Massachusetts shares with the five other New England states a governmental structure known as the New England town. Only the southeastern third of the state has functioning county governments; in western, central, and northeastern Massachusetts, traditional county-level government was eliminated in the late 1990s. Generally speaking, there are four kinds of public school districts in Massachusetts: local schools, regional schools, vocational/technical schools, and charter schools.
In many other states, a town is a compact incorporated area; between the towns are unincorporated areas, usually quite large, that do not belong to any town. Such states are completely apportioned into counties, and county governments have significant importance, particularly to those living outside towns, and often perform major functions such as providing police and fire services and operating airports.
In contrast, all of the land in Massachusetts is divided up among the cities and towns and there are no "unincorporated" areas or population centers, nor townships. (This is generally true of most of the New England states, and is described at length at New England town.) This complicates comparisons with other non-New England states. The U.S. Census Bureau considers Massachusetts cities and towns to be minor civil divisions, equivalent to townships in other states, but townships usually have weaker forms of government. Many Massachusetts residents also identify with neighborhoods, villages, or other districts of their towns and cities.
Many municipalities have their own police departments, as do many Massachusetts colleges and universities. Massachusetts State Police have sole authority under state law for investigating homicides, except for Boston, Worcester, and Springfield. Fire protection is generally also provided by municipal fire departments. Massport has its own fire department, and its Fire Rescue provides protection on agency property. Fire departments have mutual aid agreements, such as the Massachusetts Metro Fire District in Greater Boston, which facilitate emergency response across department boundaries.
Water and sewer districts are generally operated at the municipal level, providing retail service to residential and business customers, and making provisions for sewage treatment and acquiring water from wells, rivers, or wholesaler. Some local water districts have been consolidated across municipal boundaries and some operate at the sub-municipal (village) level. Running water and sewer service is not necessarily available to all buildings, especially in low-density areas; building owners in these areas must obtain their own water and dispose of their own sewage. The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority provides wholesale water and sewer services to many cities and towns, mostly in Greater Boston, in cooperation with DCR watershed land management. Combined sewers in some areas are being separated to reduce water pollution.
State laws delegate limited control over building, alcohol, marijuana, gambling, and taxi licenses to municipal governments. Municipal governments own most roads, and many use police and traffic control officers to enforce their own parking regulations, and set speed limits and various restrictions on local roads within state parameters. Maintenance of state-owned roads (typically major), setting the rules of the road, driver and vehicle licenses, and public transportation are MassDOT responsibilities, though regional transportation agencies such as the MBTA are funded partly by fees paid by municipalities.
Many Massachusetts towns were established during the British colonial period, long before the existence of an independent United States. The Massachusetts Constitution was written before the end of the American Revolution (1780). This constitution re-established the relationship between the state government and the towns which was originally specified by the charter which was granted to the Massachusetts Bay Company by King Charles I in 1629.
As in most of New England, the powers of Massachusetts cities and towns are set forth in the state constitution, state statutes, and municipal charters. However, the laws regulating their authority have historically been very broadly construed, and there is a long-standing tradition of local autonomy.
The legislature is prohibited from passing any special laws that affect fewer than two municipalities, except in any of the following circumstances:
Many municipalities seek approval for special legislation giving them desired powers, which may or may not be available to them under the blanket grant of Home Rule, due to potentially conflicting state laws. Even before the 1966 amendment, the laws regulating municipal powers had been very broadly construed, and there is a long-standing tradition of local autonomy.
by population (2002)
|Smallest city||North Adams||13,708|
As in most of New England, the distinction between a "city" and "town" as defined in Massachusetts law is primarily related to the form of government that the municipality has chosen. A town is governed under a town meeting form of government–either via an open town meeting or representative town meeting, with a board of selectmen handling town affairs between meetings. A city has a council or board of aldermen (and may or may not have a mayor, a city manager, or both).
Prior to 1821, the only recognized form of government in Massachusetts was the town meeting. On April 9, 1821, an amendment to the state constitution was approved that permitted municipalities to choose other forms of government. On February 23, 1822, the Governor approved an act that granted a city form of government to Boston. The new charter for "the City of Boston" was drafted by Lemuel Shaw, later Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The voters of Boston approved the acceptance of the proposed city charter on March 4, 1822.
The state Constitution stipulates that any municipality that has a population under 12,000 cannot adopt "city" form of government and charter; any "town" with less than 6,000 population cannot adopt a representative town meeting charter and form of government. This applies whether or not the municipality has adopted a home rule charter. Other details of city and town government are left to the legislature.
State law defines six possible options for city governments:
There are also certain operational differences between cities and towns. For instance, changes to town by-laws require approval by the Massachusetts Attorney General, but changes to city ordinances do not.
A 1966 amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution affirmed the right of local municipalities to self-government and to the exercise of powers not inconsistent with state law. It also prohibited the state legislature from abolishing or combining cities and towns without their consent, and made it illegal for the legislature to enact legislation affecting only one municipality without that community's request or consent.
As part of the amendment, Massachusetts for the first time allowed cities and towns to draft and adopt their own home rule charters without receiving permission or approval from the state. The legislature adopted the state Home Rule Procedures Act to establish a process to accomplish the constitutional mandate.
For towns without a home rule charter, changes in the structure of the local government must be approved by petitioning the General Court for special legislation giving it that authority, or through adoption of one of the so-call Acceptance Act Charters, A through F. Communities with home rule charters must also request a Special Act in order to exercise a power the state has reserved to itself, such as increase the number of liquor licenses allowed in a city or town.
As of 2000, 71 municipalities had adopted home-rule charters under the Home Rule Amendment procedure, 13 operated under charters granted by Special Acts of the legislature passed before the Home Rule Amendment, and 19 operated under Special Acts pass after the Home Rule Amendment.
Out of 53 cities in the Commonwealth, there are now eleven that are legally cities and have city councils, but retained "Town of" in their names. This distinction derives from provisions of state law that reference the town meeting form of government and that provide for greater self-governance authority for the class of communities governed by a form of chief executive and council which are referred to as cities in state law.
Communities adopting a city form while retaining "Town of" as their name are: Agawam, Amesbury, Barnstable, Braintree, Franklin, Greenfield, Palmer, Southbridge, Watertown, West Springfield, Weymouth, and Winthrop.
Legal opinions provided to charter commissions in some of first of the 11 communities adopting a style of government that the General Laws referred to as a city form suggested that for clarity the community be referenced as "the City Known as the Town of X" as its legal name. The term "town" was retained in many cases because a suburban community did not desire to be known as a "city" with the urban issues the name implies, but wished to adopt the city form of government.
How a municipality refers to itself has been said to be a decision that is up to the community. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that what a municipality calls itself doesn't matter: "It is the substance of the thing done, and not the name given to it, which controls". Opinion of the Justices to the Senate, 229 Mass. 600 (Mass. 1918). The "City known as the Town of" reference was intended in communities adopting it to assert its right to exercise the authority of a city in governance, municipal finance and procurement. In the early days of the spread of the council-based municipal government to towns, it served to eliminate confusion as to a town's ability to do a particular thing.
Prior to the adoption of the Home Rule Amendment, no town had become a city in Massachusetts for 45 years, while four made the change in the first 10 years following the adoption of home rule.
Primary and secondary school attendance is compulsory and free for Massachusetts residents aged 6–16. Massachusetts has a school choice law which allows students to attend a school in a district outside their municipality if the other district has space and approves. K-12 students may also attend private schools. Private schools are not state-funded and generally charge tuition. Many are parochial schools operated by subdivisions of the Roman Catholic Church.
Generally speaking, there are four kinds of public school districts in Massachusetts: local schools, regional schools, vocational/technical schools, and charter schools.
Local schools are funded by one municipality. 50% of the municipalities in Massachusetts use local schools for grades Kindergarten through 12. Local schools are administered by the municipality through an elected or appointed school committee, and are considered a department of the city or town government. In some cities, such as Cambridge and Malden, the city charter specifies that the mayor has a permanent seat on the school committee. The capital city of Boston is subject to a special state law which allows the mayor to appoint a school committee of seven. The final budget control for local schools is held by the municipality (Mayor or Town Meeting, respectively), although the school committee receives an annual lump sum appropriation from the municipality, and "town-side" or "city-side" officials have no control over the allocation of School Department funds within the annual appropriation, which is controlled by the school committee.
Any two or more municipalities may combine their public schools into one district and form regional schools. 27% of the municipalities in Massachusetts have K-12 regional schools, while many other communities are served by local primary Schools and regional secondary schools. Regional schools are administered by a school committee that consists of representatives of the municipalities in the region. Final budget control for a regional district is still held by the voters of its member municipalities, however. Participating mayors and Town Meetings still vote on the bottom line of their share of the regional budget. If municipalities within a school district disagree (e.g., if one town funds 100% of the regional school committee's request, and another funds only 75%), a second round of decisions is taken. If the disagreement persists, registered voters within the regional district's boundaries assemble for a "district meeting," similar to a town meeting, at which a majority vote of attendees prevails. Each member city or town must then adjust its own budget to accommodate the voted assessments.
Several regional school districts overlay the "academic" school district system and provide vocational and technical high schools for students from several communities. Vocational/technical schools are administered by a regional school committee. The structure of this committee is established in the regional agreement. Like any regional school committee, vocational committees have final budget control for school spending decisions, but still depend on local authorities for funding.
Charter schools are publicly funded schools that are subject to different administrative structures from traditional public schools. There are two types of charter schools in Massachusetts. Massachusetts law specifies governance and entities eligible to apply for a charter, or operate a charter school as follows:
Persons or entities eligible to submit an application to establish a charter school shall include, but not be limited to a non-profit business or corporate entity, two or more certified teachers or ten or more parents; provided, however, that no for profit business or corporate entity shall be eligible to apply for a charter. Said application may be filed in conjunction with a college, university, museum or other similar non-profit entity. Private and parochial schools shall not be eligible for charter school status.
Commonwealth Charter Schools were created as part of Education Reform in 1993. Commonwealth Charter Schools are formed by the approval of a charter that defines its administrative structure. Charter Schools are not subject to the collective bargaining agreements that are negotiated for other public schools. There are 51 Commonwealth Charter Schools in Massachusetts. Commonwealth Charter Schools are administered by a board of trustees of the private entity that received the charter authority to operate the school.
Horace Mann Charter Schools were defined in 1997. The charter for these schools must be approved by the local school committee and the local union. There are 8 Horace Mann Charter Schools in Massachusetts. A Horace Mann Chater school is run operated and managed by a board of trustees independent of the school committees which approve said schools. The board of trustees may include a member of the school committee. The board of trustees may include a municipal school committee member.
All school districts in Massachusetts must employ a superintendent and business (or finance) manager. Many districts also have assistant or associate superintendents, pupil services directors, special education directors, and other administrators, although these are not required by state law. State law is developed into regulations by the Massachusetts Board of Education to govern local, regional, vocational, and charter schools.
The cost of operating public schools comes from two sources: local government, funded primarily by the property tax, and payments from the state Legislature (out of the state general fund), calculated to provide more aid to economically weaker school districts and thereby equalize educational opportunity across the state. These "Chapter 70" payments are in addition to separate local aid payments to town and city governments' general funds.
Cities and towns are required by state law to spend a minimum amount on education. This required amount is referred to as "Net School Spending" and is calculated as part of the Chapter 70 funding formula.
Each school district is allocated a certain amount of funding through a foundational budget, which is based on the number of students that community is required to educate according to enrollment figures as of October 1 of the previous year, as well as the calculated wealth of a community. However, when a student transfers out of district to another public district, to a charter school, a public vocational school, etc., a certain amount of funding is transferred along with them.
School construction and renovation projects fall under the budgetary and land use powers of the municipalities rather than the school boards.
District attorneys and sheriffs are elected by constituencies that mostly, but not entirely, follow county boundaries; they are funded by the state budget. Though most county governments have been abolished, each county still has a Sheriff's Department which operates jails and correctional facilities and service of process within the county.
By the 1990s, most functions of county governments (including operation of courts and road maintenance) had been taken over by the state, and most county governments were seen as inefficient and outmoded. The government of Suffolk County was substantially integrated with the city government of Boston more than one hundred years ago, to the extent that the members of the Boston city council are ex officio the Suffolk County Commissioners, and Boston's treasurer and auditor fulfill the same offices for the county. Thus, residents of the other three Suffolk County communities do not have a voice on the county commission, but all the county expenses are paid by the city of Boston.
The government of Nantucket County, which is geographically coterminous with the Town of Nantucket, is operated along similar lines — the town selectmen (executive branch) act as the county commissioners.
Mismanagement of Middlesex County's public hospital in the mid-1990s left that county on the brink of insolvency, and in 1997 the Massachusetts legislature stepped in by assuming all assets and obligations of the county. The government of Middlesex County was officially abolished on July 11, 1997. Later that year, the Franklin County Commission voted itself out of existence. The law abolishing Middlesex County also provided for the elimination of Hampden County and Worcester County on July 1, 1998. This law was later amended to abolish Hampshire County on January 1, 1999; Essex County and Suffolk County on July 1 of that same year; and Berkshire County on July 1, 2000. Chapter 34B of the Massachusetts General Laws allows other counties either to abolish themselves, or to reorganize as a "regional council of governments", as Hampshire and Franklin Counties have done. The governments of Bristol, Plymouth, and Norfolk Counties remain substantially unchanged. Barnstable and Dukes Counties have adopted modern county charters, enabling them to act as efficient regional governments. Dukes County in particular has a strong regional planning agency known as the Martha's Vineyard Commission.
Bristol County is a county in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. As of the 2010 census, the population was 548,285. The county seat is Taunton. Some governmental functions are performed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, others by the county, and others by local towns and cities. See administrative divisions of Massachusetts. The property deed records are kept in Taunton, Attleboro, Fall River, and New Bedford.
Bristol County is part of the Providence-Warwick, RI-MA Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is also included in the Boston-Worcester-Providence, MA-RI-NH-CT Combined Statistical Area. The county is adjacent to the state of Rhode Island.
The adjacent counties are Plymouth County, Norfolk County, Bristol County, Rhode Island (RI), Newport County, Rhode Island, Providence County, Rhode Island, and Dukes County.Government of Massachusetts
The form of Massachusetts government is provided by the Constitution of the Commonwealth. The legislative power is exercised by the bicameral General Court, composed of the Senate and House of Representatives. The executive power generally is exercised by the Governor, along with other independently elected officers, the Attorney General, Secretary of the Commonwealth, and Auditor. The judicial power is reposed in the Supreme Judicial Court, which superintends the entire system of courts. Cities and towns also act through local governmental bodies that possess only the authority granted to them by the Commonwealth over local issues, including limited home rule authority. Most county governments were abolished in the 1990s and 2000s, although a handful remain.
The capital of Massachusetts is Boston. The seat of power is Beacon Hill, which is home to the legislative and executive branches. The Supreme Judicial Court occupies nearby Pemberton Hill.List of counties in Massachusetts
This is a list of the 14 counties of Massachusetts. Massachusetts abolished eight of its fourteen county governments between 1997 and 2000, but the counties in the southeastern portion of the state retain county-level local government (Barnstable, Bristol, Dukes, Norfolk, Plymouth) or, in one case, (Nantucket County) combined county/town government. Vestigial judicial and law enforcement districts still follow county boundaries even in the counties whose county-level government has been disestablished, and the counties are still generally recognized as geographic entities if not political ones, along with continuing to provide geographical demarcation for National Weather Service weather warnings. Three counties (Hampshire, Barnstable, and Franklin) have formed new county regional compacts to serve as a form of regional governance.
Mismanagement of Middlesex County's public hospital in the mid-1990s left that county on the brink of insolvency, and in 1997 the Massachusetts legislature stepped in by assuming all assets and obligations of the county. The government of Middlesex County was officially abolished on July 11, 1997. Later that year, the Franklin County Commission voted itself out of existence. The law abolishing Middlesex County also provided for the elimination of Hampden County and Worcester County on July 1, 1998. This law was later amended to abolish Hampshire County on January 1, 1999; Essex County and Suffolk County on July 1 of that same year; and Berkshire County on July 1, 2000. Chapter 34B of the Massachusetts General Laws allows other counties either to abolish themselves, or to reorganize as a "regional council of governments", as Hampshire and Franklin Counties have done. The governments of Bristol, Plymouth, and Norfolk Counties remain substantially unchanged. Barnstable and Dukes Counties have adopted modern county charters, enabling them to act as efficient regional governments. Dukes County in particular has a strong regional planning agency known as the Martha's Vineyard Commission.Jurisdictional areas for District Attorneys are created by state law and while some follow traditional county boundaries, names and geographic areas covered are often different.
Criminal matters in Essex County are handled by the District Attorney for the Eastern District; in Middlesex County by the District Attorney for the Northern District; in Worcester County by the District Attorney for the Middle District; in Dukes, Barnstable and Nantucket counties by the District Attorney for the Cape and Islands District and in Franklin and Hampshire counties by the District Attorney for the Northwestern District. The districts for the counties of Berkshire, Bristol, Hampden, Norfolk, Plymouth and Suffolk are the same in geography and nomenclature as the respective counties, and the District Attorneys for the Eastern, Middle, and Northern Districts are commonly known as the Essex County, Worcester County, and Middlesex County District Attorneys, respectively.
Eleven other historical counties have existed in Massachusetts, most becoming defunct when their lands were absorbed into the colony of New Hampshire or the state of Maine, both of which were created out of territory originally claimed by Massachusetts colonists. The oldest counties still in Massachusetts are Essex County, Middlesex County, and Suffolk County, created in 1643 with the original Norfolk County which was absorbed by New Hampshire and bears no relation to the modern Norfolk County. When these counties were created, they were a part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which would remain separate from the Plymouth Colony and that colony's counties until 1691. Hampden County, created in 1812, is the most recently created county still in Massachusetts, although Penobscot County, Maine bore that distinction until Maine broke off from Massachusetts in 1820. The majority of Massachusetts counties are named in honor of English place names, reflecting Massachusetts' colonial heritage.The term shire town is the statutory term for the Massachusetts town having a county court and administration offices; a county can have multiple shire towns. County seat is the standard term used in general communications by the Massachusetts government.List of municipalities in Massachusetts
Massachusetts is a state located in the Northeastern United States. Municipalities in the state are classified as either towns or cities, distinguished by their form of government under state law. Towns have an open town meeting or representative town meeting form of government; the Census Bureau classifies towns as "minor civil divisions". Cities, on the other hand, use a mayor-council or council-manager form, and are classified by the Census as "populated places". Based on the form of government, there are 295 towns and 56 cities in Massachusetts. Some municipalities, however, still refer to themselves as "towns" even though they have a city form of government.
There is no unincorporated land in Massachusetts; the land area of the state is completely divided up among the 351 municipalities.List of wired multiple-system broadband providers in Massachusetts (by municipality)
This is a list of municipalities with available wired multiple-system ("triple play") broadband providers, often commonly known as cable franchise holders, or fiber to the premises providers. As of 2015 Massachusetts had ten registered providers which served 308 communities (out of 351), with those 308 having at least one franchise provider. It is estimated that these ten providers alone contributed roughly $3.5 billion dollars to the Commonwealth's economy in 2011.A handful of municipal owned providers in the state also form a collective known as the Massachusetts Alliance for Municipal Electric Choice (MAMEC).Local government in the United States
Local government in the United States refers to governmental jurisdictions below the level of the state. Most states and territories have at least two tiers of local government: counties and municipalities. In some states, counties are divided into townships. There are several different types of jurisdictions at the municipal level, including the city, town, borough, and village. The types and nature of these municipal entities vary from state to state.
Many rural areas and even some suburban areas of many states have no municipal government below the county level. In other places consolidated city-county jurisdictions exist, in which city and county functions are managed by a single municipal government. In places like New England, towns are the primary unit of local government and counties have no governmental function but exist in a purely perfunctory capacity (e.g. for census data).
In addition to general-purpose local governments, there may be local or regional special-purpose local governments, such as school districts and districts for fire protection, sanitary sewer service, public transportation, public libraries, public parks or forests, or water resource management. Such special purpose districts often encompass areas in multiple municipalities. According to the US Census Bureau's data collected in 2012, there were 89,004 local government units in the United States. This data shows a decline from 89,476 units since the last census of local governments performed in 2007.Massachusetts
Massachusetts ( (listen), ), officially the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is the most populous state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It borders on the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island to the south, New Hampshire and Vermont to the north, and New York to the west. The state is named after the Massachusett tribe, which once inhabited the east side of the area, and is one of the original thirteen states. The capital of Massachusetts is Boston, which is also the most populous city in New England. Over 80% of Massachusetts's population lives in the Greater Boston metropolitan area, a region influential upon American history, academia, and industry. Originally dependent on agriculture, fishing and trade, Massachusetts was transformed into a manufacturing center during the Industrial Revolution. During the 20th century, Massachusetts's economy shifted from manufacturing to services. Modern Massachusetts is a global leader in biotechnology, engineering, higher education, finance, and maritime trade.Plymouth was the site of the second colony in New England after Popham Colony in 1607 in what is now Maine. Plymouth was founded in 1620 by the Pilgrims, passengers of the Mayflower. In 1692, the town of Salem and surrounding areas experienced one of America's most infamous cases of mass hysteria, the Salem witch trials. In 1777, General Henry Knox founded the Springfield Armory, which during the Industrial Revolution catalyzed numerous important technological advances, including interchangeable parts. In 1786, Shays' Rebellion, a populist revolt led by disaffected American Revolutionary War veterans, influenced the United States Constitutional Convention. In the 18th century, the Protestant First Great Awakening, which swept the Atlantic World, originated from the pulpit of Northampton preacher Jonathan Edwards. In the late 18th century, Boston became known as the "Cradle of Liberty" for the agitation there that led to the American Revolution.
The entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts has played a powerful commercial and cultural role in the history of the United States. Before the American Civil War, Massachusetts was a center for the abolitionist, temperance, and transcendentalist movements. In the late 19th century, the sports of basketball and volleyball were invented in the western Massachusetts cities of Springfield and Holyoke, respectively. In 2004, Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to legally recognize same-sex marriage as a result of the decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Many prominent American political dynasties have hailed from the state, including the Adams and Kennedy families. Harvard University in Cambridge is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States, with the largest financial endowment of any university, and Harvard Law School has educated a contemporaneous majority of Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. Kendall Square in Cambridge has been called "the most innovative square mile on the planet", in reference to the high concentration of entrepreneurial start-ups and quality of innovation which have emerged in the vicinity of the square since 2010. Both Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, also in Cambridge, have been ranked among the most highly regarded academic institutions in the world. Massachusetts' public-school students place among the top tier in the world in academic performance, and the state has been ranked as one of the top states in the United States for citizens to live in, as well as one of the most expensive.Outline of Massachusetts
The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the U.S. Commonwealth of Massachusetts:
Massachusetts – U.S. state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. Approximately two-thirds of the state's population lives in Greater Boston, most of which is either urban or suburban. In the late 18th century, Boston became known as the "Cradle of Liberty" for the agitation there that led to the American Revolution and the independence of the United States from Great Britain. Massachusetts is also home to Harvard University, the oldest institution of higher learning in the U.S., founded in 1636.
Administrative divisions of Massachusetts
Administrative divisions of the United States by first-level jurisdiction
Local government in the United States by political division