Farm Horizons, May 2002

A refresher on township government

By Julie Yurek

Township government is grassroots government. It is for the people of the rural community. Townships are the oldest form of organized government. The first township was formed in 1787, according to the Minnesota Association of Townships.

In the 2002 Township Government Manual, it states that geographically, township refers to an area established by government survey that is a six-mile by six-mile square (36 square miles).

A township is a form of local government established to provide services to its residents, according to the manual.

Townships are public corporations. Both cities and townships are considered general purpose local governments because both, unlike special districts created for a specific purpose, have been granted the authority to serve the broad-based needs of its residents, according to the manual.

The governing body of a standard township is comprised of three supervisors, a clerk, and a treasurer. Each are elective offices with its own list of statutory duties.

Only the three supervisors have the authority to act on behalf of the township to make decisions and set policy. Each supervisor has a vote, but a majority must be in agreement before a decision carries the weight of the board.

The Legislature tells local government what it may, may not, and must do.

Until recent decades, township supervisors' main responsibilities were maintaining roads and bridges.

As the wants and needs of residents have grown, townships have taken on a greater role in providing new services and facilities.

Township supervisors are empowered to:

· organize a planning commission

· adopt building, zoning, housing, and parking regulations

· provide for fire protection

· develop local emergency management and disaster preparedness plans.

As a township's legislative body, supervisors also set policy, enact local ordinances, adopt budgets, and levy taxes.

Township meetings provide citizens with the opportunity to participate directly in the affairs of the community and to shape its direction. The doors to township meetings, held once a month, are always open.

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