitem5.

Student Post: Local Governments

How much do you know about your local government? Have you been to a town meeting, a zoning board meeting, do you vote in your local elections? Have you ever considered the people that make the laws and regulations for your town? What type of government form does your town have? Is it Commission, Council-Manager, Mayor-Council or a town meeting?

            The two most common forms of local government in the U.S. are Council-Manager and Mayor-Council. The Council-Manager form is when there is a city or town manager who appoints department heads, they oversee day-to-day business, they prepare the annual budget and are the ones to provide the information that is given to the City Council. In Gorham, New Hampshire, there is a Town Manager who oversees the Selectboard that has been elected by the citizens of the town. The Town Manager is hired and not elected to this position. The Board of Selectmen create plans and goals that they hope to achieve (“Board of Selectmen”, n.d.). This is then worked on with the Town Manager who has some power to make the budget and pass certain laws and regulations in the town.

            There is the Mayor-Council form of government that is mainly used in small towns or large cities. This is when a Mayor is elected by the citizens and there is a Council that is voted for as well[1] . The Mayor may have veto power over the Council, may even be able to appoint the department heads and they also oversee the day-to-day workings of the city administration. You may live in a town with a Mayor that might be very present around town, they go to events in town and even make a speech at some sort of gathering. Other towns/cities Mayors may be less present within town and manage more from behind the scenes. In Manchester, New Hampshire, there is a Mayor. Currently, it is Joyce Craig for Mayor which is an elected position. Also, there is the Alderman who make up representatives from each ward in the city and two other members from the city at large. They function just as any other City Council does and carry the same powers and responsibilities. On the town website, it was not specifically mentioned how many duties they have, but they should be holding a monthly meeting for public comments (Aldermen, 2020”).

            Another form of government that seems to be entering New Hampshire is a combination of Mayor/Manager/City Council that all work together. In this case, the City Council appoints a City Manager who serves as the chief executive officer of the City (“City Manager”, 2020). On the City of Keene website it says “Under the Mayor/Council/Manager form of government adopted by Keene, the Mayor and Council establish policies for operations within the city, and it is the Manager’s responsibility to ensure these policies are carried out. In general, the position supervises all property and business affairs of the city and oversees expenditure of all funds appropriated for city purposes.”.

            I feel that each city or town may need a different form of government to meet their needs and goals. However, I also feel that many times a Selectboard/City Council or even a Mayor may hold too much power in these decisions. For instance, having a City Council appoint a City Manager that they may like and prefer the best can possibly allow them to have more power and leeway when making decisions. The best options that I personally saw were Gorham’s and Keene’s role of City/Town Manager. In Gorham, the position is hired and not appointed or elected. Keene’s Town Manager is appointed, but there is also the balance of a Mayor and large City Council to balance power.


Aldermen. Retrieved from https://www.manchesternh.gov/Mayor-and-Aldermen/Aldermen.

Board of Selectmen. Retrieved from https://www.gorhamnh.org/board-selectmen.

City Manager. (2020). Retrieved from https://ci.keene.nh.us/my-city-government/city-manager).

Student Post: Power to the People?

My blog post will consist two main topics. The first one will be my thoughts about direct democracy when it comes to changing law or constitutional law. The second one will be whether I favor a professional or citizen legislation in the future in NH.

There are 18 states where citizens can initiate a change a state’s constitutional law. I do favor power to the people, however when it comes to amending a state’s Constitution, that should be left up to the politicians in their state legislature. Typically, the public knows very little about their state constitution and amendments, I am not even well rounded on the New Hampshire constitution. This initiative would give citizens the ability to make an amendment and collect signatures to put into their constitution without the state legislature. I would not trust the general public to be given the power to amend their constitution because their lack of knowledge mainly in politics and policy. This also presents an opportunity for special interest groups to take over and get and amendment through themselves. Citizens should be well rounded with their state government and issues before being given the power to petition amendments. States should almost never use this option for making state amendments. I think it would be a dangerous move by the state to implement.

New Hampshire currently has a citizen legislature style. Our current state house members get very little pay per year, there is minimal sessions per year in the state house as it is part time, the members are also more community connected with little impact on town policy. In result, the Governor who is a full-time politician will have more power as well with more interest group influence. I get many opportunities to see my local representatives, since I became involved in New Hampshire politics, I have seen them more. But I wish they would have more of an influence on the state of New Hampshire and have a decent pay increase that is not between 100-200 dollars. I believe we should overtime shift to a professional legislature, if any of them want to advance in political and government, having a more professional law maker experience would be best. It may help decrease the likelihood of special interest influence on the institution. Same goes with the Governor who would have a more balance of power between him/herself to the two chambers of the statehouse if there is a professional legislature.

The cons I think that could come out of a professional legislature is that we may be taxed more to pay for their salaries and other services required. In New Hampshire we considerably enjoy our lower taxes compared to some of our fellow New England states. If the proposal of a professional legislature in New Hampshire has serious backlash, I would look further into it and maybe if the cons outweigh the pros, my mind may be changed. But I do think a professional legislature as of now can help New Hampshire as of now.

Student Post: The Progressives- A Commonly Unknown Political Movement

              Its that time again when Americans are going to the polls to vote in the primaries for their favorite party nominees. Many unaware that this process came about due to the Progressive movement which existed largely during the turn of the twentieth century. This group not only lead to changes in the way in which we vote on the national level, but also effected the way in which we run local government. The lasting effects of this group are seen all around us even today.

              At the time in which the Progressive movement really gained traction, politics were very different than what they are today. The secret ballot system we have come to expect did not exist and primaries were not a thing. A party system before these bribed the poor and helped the rich, which led to many middle-class citizens to join together and form the Progressive Movement in order to create change. Those in this movement were not limited to one party, but instead existed across the political spectrum. The main ideas of the progressives were to create a ‘good government’ which would be efficient, bureaucratic and neutral. This was centered around the idea that politics should be more logical.

              In local government the Progressives had many changes they desired to make. The first way they changed politics in this area was forbidding special legislation. This would stop laws that the legislature passes that affect only a single city or even a list of named cities. This would stop the constant switching of charters based on those in power in order to create an advantage or disadvantage. The Progressive movement also supported home rule, pushing for local governments to have more power since they felt smaller government had a better idea of what their people need. Progressives also believed another part of politics needing reform was the people in it. This was achieved through civil service reform which calls upon municipal bureaucrats to be professional, careerist and neutral. Involvement in electoral politics is frowned upon within this reform. After changing all of these aspects of local government, the last step was to change the way local government was structured. The first attempt at achieving this was the commission form of government. In this system, commissioners were elected as heads of departments and had both legislative and executive functions. This in theory seemed great but in execution, did not work out. Commissioners were overstretched and often commissioners were elected department heads even though they had no knowledge of the department they were overseeing. In addition to this, having the department heads trying to determine resources, led to bickering as each department head wanted more resources. This was remedied with the city/town manager system. Through this an elected city/town council is the legislative branch of the municipal government while an appointed mayor is given the executive functions. As long as the city managers can stay neutral, this system works far better than the commission form of government.

Along with all of the successes of the Progressive movement, they also had some ideas that (in addition to the commission form of government) were unsuccessful for the Progressives. This is largely seen with the implementation of Prohibition in the 1920’s. This idea was centered around the thought that with alcohol comes many different issues in society. This may be true but the way they went about it (making all alcohol consumption illegal) was not the way to go about it. They also ran on the platform that there should be less minority involvement, largely focused on Italian and Irish immigrants. This is likely a result of the time and how many of these minorities were gaining jobs as the party bosses bribed the poor for their vote by giving them a job. The Progressives were definitely not perfect, but the ideas that they introduced led to many pivotal changes in the way the United States government works.

Many of the changes the Progressives made were aimed at larger cities but in turn actually worked best in midsized cities. The changes they made in local government are just as important as those they made in the national election. Local government has far more of an impact on the daily life of citizens and so changes created on this level effect the daily lives of United states citizens far more. Although existing a hundred years ago, Progressive ideas have continued to shape politics well into the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Student Post: Incorporated Land vs Unincorporated Land- What’s the difference?

So, you want to come and live in the United States of America and are all ready to start your new life, but you have one problem. You don’t know where exactly in America you want to live! Well no worries my friend because this blog is going to help you answer some of the essential questions on living in America. Specifically, this blog will be defining incorporated land and unincorporated land. As well as the differences between the two and what the pros and cons are for each one! Making your search for the perfect place to begin anew a breeze! So, without further ado, lets get right into incorporated land and unincorporated land!

Unincorporated land means that the area in which you live is land outside the control of a municipality AKA a town that has a local government of its own. Those who live outside the control of a municipality so therefore in unincorporated land, have no local government to call their own. These citizens, because they live in unincorporated land, receive many of the services that would be provided by a municipal government, from their county government instead.

Incorporated land is of course the opposite of unincorporated land and refers to land that is under the control of a municipality. People who live in incorporated land have officials directly representing them. These people also receive services from their own local town government rather than the county one. There are of course pros and cons to each of the two and it is important to look at these when making a decision on where to live.

Living in unincorporated land is task more challenging than most would assume, but it is not without its rewards either. Living in unincorporated land gives you more freedom to do what you wish with your property AKA there are much fewer regulations. Many people start their own farms or homesteads simply because they can. Others can more easily create self-sustainable homes. With solar power and wind power being much easier to install due to the absence of government regulations and oversight. On the downside however, the time you will have to wait for essential services such as firefighters and police will be much higher. This is due to the same absence of government that enables the pros of living in unincorporated land.

Living in incorporated land you will find yourself under more stringent government regulations, codes, and guidelines. You will have less of an ability to live how you as an individual might like. However, you will have speedy services the likes of which unincorporated land could never hope to see. You will also never have to worry about your neighbor starting a smelly pig farm the next house over or any other type of farm for that matter.

In conclusion, when it comes to unincorporated land and incorporated land the benefits of both are quite clear cut. For those of you who enjoy being off the grid and being able to have a bit more freedom with a bit less safety then the unincorporated land lifestyle is the one for you. If however, you’re more of a rules and safety type of person then the incorporated land with the local government is the one you want!

Student Post: Dillon’s Rule vs. Home Rule

            In the United States, the federal and state governments get their powers from the Constitution. The states have sovereignty; they have guaranteed rights and powers, and cannot be dissolved or altered without their consent. However, the Constitution is completely silent about local governments. Local governments are extensions of the state, and derive their powers from the state government–they have no rights, and can exercise only the powers that the state government chooses to give them.

            Under Dillon’s Rule (named after 1868 Iowa judge John Dillon), local governments can only exercise powers explicitly granted to them by state law, or powers that are implied to exist by those they are explicitly given. For example, if the state government gives local governments the power to tax property, it is implied that the local government also has the power to seize property if the tax is not paid. Essentially, under Dillon’s Rule, local governments can only do what the state government explicitly allows them to. This legal principle was upheld by the Supreme Court in Hunter v. Pittsburgh (1901).

States vary wildly in how much power they choose to grant localities. Some states, including most of New England, have very loose reins, while others keep tight control over their local governments. Alabama, for example, is a Dillon’s Rule state that grants its local governments authority through amendments to its state constitution. The 482nd Amendment to the Alabama Constitution specifically authorizes the Limestone county commission to “provide for the disposal of dead farm animals, and the excavating of human graves.” This incredibly detailed level of control is a relic of the Jim Crow era, intended to ensure that even if a local government gained a pro-civil rights majority, the state would easily be able to stifle its power.

However, other state governments are far more lenient, so much so that they may choose to grant their localities Home Rule statues. Under Home Rule, the local government can do anything that state law or the United States Constitution doesn’t explicitly forbid them from doing. However, the state government may still choose to overrule decisions made by a local government, a process known as preemption. If the state government does not like what a Home Rule city is doing, they can simply pass a law forbidding the city from doing it.

One example of a Home Rule local government being preempted by the state government is the notorious North Carolina “Bathroom Bill” or House Bill 2, a bill passed by the state legislature in order to overturn a Charlotte City Council ordinance allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of their choosing. The bill would also prevent any other North Carolina localities from passing similar legislation in future. Multiple local governments passed resolutions criticizing the bill and calling for it to be repealed, but while HB2 was controversial, that was the extent of the action they could take against it. Home Rule may grant local governments more flexibility, but it does not negate the fact that they ultimately have no rights.

So, under Dillon’s Rule, local governments can only do those things state law explicitly allows them to do. Under Home Rule, local governments can do anything except what higher law explicitly forbids them from doing. But no matter how much power the state government decides to give them, local governments ultimately derive their powers from the state, and are helpless to its will. The state giveth, and the state taketh away.