THOMAS SPENCER News staff writer
Publication Date: July 8, 2001  Page: 10-A
By the time Alabama was writing its constitution in 1901, the issue of home rule was being raised across the nation. State legislatures had tired of spending much of their time on local matters and had begun delegating more power to local governments.
The relationship of counties and cities to their state govern ments is different from states' relationship to the national government. At the founding of the country, the 13 colonies were essentially 13 sovereign nations. Those states joined together and, in signing the U.S. Constitution, agreed to give up those powers listed in the Constitution to the central government.
Cities and counties were creations of the individual states. The powers given to the cities and counties are granted either in state constitutions or through legislative acts.
In Alabama, cities are divided into classes based on population; all cities of a certain size are granted similar powers under state law. Counties are set up as political subdivisions of the state, and the authority they have was granted piecemeal.
In tune with the national movement to grant commu nities more independence, committees of the 1901 Constitutional Convention proposed granting home rule to the counties.
"In recent years the number of local laws enacted have outnumbered the general laws in the proportion of about twenty to one," the committee reported. "These local, special or private bills, which we have sought to prohibit and regulate, destroy the harmony of the law, (and) consume the time of the Legislature."
Arguing against home rule, Thomas Bulger of Dadeville expressed the contempt that many in the Legislature held for local officials.
"It will not make the laws evidently any better or safer, because no gentleman on this floor will contend that his Commissioners' Court at home is more capable of legislating for the people of his county than the General Assembly of Alabama, composed of 100 select men," he said.
That prompted John A. Rogers of Gainesville to respond, "Why is it that these people can select such fine representatives to the Legislature and yet it be feared that they won't be able to select satisfactory County Boards to handle these matters."
Bulger's argument carried the day, and the debate over home rule continues.