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The Politics of City-County Merger

The Politics of City-County Merger: The Lexington-Fayette County Experience

W. E. Lyons
Copyright Date: 1977
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    The Politics of City-County Merger
    Book Description:

    Although city-county consolidation has been urged for years as a solution for many urban problems, relatively few communities have come to the point of offering such an option to the voters and in most of the communities that have done so, the voters have rejected the idea.

    In 1972 the voters of Lexington and Fayette County, Kentucky, approved consolidation by a better than two-to- one margin. W. E. Lyons examines this victory for consolidation, comparing the Lexington setting with other places where merger has been attempted.

    For the first time in the literature, the details of actually drafting a consolidated city-county charter are described. Lyons shows that if either the city or the county government is hostile, the resulting problems are sufficient to stymie the whole undertaking. Even under the most favorable of conditions it is difficult for a commission of thirty citizens to develop the skills and maintain the patience and spirit of compromise necessary to produce a workable charter, acceptable to all members.

    This examination of a successful consolidation fight includes the results of several surveys of Lexington voters before the referendum and an analysis of the election results. Lyons's description of the campaign strategies used and the reasons for their selection will be especially valuable to leaders considering consolidation in their own communities.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6359-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-3)

    On November 7, 1972, the voters of Lexington and Fayette County, Kentucky, decided by a rather substantial margin to consolidate their city and county governments into a single, unified, “urban county government.”¹ From a strictly local perspective, the implications of this decision were of profound historical and political import. But there were more than local considerations at stake as the voters of this community responded to the merger question. They were participating in one of the most widely discussed “reform” movements in the history of the United States. Whatever their individual choices on the matter, the voters of Lexington and...

  5. 2 The Consolidation Movement
    (pp. 4-15)

    The history of city-county consolidation in the United States can be divided into two phases. The first phase began with the consolidation of New Orleans-Orleans County in 1805 and extended into the early decades of the twentieth century. During that period, consolidations were accomplished in such places as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.

    After a lull during the crisis years of the Great Depression and World War II, the consolidation movement was revived, but with a major change. Whereas all previous consolidations had been accomplished by state legislative action, after World War II voter approval was generally required...

  6. 3 The Lexington Setting
    (pp. 16-33)

    Like most other communities that have held consolidation referenda since World War II, Lexington is in the southeastern region of the United States. The significance of this is probably related less to the social, economic, or cultural traits associated with the South than to the fact that local governments in Kentucky are organized according to the typical southern model in which there are only two basic types of general-purpose government—counties and incorporated municipalities. Although it is not unusual to find more than one incorporated municipality within a single southern county, other types of general-purpose governments, such as townships, do...

  7. 4 The First Steps
    (pp. 34-52)

    No matter how favorable the situational factors may appear to city-county consolidation advocates in a particular community, several major hurdles must be passed before the final test can be run at the polls. One of these is to get a board or commission established and functioning with the legal authority to draft a plan or charter for establishing a merged government to be submitted to the local electorate. Another is to ensure that such a commission is not thwarted from completing its task before the voters have a chance to speak.

    Unfortunately, little is known about these steps in the...

  8. 5 The Underwood Era
    (pp. 53-70)

    Every city-county consolidation campaign is ultimately mounted and fought over a plan or charter for establishing a merged government in a particular community. Admittedly, very few voters ever read these charters, and voter knowledge of their contents tends to be quite limited.¹ However, important groups in the community often support or oppose merger on the basis of how a particular charter treats, or is perceived to treat, such matters as taxation, representation, or the procedures for expanding urban services into new areas. As one observer put it, “Success at the polls demands a reorganization proposal . . . that will...

  9. 6 The Pettit Era
    (pp. 71-92)

    The newly elected Pettit administration assumed office on January 4, 1972. By January 18, when the merger commission held its next regular monthly meeting, the new regime at city hall had paid all debts to the commission left over from the previous administration, completed an agreement with Fayette County Fiscal Court to supply additional funds to expand the staff of the commission, and replaced five city appointees to the commission who had resigned or been cited for chronic nonattendance. Five more city appointees were replaced before the February meeting of the commission.

    It is easy to look back on the...

  10. 7 Taxes and Services
    (pp. 93-107)

    At first glance the tax-service situation in Lexington did not appear terribly complicated. Property owners throughout Fayette County paid a county ad valorem tax of 16.65 cents per $100 property valuation. City property owners paid an additional 61.7 cents per $100 in city ad valorem taxes.¹ On the service side of the ledger, city residents were served by the city police and fire departments while those living outside the city were served by the much smaller county police and fire departments. City residents had street lights while county residents did not. City residents had their trash and garbage picked up...

  11. 8 Shaping the Promerger Campaign
    (pp. 108-131)

    The commission did not receive a single letter, telephone call, or personal contact protesting the wording or substance of the proposed charter during the three weeks allotted to public inspection following the June 20, 1972, meeting.¹ Even Robert Miller, the local attorney who had argued so strenuously for the delay, failed to communicate any displeasure with the document. Thus, the chairman of the commission filed the June 20 resolution along with a copy of the charter with the county clerk on July 17, 1972.²

    There were still a few loose ends to be taken care of, including a pending appeal...

  12. 9 Seeking Voter Support
    (pp. 132-149)

    There were really two promerger campaigns run by the CIGG. One was aimed primarily at organized groups and what might be called the very attentive public. The other was designed to reach the large mass of voters who were not very likely to read the charter, attend workshops or meetings to hear detailed explanations of the charter, or read long stories or editorials concerning merger in the press. Both campaigns, however, were built around the findings of the August 1972 survey.

    Several techniques were used in the attempt to reach members of the attentive publics in the community. A speakers’...

  13. 10 Launching the New Government
    (pp. 150-165)

    Although the voters had approved the adoption of the Lexington charter in November of 1972, it could not be put into effect until January 1, 1974. The Peak-McCann bill (KRS 67A) stated, in effect, that no comprehensive plan of urban county government adopted by referendum could become effective until the term of the county judge for the county in question had expired. In the Lexington case, this meant waiting until the term of incumbent Fayette County Judge Robert Stephens expired on December 31, 1973.

    There were those who were not entirely happy about this delay. However, thirteen months proved to...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 166-180)
  15. Index
    (pp. 181-184)