Originally known as Eaton Center or Carmel, Charlotte was incorporated as a village on October 12, 1863 and the first election was held on March 1, 1864. A City charter was granted by the Michigan legislature on March 29, 1871.

Since July 1, 1962, Charlotte has operated under the council-manager form of government. This government structure divides policy making and administrative functions between the city council and the city manager with the council responsible for the former and the manger responsible for the latter.

The city council is composed of the mayor and six council members. Two council members are elected from each of the city’s two wards or districts. The remaining two council members and the mayor are elected at-large. Historically, council member terms are four years in length; mayoral terms are two years in length. Beginning with the election in 2023, mayoral terms will also be four years in length. Elections are held in November of odd-numbered years.

The city council appoints a city manager who functions as the city’s chief administrative officer overseeing the operations of the various city departments, keeping council informed as to important matters and proposing various policies for council consideration.

The primary governmental functions of the city include police, fire, street maintenance, water and wastewater utilities, parks, and community development.