General Law City Law & Legal Definition


In Texas, cities are classified into general law cities and home rule cities. A general law city is a municipality that is limited to governmental structures and powers specifically granted by state law. General Law cities are bound by Dillon’s rule which is a doctrine that says that a unit of local government may exercise only those powers that the state expressly grants to it. A city with more than 5,000 people can choose to become a home rule city.

Tex. Gov't Code § 29.004 says that in a general law city the mayor will be the ex-officio judge of the municipal court unless the municipality by ordinance authorizes the election of the judge or provides for the appointment and qualifications of the judge.

Both general law cities and home rule cities are authorized to own land within or without the city limits for the purpose of owning and operating sanitary sewers, and may regulate and control same in a manner to protect the interests of such cities. They may extend the lines of the system outside the city limits.[Plano v. Allen, 395 S.W.2d 927, 928 (Tex. Civ. App. Dallas 1965)]

A general law city that has not previously adopted a comprehensive plan seeks to adopt an ordinance which would have the effect of regulating the use of land as distinguished from "zoning," it may do so under its general police power. [Brookside Village v. Comeau, 633 S.W.2d 790, 793 (Tex. 1982)]

§ 29.004 as it appears in the Texas Government Code

(a) The judge and alternate judges of the municipal court in a home-rule city are selected under the municipality's charter provisions relating to the election or appointment of judges. The judge shall be known as the "judge of the municipal court" unless the municipality by charter provides for another title.

(b) In a general-law city, the mayor is ex officio judge of the municipal court unless the municipality by ordinance authorizes the election of the judge or provides for the appointment and qualifications of the judge. If the municipality authorizes an election, the judge shall be elected in the manner and for the same term as the mayor. If the municipality authorizes the appointment, the mayor ceases to be judge on the enactment of the ordinance. The first elected or appointed judge serves until the expiration of the mayor's term.

(c) If a general-law municipality changes the method of judicial selection from election to appointment, the first appointee takes office on the expiration of the term of the previously elected judge.

(d) A reference in the laws of this state to a "recorder" means a "judge of the municipal court."

In California General Law Cities are cities organized under the general law. The government code classifies cities as general law cities or chartered cities.

The powers of a general law city include “‘only those powers expressly conferred upon it by the Legislature, together with such powers as are "necessarily incident to those expressly granted or essential to the declared object and purposes of the municipal corporation." The powers of such a city are strictly construed, so that "any fair, reasonable doubt concerning the exercise of a power is resolved against the corporation." [G. L. Mezzetta v. City of Am. Canyon, 78 Cal. App. 4th 1087, 1092 (Cal. App. 1st Dist. 2000)]

The relevant law in California is as follows:

Cal Gov Code § 34102 "General law cities law cities"

Cities organized under the general law shall be "general law cities."

Cal Gov Code § 36501

The government of a general law city is vested in:

(a) A city council of at least five members.

(b) A city clerk.

(c) A city treasurer.

(d) A chief of police.

(e) A fire chief.

(f) Any subordinate officers or employees, provided by law.