The Colorado Municipal League and Home Rule

This is the second story in a series of eight, celebrating the Colorado Municipal League’s dedication to serving Colorado’s municipalities over the last century.

State voters adopted municipal home rule in Colorado in 1902. Since then, home rule has been clarified, protected, and discussed at the state and local level. Municipal home rule is a system of government written into the Colorado Constitution, making Colorado one of thirty-one states with some form of home rule in the state constitution. Colorado’s home rule provisions and protections against state preemption are among the most robust in the nation. The Colorado Municipal League has championed the benefits of home rule from the League’s inception and has worked to protect the rights of home rule municipalities in the legislature and courts.

In the video to the left, former League General Counsel David Broadwell discusses what home rule is and why it’s important to Colorado’s cities and towns.

A short lesson on home rule

Home rule is a form of government that gives local governments the power to make laws regarding matters of local concern, as opposed to being directed in those matters by the state government. Authority to act on matters of local and municipal concern is derived from the Colorado Constitution and a municipality’s locally enacted charter and ordinances, rather than state statutes. Cities and towns that adopt a local charter do not have to wait for the state to authorize actions and are protected from the state interfering in local matters. In its essence, home rule allows local policy to be set by those most immediately impacted by them.

Colorado’s early home rule

Colorado’s home rule movement was fueled by frequent amendments to Denver’s territorial charter by the General Assembly as part of ongoing partisan disputes. In 1901, Denver Senator John Rush, with the support of Governor James Orman, passed legislation referring a constitutional amendment to statewide voters to form Denver as a consolidated home rule city and county, and give citizens of first- and second-class cities the right to adopt local charters and become home rule municipalities. In his inaugural address, Governor Orman strongly supported home rule.

The question of home rule for Denver has been a disturbing one ever since the enactment of the law under
which the governor appoints the Denver board of public works and the fire and police board. It may occur
that governors will be elected that have little or no knowledge of the governmental affairs of such a city as
Denver [and] the responsibilities for all city employees should be cast upon the people who live in the cities.
Place the responsibility where it belongs—upon the voters of the city.

Gov. Orman, quoted in Denver’s Struggle for Home Rule, Denv. Mag., Fall 1971, at 345

Colorado voters overwhelmingly approved the constitutional amendment, located in Article XX to the state constitution, by a vote of 59,750 to 25,767.

In 1912, Colorado voters amended Article XX to specifically list several home rule powers and, most importantly, a paragraph confirming the “full right of self-government in local and municipal matters” and all powers essential to exercise that right.

“The essence of home rule is our authority to regulate our affairs locally,” says former League General Counsel Geoff Wilson. In the video to the left, he explains a landmark Supreme Court decision that helps define the local affairs municipalities reserve the right to control.

When home rule became part of Colorado’s Constitution, six municipalities initially adopted home rule. The map to the right depicts the state’s original home rule municipalities.

Colorado Municipal League advocates for home rule

The League, established in 1923, began advocating on behalf of home rule nearly immediately. A few initial members were home rule municipalities when they formed the League, surely establishing the importance of local control when they founded it.

Of the League’s 11 founding members, four were home rule when it was established in 1923—Boulder, Denver, Fort Morgan, and Grand Junction. Other founding members may have been prevented from adopting home rule based on population restrictions in Article XX at that time.

The League has advocated for home rule through its amicus program in its beginning years. The League advocates in state and federal courts on behalf of Colorado municipalities as an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”). Throughout the decades, it has continued to provide commentary in the courts and the legislature in support of home rule.

To the right, Colorado Springs City Attorney Wynetta Massey examines another Supreme Court Case that helped solidify home rule authority. Roosevelt v. City of Englewood established zoning as a matter of local concern.

1970 expands home rule to all municipalities

In 1970, voters approved a home rule amendment that presented the opportunity for smaller communities to become home rule as well. The home rule portion of the measure was included with the League’s support. The amendment extended the right to adopt home rule to the citizens of each municipality, regardless of population or when incorporated, and directed the General Assembly to enact statutory procedures to facilitate the adoption, amendment, and repeal of home rule charters. The 1970 measure was approved by an overwhelming vote of 325,512 to 170,986.

The 1970 amendment made home rule accessible to towns with less than 2,000 in population. Since it became law, municipalities across the state of Colorado have made the shift and taken on more local control.

Over the decades, home rule discussions have spanned several topics and issues, including employment. Attorney for the City and County of Broomfield Nancy Rodgers explains a decision from 1990 that confirmed home rule authority with respect to employment matters.

Home rule lives on

The longevity and vitality of home rule depends on the vigilance, assertiveness, and loyalty of those who understand and value local control on issues that matter to them locally. Where home rule authority ends is, to some extent, always in flux. Our understanding of home rule continues to evolve as it is challenged in the legislature or in courts, just as it has for 120 years. At least one result is certain – home rule continues to provide flexibility and diversity in addressing local needs in a way that works for a particular community.

The map to the right shows a progression of home rule, depicting the municipalities that became home rule each decade.

Coloradans’ desire to decide local issues locally appears to be as strong as ever. Voters approved one new home rule charter last year, bringing the total of home rule municipalities to 105. More cities and towns are currently scheduling elections to vote on charters or the formation of charter commissions in coming years.

Colorado’s Home Rule Municipalities

Below is a list of the home rule municipalities in Colorado as of February 2023.

  1. Alamosa
  2. Arvada
  3. Aspen
  4. Aurora
  5. Avon
  6. Basalt
  7. Black Hawk
  8. Boulder
  9. Breckenridge
  10. Brighton
  11. Broomfield
  12. Burlington
  13. Cañon City 
  14. Carbondale
  15. Castle Pines
  16. Castle Rock
  17. Cedaredge
  18. Centennial
  19. Central City
  20. Cherry Hills Village
  21. Colorado Springs
  22. Commerce City
  23. Cortez
  24. Craig
  25. Crested Butte
  26. Dacono
  27. Delta
  28. Denver
  29. Dillon
  30. Durango
  31. Eagle
  32. Edgewater
  33. Englewood
  34. Evans
  35. Federal Heights
  1. Fort Collins
  2. Fort Morgan
  3. Fountain
  4. Frisco
  5. Fruita
  6. Glendale
  7. Glenwood Springs
  8. Golden
  9. Grand Junction
  10. Greeley
  11. Greenwood Village
  12. Gunnison
  13. Gypsum
  14. Hayden
  15. Holyoke
  16. Hudson
  17. Johnstown
  18. Kiowa
  19. La Junta
  20. Lafayette
  21. Lakewood
  22. Lamar
  23. Larkspur
  24. Littleton
  25. Lone Tree
  26. Longmont
  27. Louisville
  28. Loveland
  29. Manitou Springs
  30. Minturn
  31. Monte Vista
  32. Montrose
  33. Monument
  34. Morrison
  35. Mountain View
  1. Mountain Village
  2. Mt. Crested Butte
  3. New Castle
  4. Northglenn
  5. Ophir
  6. Ouray
  7. Pagosa Springs
  8. Parachute
  9. Parker
  10. Pueblo
  11. Rico
  12. Ridgway
  13. Rifle
  14. Sanford
  15. Severance
  16. Sheridan
  17. Silt
  18. Silver Plume
  19. Silverthorne
  20. Snowmass Village
  21. Steamboat Springs
  22. Sterling
  23. Telluride
  24. Thornton
  25. Timnath
  26. Trinidad
  27. Vail
  28. Ward
  29. Westminster
  30. Wheat Ridge
  31. Windsor
  32. Winter Park
  33. Woodland Park
  34. Wray
  35. Yuma

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