I. Background for Fourth-Class Cities

Parenthetical numbers in the text refer to sections of the current Revised Statutes of Missouri, abbreviated as RSMo.
A note

Most cities in Missouri are fourth-class cities; some are about as old as the state and others are brand new. The result is an infinite variation in how cities interpret statutes and rules — how one city has always done things is often how another city has never done it! It's a huge undertaking to create a manual covering the fundamentals of what it means to be a fourth-class city. However, this manual covers what cities must do, what they may do, and what they can do. Consider it to be the basic rules for fourth-class cities.

A brief explanation of Chapter 79

Missouri cities operate under the generic charter in Chapter 79 of Missouri's Revised Statutes; this chapter is exclusively devoted to fourth-class cities. The chapter includes details on how to organize a city, required and optional officials, duties and responsibilities, and even rules for disincorporating a city.

How to incorporate a city

Becoming an incorporated city is not difficult. An unincorporated place must have a minimum population of 500 to become incorporated (72.040), while an existing incorporated village must have a minimum of 200 people (72.050). The proposed city may be situated in more than one county (72.100). And voters must approve incorporation (72.070, 72.080).

General powers upon incorporation

An incorporated city gains "perpetual succession," which means it has permanent existence unless disincorporated. It gains legal standing to: "sue and be sued; plead and be impleaded; defend and be defended in all courts." It may own or buy real or personal property within its limits and cemeteries outside of its limits, and it can dispose of property it owns. It may, if it chooses, adopt an official city seal (79.010).

Number of wards

A city must be divided into a minimum of two wards; there is no maximum for number of wards. Each ward must have two aldermen, elected to staggered terms. (The title of alderwoman for female officials is acceptable, but most Missouri cities consider alderman to be non-sex-specific.) At the city's first election, in each ward the candidate with the highest number of votes is elected to a two-year term and the runner-up is elected to a one-year term. After the initial election, all candidates are elected for two years unless the board adopts an ordinance to lengthen a term to three or four years. Voters must approve this ordinance change.

Ward lines must be reviewed after each decennial census, with proper adjustments made or deemed unnecessary. Wards should be as equal in population as is realistic. Most courts have agreed that this number should be within 10 percent of the ideal number.

For example, in a city with two wards, each ward would be home to one half of the city's census number. This is the ideal ward population. If one ward's population is 10 percent over and one is 10 percent under this ideal number, the wards could be expected, although not guaranteed, to meet a court challenge under equal protection guarantees of the U.S. and Missouri Constitutions.

Restriction on incorporation

Statutes prohibit (72.130) the incorporation of a village or city within two miles of an existing incorporated city's limits. Incorporation is permitted only when the existing incorporated city denies, or doesn't respond within one year to, a petition for annexation by the village or city seeking to incorporate. This petition must be equal to 15 percent of the vote in the last gubernatorial election in the proposed area for incorporation. This section applies when any part of the city's boundary falls within two miles of an existing incorporated city's boundary.

Understanding city classification

When a city first incorporates, it must have a minimum population of 500 for fourth-class (unless it's already a village) and 3,000 for third-class. The chapters for first- and second-class cities were repealed after several years in which no cities fell into these categories. Once incorporated, population restrictions are not relevant to a city's class. No village must, when its population grows to 500, become a fourth-class city. Likewise, no fourth-class city that grows to 3,000 in population must become third-class. But cities may change class if they choose to and voters approve. Similarly, population loss doesn't force a class change. A fourth-class city remains such until it chooses, and voters approve, a change. Often, cities remain in the class in which they were first incorporated.

Fourth-class city officials
Office Elected Term Requirements
Mayor Citywide Two years*
  • 25 years of age
  • U.S. citizen
  • One year city resident
Alderman Two from each ward Two years*
  • 21 years of age
  • U.S. citizen
  • One year city resident
  • Ward resident at filing
Collector** Citywide Two years*
  • U.S. citizen
  • City resident
  • Bondable
Marshal** Citywide Four years
  • 21 years of age
  • City resident
*The offices of mayor, alderman and collector may be extended to four years by a voter-approved ordinance.
**Office of collector and marshal may be combined by ordinance. When combined, the collector's term automatically extends to four years. By ordinance and voter approval, both posts may be made appointive. Marshal becomes chief of police.
A city may also elect, if provided by ordinance, an assessor, city attorney, city clerk and/or street commissioner; each has a term of two years.
Residency, registration requirements

Anyone elected or appointed to fill a vacancy in an elective office must be a registered voter and resident of the city. Persons named to appointive office are not mandated to be registered voters and do not necessarily have to be residents. In addition, elected and appointed persons must be current on any city taxes (79.250).

Important notes regarding elected officials

Since 1999, election laws have provided that no person shall be certified as a candidate for municipal office, nor have his or her name on a city ballot if in debt to the city for either taxes or user fees (155.346). In a few cases, where money due the city was not discovered until after filings, clerks have refused to swear into office persons with delinquencies. Court challenges of this law have resulted in confusion.