Like the United States and the state you live in, your town has a constitution -- although it's called a charter. This document defines how your municipality -- whether a city, town, village or borough -- is organized, how it functions and all related procedures. Charters are granted by a higher authority, generally the state legislature or by a referendum passed by eligible voters.
The municipal charter establishes the particular town and includes its boundaries. The charter also includes the municipality's form of government, elected and administrative officials and municipal elections. It outlines the handling of public services and deals with financial matters, such as the power to tax and to incur debt and bond. The charter contains information regarding the town's boards, commissions and committees. It addresses charter amendments and other issues dealing with how a municipality operates.
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Charters are not static documents, but can change when necessary. Amendments to the charter result in minor changes, but making major changes means the town must revise its charter. For example, the municipality might desire to change from one form of government to another, such as council/manager to mayor/council. Depending on state law, it might establish a charter commission, which drafts potential revisions. Under an initiative and referendum, the town's registered voters petition for charter revisions. The state legislature can also directly revise a municipal charter.
A graduate of New York University, Jane Meggitt writes regularly for various legal blogs. Her work has appeared in LegalZoom, USA Today and many other publications.