The state government should have constitutional powers to check local government, including the power to sack local mayors and revoke charters in the case of corruption or deficit spending. The power to check does not mean the power to override. Thus this principle does not import with it the suggestion that state government should have the power to override local government—any more than a prosecutor investigating the president for corruption has the power to override the president on foreign policy.

The case of former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick offers an instructive example. Kilpatrick, whose tenure was riddled with corruption and illegality, was charged in May 2008 with eight felony counts, including perjury, misconduct in office, and obstruction of justice. After the city council petitioned Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm to exercise her power to remove Kilpatrick, Granholm implemented a slow quasi-trial process which made no progress by the time the mayor resigned as part of a plea bargain. Some might argue Granholm was right to treat the mayor as innocent until proven guilty. However this is to misconstrue the nature of public office. It is not a personal right, it is a trusteeship that carries with it a duty to put the interests of the beneficiaries before the interests of the trustee. Thus, if a public officer is indicted or even credibly accused, he ought to immediately stand down from his position, regardless of whether he regards himself as innocent. If he fails to do so, he should be removed.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove