When Minnesota officially became a territory in 1849, it followed the lead of other territories to the east and adopted county and township forms of government. This system of local governance was originally derived from England. In October of 1849 the first five counties of the state were established: Benton, Itasca, Ramsey, Wabasha, and Washington.
The State of Minnesota has grown from five counties in 1849 to 87 counties today. Ramsey County is the smallest in land area, encompassing less than 170 square miles. St. Louis County has the largest land area with over 6,000 square miles. County populations vary from over 1,150,000 in Hennepin County to 3,500 in Traverse County.
Law provides: Counties are governed by an elected board of commissioners and administrative officers who serve four-year terms. Alternate forms of government may be adopted, chiefly to allow for an elected executive, a manager or administrator, or appointed administrative officers. (Minnesota Statutes Chapter 375A)
Functions: Counties are responsible for property tax assessment, tax administration, elections, record keeping, transportation, planning and zoning, solid waste management, environment, parks and water management, law enforcement, courts and health and human services.
Law provides: Minnesota’s two basic types of cities are home-rule charter cities, which operate under a local charter, and statutory cities, which operate under the statutory city code (Minnesota Statutes Chapter 412). The distinction between home-rule cities and statutory cities is one of organization and powers and is not based on differences in population, size, location, or any other physical feature.
Form of government: Home-rule charter cities may establish any form of government they choose in their charters. Typical forms include: council-manager, strong mayor, and mayor-council. Statutory cities may choose a form of government from three alternatives: the mayor-council plan with either an elected clerk (standard plan), or an appointed clerk (Plan A), or the council-manager plan (Plan B).
Functions: Police and fire protection, street maintenance, sewer and water, parks and recreation are traditional city services. Cities may choose to provide utilities, sell liquor, operate a hospital, maintain an airport, and provide ambulance service, among other options.
There are three different types of statutory cities: Standard Plan, Plan A, and Plan B.
Standard Plan statutory cities have a weak mayor council and consist of an elected mayor, city clerk, treasurer and three-five elected council members. A weak-mayor council organization allocates administrative and legislative duties to council members. A mayor has no greater authority than any other council member, with the exceptions of being the presiding officer at meetings and other minor functions of the office.
Plan A statutory cities are the most common type of city government in Minnesota. These cities also operate with a weak mayor-council structure, but have larger councils, between four to six elected members, and the city clerk and treasurer are appointed. Neither the clerk or treasurer positions are members of the council.
Plan B statutory cities are council-manager plan for municipalities with populations of over 1,000 residents. These cities have an elected mayor and four or six council members with an appointed city manager. The city manager oversees administrative duties for the city while the mayor and council maintain traditional policy making roles.
Home-rule charter cities derive their powers from a charter. This process allows cities to form their own government and decide which officials should be elected or appointed. Charter adoption, amendment and abandonment procedures are found in state statutes.