The state of Michigan is largely divided in the same way as many other U.S. states, but is distinct in its usage of charter townships. Michigan ranks 13th among the fifty states in terms of the number of local governmental entities.
The state is divided into 83 counties, and further divided into 1,240 townships, 276 cities, and 257 villages. Additionally, the state consists of 553 school districts, 57 intermediate school districts, 14 planning and development regions, and over 300 special districts and authorities.
Michigan is divided into 83 counties, the primary administrative division of Michigan. This local government division has its greatest effect on unincorporated lands within the county, and can provide service which can include law enforcement, justice administration, health care, among other basic services. Where places within the county are incorporated, and thus granted home rule, the power of the county government is greatly diminished.
The government of the state's counties is generally structured as county board of commissioners, which function as the legislative body of the county with some executive powers with several elected executive officers as required by the state constitution from the sheriff, county clerk, county treasurer, register of deeds, and prosecuting attorney.
With few exceptions, most local government services in Michigan are provided at the city or township level. County governments are limited mostly to operating the local criminal justice system, maintaining vital records and partnering with the state in providing social services.
Counties are organized into three types or options: general law, optional unified, and charter, and six forms: county board of commissioners, county administrator, county controller, county manager, and county executive. The type of government dictates the form of government.
A general law county is governed under general law in which the county board of commissioners shares executive and legislative functions with other county-wide elected and appointed officials. Most general law counties operate under a regular board of commissioners form of government in which the board shares executive functions with an elected county treasurer and clerk, but performs all other executive functions. But they may operate under a county administrator or a county controller form of government in which a county administrator or county controller carries out many of the day-to-day functions of the government. In either case, these appointed officials serve at the pleasure of the board. The differences between the county administrator and county controller form is that it requires a 2/3 majority to dismiss a controller but only a simple majority to dismiss an administrator. General law counties are the most numerous; 79 of the state's 83 counties are governed under the general law form with 61 choosing an administrator or a county controller option.
An optional unified county is organized under Public Act 139 of 1973, the Optional Unified Form of Government Act, in which a county board of commissioners must share executive functions with either an appointed county manager (Unified form, Alternative A) or an elected county executive (Unified form, Alternative B). The difference between these two alternative forms is that a county manager serves at the pleasure of the board, while a county executive is an elected official who serves fixed, four-year terms. In both forms, the county manager or executive can veto resolutions and budget line items passed by the board of commissioners. Public Act 139 also requires any county reorganizing as a unified county the creation of particular boards, commissions, authorities, and elective offices, while it requires the abolition of others in the county. The optional unified option of organization grants more powers to the administrative structure of the county, but provides for less flexibility than either general law or charter counties.
A charter county is organized under Public 293 of 1966 (amended in 1980), the Charter Counties Act, in which a county electorate can organize limited home rule under a county charter. Upon the proposal for the organization of a charter county, voters are given a choice between a government headed by a county executive elected on a partisan basis, or a chief administrative officer selected by the board of commissioners for a four-year term who may only be removed by a 2/3 majority of the board. The board of commissioners in a charter county may have up to 21 members for counties with populations less than 600,000, but must have between 13 and 27 members for counties with population greater than 600,000. While more flexible than the optional unified type of government, the elected county executive in a charter county must still share executive power with the other statutorily created officers of the county government.
While considered a part of the county government in Michigan, the county road commission is a separate independent unit of government from the general county government. A county road commission may be dissolved and its powers, duties, and functions transferred to general county government either by a resolution of the county board of commissioners in counties which have appointed road commissioners or by an election in counties with elected road commissioners. A board of county road commissioners consists of three or five members either elected or appointed by the county board of commissioners. Road commissions are responsible for snow removal, maintaining road, bridge and roadside ditches.
The city is one of two types of incorporated municipality, the other being the village. Of the three types of local government, cities are the most autonomous type as they all have some level of home rule. Upon incorporation a city is withdrawn from the township(s) in which it was incorporated. Cities report to the state through the county or counties in which they are located but they are not subject to county oversight.[clarification needed] Cities also have the most delegated responsibilities and duties of any municipality having more things they shall do than may do.
As of 2016[update], there are 280 incorporated cities in Michigan of which 275 have a regular charter, one a special charter, and four a fourth class charter (Harrisville, Omer, Sandusky, and Yale).
Home rule cities are the most numerous in Michigan. Upon the enactment of the Home Rule Cities Act in 1909, all new cities were required to incorporate under this streamlined process, which allowed for a framework for incorporation and for a city to enact and amend its own charter without an act of the state legislature. To incorporate as a home rule city the area seeking incorporation must have a population of at least 2,000 and 500 people per square mile, though a 1931 amendment allowed existing villages within that population range to incorporate as cities without the population density requirement.
Prior to the Home Rule Cities Act existed the option of incorporating as fourth class cities. Settlements could incorporate as fourth class cities under the Fourth Class City Act of 1895. A settlement seeking to incorporate under this act had to have populations between 3,000 and 10,000 to incorporate. They were required to have a weak mayor-council form of government in which the mayor could only appoint certain city officers with the council's consent, and the city clerk was required to be an elected position. Fourth class cities were also required to publish their annual financial report in a local newspaper. Because of the lack of flexibility, all but a handful of fourth class cities have reincorporated as regular charter cities. All remaining cities that have not yet reincorporated as home rule cities became home rule fourth class cities upon the Public Act 334 of 1976, which allowed fourth class cities to continue to exist by making the Fourth Class Cities Act the charter for this type of city.
As part of the Home Rule Cities Act, a provision was made for the incorporation of fifth class cities. The provision was added to allow for villages that weren't large enough under the provisions of the main act to become home rule cities. The only difference between a fifth-class city and a regular home rule city was that settlements only had to have a population between 750 and 2,000 with a density of 500 people per square mile - though the density requirement was waived for settlements which had already incorporated as villages - and that all elected officials had to be elected at-large. No fifth class cities currently exist.
All cities incorporated by act of the state legislature before the enactment of the Fourth Class City Act of 1895 became "special charter cities" upon its enactment. These cities were governed by the charters enacted directly by the state legislature, and all changes to these cities charters had to be amended by the legislature. All but one these cities has since re-incorporated under the Home Rule Cities Act: Mackinac Island.
Villages are the second kind of incorporated place in Michigan but differ in that villages are not completely administratively autonomous of the township(s) in which they are located, reducing their home rule powers. Because of this, statistically, their population is also included in the population of the township in which they reside. Village governments are required to share some of the responsibilities and duties to their residents with the township.
As of 2016, there are 253 villages in Michigan, of which 46 are designated home rule villages, and 207 as general law villages.
All villages are required to have a weak mayor-council form of government, with a village president, who is the presiding officer of the village council, a village council composed of elected trustees, a clerk, and a treasurer.
General law villages are governed under the provisions of the General Law Village Act of 1895, which provide a framework for the governance of villages in Michigan, which like cities had formerly been incorporated by acts of the state legislature. The act brought all existing villages under its provisions eliminating their special act status. General law villages can make basic changes to their local laws, but are prohibited from changing their form of government. While the act has provisions for governance of a general law village, the Home Rule Villages Act of 1909 superseded the General Law Village Act of 1895 as it related to the incorporation of villages. Thus, all settlements seeking to become villages must first incorporate as home rule villages, and can then choose to adopt the provisions of the General Law Village Act as their charter.
General law village must have a president elected by the village electors, but can have an appointed clerk and treasurer instead of an elected clerk and treasurer. The village council may establish additional officers of the village such as a village manager, who is appointed by the president with the council's consent. Besides the president, clerk and treasurer the village council may have either four or six trustees with six as the default number. Villages under the act elect three trustees annually for two-year terms with a president elected annually. However, they have the option to elected three trustess biennially for four-year terms or all six biennially for two-year terms. Reducing the number of trustees to four, appointing the clerk and treasurer or createing the position of village manager takes a village ordinance approved by a two-thirds majority of the council subject to referendum. Additional village boards, both appointed and ex officio, can include the boards of registration, election commissioners, election inspectors and cemetery trustees.
Home rule villages are governed and incorporated under the Home Rule Village Act of 1909. Like home rule cities, the act provides a framework for a home rule village to create and amend its charter giving them more flexibility than general law villages. For any settlement to incorporate as a village, be it home rule or general, it must have a population of at least 150 and have a population density of at least 100 people per square mile.
Home rule villages must have an elected president, clerk and legislative body and indicate the election or appointment of other essential officers and boards. However unlike general law villages, the president in a home rule village may be elected by the village legislative body from its own ranks instead of being directly elected by the village electors. Other than these basic requirements, home rule village governments vary greatly in structure and size.
In Michigan, townships are a statutory unit of local government, meaning that they have only those powers expressly provided or fairly implied by state law. They are the most basic form of local government in Michigan, and should be distinguished from survey townships. All Michigan residents who do not live in an incorporated city live in a township. As of May 2007, there were 1,242 civil townships, divided into general law townships with the basic powers of local government, and charter townships with somewhat superior authority and privileges.
All townships function under a weak mayor-council form of government, and must have an elected supervisor, clerk, treasurer and a number of trustees.
General law townships form the majority of civil townships in Michigan; these offer the most basic of services, and generally follow the boundary lines of survey townships. In sparsely populated areas of Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, a township may consist of several survey townships and cover hundreds of square miles. In other areas of the state, townships are typically the 36 square miles (93 km2) of land of a single survey township, or less, due to city formation, irregular geographical boundaries, or when one survey township has been subdivided into two or more civil townships.
A general law township is governed by a board of trustees composed of a township supervisor, clerk, treasurer and either 2 or 4 trustees. In this form of government which combines executive and legislative functions, the township supervisor is the presiding and chief executive officer of the township board and is simply "first among equals" on the board.
A unique form of civil township in Michigan is the charter township, a status created by act of the state legislature in 1947, which grants additional powers and streamlined administration of townships. Charter townships that meet certain criteria are also provided greater protection against annexation by a city or village. Townships must have at least 2,000 residents before they can seek charter status. The means by which a charter is approved affects a charter township's taxing ability. If township voters approve the charter status, the township may levy up to 5 mills without voter approval. If the charter status is approved by the township board alone, the township board may not levy any millage beyond that allowed for general law townships without voter approval. As of April 2001, there were 127 charter townships in Michigan.
A charter township is governed by a board of trustees composed of a township supervisor, clerk, treasurer and 4 trustees. A significant difference in the form of government between a charter township and general law township is that a charter township may appoint a township superintendent as the township's chief administrative officer (CAO) who is delegated specific duties and responsibilities by law. If a charter township does not appoint a superintendent it can employ a township manager as the township's CAO, however, the township manager only has duties and responsibilities directly delegated to it by the township board of trustees.
Special districts and other public bodies may be set up as authorized by the legislation required by the State Constitution Article VIII sections 27 (Metropolitan governments and authorities) and 28 (cooperative agreements). The primary laws passed under sections 28 was the Urban Cooperation Act 7 of 1967 (Ex. Sess.) that allow cooperative agreements between existing municipalities to form joint governmental bodies to operate a share governmental function.