The U.S. Constitution does not mention local units of government. As creations of the individual states, however, local governmental units are subject to restrictions placed on them by the U.S. Constitution. State governments alone control the existence and powers of local governments within their boundaries.
In some areas, such as housing and redevelopment, federal aid goes directly to cities. In other areas, such as roads, wastewater treatment, and other infrastructure, state agencies administer or distribute federal aid to cities. The federal government also makes mandates on local governments.
Under the Minnesota Constitution, the term “local government” applies to counties, towns (townships), cities, and special-purpose districts, such as school districts, soil-conservation districts, hospital districts, regional-development commissions, and the Metropolitan Council. All of these units have essentially the same relationship to the state because they are established by state law and are subject to the ultimate control of the state.
In Minnesota, local governments are subject to the absolute sovereignty of the state Legislature with one limited exception. This exception is in the constitutional home rule provision, which authorizes the enactment of laws that enable any city to establish a charter outlining its form of organization and its governmental powers. Even in this case, however, charter provisions must be in harmony with the Minnesota Constitution and with the state statutes that apply to home rule charter cities. State law can, in certain circumstances, override a charter.