Define "Political Subdivision"
are characterized by unique vocabularies, and law is no exception. Understanding
many of the law's terms and phrases is essential to appreciating how it
gives rise to issues that impact the higher education community. With
this edition, then, In Brief begins a series of articles whose intent
is to define some of these legal terms. This first installment attempts
to explain the phrase "political subdivision."
It is widely
known that an Arizona community college district has the legal designation
as a "political subdivision." This is important because of the
significance the law affords to such an entity.
requirements, conflict-of-interest provisions, and a whole host of other
legal mandates are triggered when the law attaches such a designation.
of the phrase "political subdivision," however, is not readily
apparent by resort to the dictionary. "Political" describes
things relating to affairs of government or politics. A "subdivision"
is nothing more than an area composed of subdivided lots.
v. Cochise College was an effort by the Arizona Court of Appeals to
address the question of what makes a political subdivision. "The
attributes which are generally regarded as distinctive of a political
subdivision," the court observed, "are that it exists for the
purpose of discharging some function of local government, that it has
a prescribed area, and that it possesses authority for subordinate self-government
by officers selected by it."
to the court, political subdivisions are unique in that "they embrace
a certain territory and its inhabitants, organized for the public advantage,
and not in the interest of particular individuals or classes; that their
chief design is the exercise of governmental functions, and that to the
electors residing within each is, to some extent, committed the power
of local government . . . for the peculiar benefit of the people there
college districts in Arizona derive all their authority under law from
statutes the legislature has enacted. What powers and duties are important,
then, in concluding-as the court in McClanahan concluded-that a
community college district is a political subdivision?
- A community
college district is typically limited to serving residents in the county
in which the district is situated.
boards have overall responsibility for the operation of community college
districts. The voters in their respective counties elect those boards.
- A community
college district is empowered under statute to levy taxes upon property
holders in its county in order to raise revenues.
- In order
to pay expenditures for capital outlay, a community college district
board may seek the approval of voters to issue and sell bonds.
policy experts point to these distinguishing traits of a community college
district and note that those traits afford a district a high degree of
local control. Such local control, however, also creates what Arizona
law deems a political subdivision.
in the Summer 2003 Edition of In Brief