City Government

By: Terrell Blodgett

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: September 25, 2019

Before 1836 there were in Texas no incorporated cities in the modern meaning of the term. The Spanish municipality included not only the settlement itself, but also large areas of surrounding territory that might cover thousands of square miles. Under Mexican rule, these settlements continued to serve as nuclei of the units of local government. With the advent of the Republic of Texas, the Texas Congress began enacting laws incorporating cities in the state. City charters could only be granted by the legislature until adoption of a constitutional home-rule amendment in 1912. With the passage of the enabling act the following year, numerous cities with more than 5,000 in population began writing and adopting charters. These charters set forth the type of government under which the city would operate, established the number of individuals to serve on the governing body, and authorized the city to perform many of the functions required when large numbers of individuals chose to live in close proximity to one another. The state constitution provided that the city charters could authorize the individual city to govern itself, subject only to the constitution and general laws of the state (see HOME RULE CHARTERS). For smaller cities, generally under 5,000 in population, the legislature, then and now, continues to set policy, and those "general law" cities are not authorized to perform any act or organize themselves in any fashion not expressly allowed by state law. Home rule cities in Texas now operate under one of two forms of city government: council-manager (251 of the 290 home-rule cities) and mayor-council (39 of the 290). The commission form of city government is now extinct in Texas; Portland, Oregon, is the only city of any size in the nation now operating under this form of local government.

Terrell Blodgett, Texas Home Rule Charters (Austin: Texas Municipal League, 1994). Dick Smith, The Development of Local Government in Texas (Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1938).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Terrell Blodgett, “City Government,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 03, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 25, 2019