Home Rules: The Case for Local Administrative Procedure

By Casey Adams

Administrative law is critical to the modern practice of governance.
Administrative rules fill the gaps in statutes left open by lawmakers, allow
agencies to exercise legislative grants of authority and discretion, and give
agencies with subject-matter expertise and frontline experience the
opportunity to promulgate detailed standards and requirements in their
designated issue areas. Adjudication allows an agency to dispose of matters
and disputes formally before it, whether under its rules or another source of
law. While agencies at every level of government—federal, state, and local—
engage in administrative action, legal scholarship on administrative law is
almost exclusively focused on the federal realm, which is shaped by the
Administrative Procedure Act. States can look to a Model State
Administrative Procedure Act drafted by experts at the National Conference
of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, a document that was originally
promulgated around the same time as the federal Administrative Procedure
Act, for guidance on ordering the activities of their agencies. Local
governments, however, have far fewer resources to draw upon.

This Note argues that the time has come for localities to embrace the
codification of administrative procedures. The governments and agencies of
localities have always played a prominent role in the everyday lives of
residents, as well as regional and national economic structures, and their
work will benefit from procedural statutes. Cities, in particular, have taken
on an increasingly central role as political agents and policy entrepreneurs
and this shift underscores the need for greater procedural guidance. To
make the case, this Note briefly examines the purposes and history of modern
administrative law, analyzes approaches taken by exemplar cities, lays out
and probes some of arguments for and against more rigorous procedures at
the local level, and proposes three methods to help localities and states
undertake this project.