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Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS)

Creation, Merger, Dissolution of Cities

Reference Number: MTAS-161
Reviewed Date: 12/20/2021

State Constitutional Provisions Regarding Creation and Control of Municipalities

Municipalities are created and controlled by the state legislature. Unless there is a constitutional or federal law limitation, the state legislature may do anything it wants to a municipality, including ending its existence. A municipality’s only powers are those given by the state legislature and constitution. Before 1953, there were no state constitutional restrictions on the state legislature’s authority over municipalities. That year, the Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Amendments to the Tennessee Constitution were adopted, giving citizens more control over their own cities. (These amendments can be found in Article XI, Section 9, of the state constitution. See Chapter 3, Forms of Government and Governing Bodies, for a more detailed discussion about private acts, general laws, and home rule.)

The Sixth Amendment says that before a private act (legislation applying only to cities named in the act) becomes effective, it must be approved locally by a two-thirds majority of the local legislative body or by referendum. The Sixth Amendment also prohibits the legislature from passing private acts that remove incumbents from any municipal office, shorten their terms, or alter their salaries.

The Seventh Amendment gives municipalities the option of adopting home rule by referendum and prohibits the legislature from passing private acts applying to home rule cities. This amendment also says that all new municipalities shall be incorporated only under general law charters provided in state law.

The Eighth Amendment provides for the consolidation of city and county functions.

Annexation, Merger, or Creation of Cities
The Tennessee Constitution states, "The General Assembly shall, by general law, provide the exclusive methods by which municipalities may be created, merged, consolidated, and dissolved and by which municipal boundaries may be altered" (Article XI, Section 9).

The state courts have routinely declared unconstitutional annexation laws that exempt certain counties or that apply only to cities with specified populations. This constitutional provision has also been interpreted as preventing the creation of additional private act chartered municipalities. Thus, any unincorporated area wishing to incorporate must do so under one of several general law charters found in Title 6 of T.C.A. (Volume 2B).