A look at the curiosity of incorporated and unincorporated towns
There’s no shortage of jokes made about Hell. Hell, Michigan, that is. The state’s official tourism website, Pure Michigan, even has a page dedicated to things to do in Hell. Most recently, Hell was in the news when a young YouTube star “bought” the town for what local officials said was a 72-hour promotion and temporarily re-named it Gay Hell, Michigan. Before the conversation goes to hell in a handbasket, the curious folks at Munetrix, given our love for all things cities, schools, a local government minutiae looked at the story in a new light. Why are Hell and so many other Michigan small towns like it unincorporated? And does it matter?
We don’t even think about it when we drive through a town that says it was incorporated in a certain year because we understand that it refers to the year it was established. But we generally don’t see signs that say ‘unincorporated’ in a particular year. That would sound like a city that broke off from another government entity, which isn’t the case. Unincorporated communities generally exist because of tradition.
An unincorporated town is similar to a settlement in that it is not run as its own local unit of government; rather it is run by a larger incorporated municipality or county that has a charter from the state, defined municipal boundaries and a traditional government structure with elected officials. Surprisingly, there are more than 100 unincorporated communities in the state of Michigan, including such well-known names as Holt, Haslett and Okemos, near East Lansing, the picturesque Glen Arbor in West Michigan, Whitmore Lake in Washtenaw County and Temperance, near the Ohio border.
Back to Hell, now. Did the locals in Hell, Michigan have the authority to sell naming rights to the city, even for a brief period? Who the hell knows? But running a city is hard work, so occasionally some levity is needed. On the plus side, the experience got a younger person involved in local government, and with the silver tsunami of retirements anticipated in the public sector, that’s a good thing.
Stacey Frankovich is the Chief Administrator of Munetrix, a public sector solutions provider offering data management, analytics and reporting tools for states, local governments and public school districts. The company has been named to the GovTech 100 list of innovative companies serving government since the list originated in 2016.