The Minnesota Constitution authorizes the Minnesota Legislature to provide for the “creation, organization, administration, consolidation, division, and dissolution of local government units and their functions, for the change of boundaries thereof, [and] for their elective and appointive officers.” The term “local government” applies to cities, counties, towns (townships), and special-purpose districts, such as school districts, soil and water conservation districts, hospital districts, regional-development commissions, and the Metropolitan Council. All of these local government units have essentially the same relationship to the state because they are established by state law and are subject to state control.

Cities and towns are public corporations (Minnesota Statute 365.02). Both cities and towns are considered general purpose local governments because they, unlike special districts created for a specific purpose, have been granted the authority to serve the broad‐based needs of their residents.


Minnesota cities are diverse, provide a wide range of services to their citizens, and form a powerful, grassroots governmental system that maintains a close relationship with its constituents. The 2010 U.S. census estimates that about 82 percent of the people in Minnesota live in cities, even though cities only cover about 4.9 percent of the state’s land area. Since cities are where most people live, the basic goal of city government is to provide services. In many parts of the state, cities are the main governmental entities.


Townships are the original form of local government in Minnesota and are sometimes referred to as a “political township.”

A Congressional Township is a unit of measure for land. The Land Ordinance of 1785 established the basis for the Public Land Survey System. Land was to be systematically surveyed into square town‐ ships, six miles on a side. Each of these townships were sub‐divided into thirty‐six sections of one square mile. Hence a Congressional township is a unit of land that is 6 miles by 6 miles.


The value of local government is tied to the notion that residents are in the best position to decide issues, such as the type and level of government services and how best to deliver those services to their community. Rising populations in parts of rural Minnesota and a desire to have more control over local issues have typically led to the organization of towns.


The city council is comprised of a number of elected council members. The council has complete authority over all administrative affairs in the city. 

The major areas of city council authority and responsibility are:

  • Judging the qualification and election of its own members
  • Setting and interpreting rules governing its own proceedings
  • Exercising all the powers of cities that the law does not delegate to others
  • Legislating for the city
  • Directing the enforcement of city ordinances
  • Appointing administrative personnel
  • Transacting city business
  • Managing the city’s financial operations
  • Appointing members of the boards
  • Conducting the city’s intergovernmental affairs
  • Protecting the welfare of the city and its inhabitants
  • Providing community leadership Other specific powers

The town board operates primarily under Chapter 366 of the Minnesota Statues; and whatever other powers and duties assigned to it. Towns have no inherent powers and have only those powers delegated to them by the legislature.

The major powers directed to towns through the legislature include:

  • Ability to sue, own and dispose of property and contracts
  • Erect buildings
  • Establish and maintain roads
  • Exercise the power of eminent domain
  • Provide for police and fire protection
  • Impose certain fees and charges
  • Provide recreational facilities and programs
  • Specially assess benefited owners for improvement projects
  • Install and maintain water, wastewater, and storm water systems
  • Provide for ambulance services
  • Enact land use and general police power ordinances
  • Provide for and maintain parks and cemeteries
  • Provide for the collection of solid waste.

Organizational Structure - Cities and Townships

There are two basic types of Minnesota cities: statutory cities, which operate primarily under Chapter 412 of the Minnesota Statutes; and home rule charter cities, which operate under a local charter. 

There are two types of Townships. Congressional townships and a political township or town government. By default, a town board consists of three supervisors, one clerk, and one treasurer – all of whom are elected. Towns may alter this default structure by adopting one or more optional township government plans.



Annie Felix Gerth
Clean Water Coordinator