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Types of Charters

Reference Number: MTAS-159
Reviewed Date: 12/20/2021

The General Assembly makes grants of power to Tennessee municipalities through two kinds of laws: private acts and general laws. Private acts apply only to a specific town or city; general laws apply either to all cities and towns or, frequently, to all cities and towns within a certain class (for example, all cities and towns with a population of 1,134 to 1,876 according to the 1980 census or any census thereafter). The latter kind of general law is often called a general law of local application because in reality it usually applies to only one or two specific towns or cities. There are at least two kinds of municipal charters in Tennessee: private act and general law. Tennessee also has municipalities that have a home rule charter.

  • Private act charter. All cities with a private act charter were incorporated before 1953 when the constitution was amended to prohibit incorporating cities by special act. If a private act city wants to amend its charter, the city’s legislative delegation introduces the amendment in the General Assembly, and the city must ratify the new private act, either by majority vote of the governing body or by referendum;
  • Home rule charter. A city wanting home rule government writes its own charter and adopts it in a referendum. A home rule city seeking to amend its charter must submit the amendment to a referendum; and
  • General law charter. A city may adopt one of the "form charters" that are written into the state code.

Consolidation of City and County Functions
The Eighth Amendment to the Tennessee Constitution deals with consolidating city and county functions (Article XI, Section 9). Under its terms, merging any function, such as schools, or completely consolidating city and county governments, as in Nashville and Davidson County, must be approved in a referendum by a majority of the vote in the city and a majority of the vote in the remainder of the county. Implementing legislation for complete city/county consolidation is found in T.C.A. §§ 7-1-101–7-3-312. A second consolidation act, the Charter Government Unification Act, applies to counties with a charter form of government. T.C.A. §§ 7-21-101, et seq.

Internet Posting of Charters
Each municipality must post its charter on a website maintained by the municipality, or, if the municipality has no website, the charter must be posted on the secretary of state’s website. T.C.A. § 5-1-127.